What is a team? Team is not about everybody being the same. It is about identifying people that play key roles and enabling them to execute at the highest level in those roles.
I believe that one of us is not greater than all of us. Our combined knowledge or experience is much more powerful than an individual's experience. Hence, it is a key selling point that you have a diverse team where each member is valued for their contribution. I covered in my previous post the important roles that make up a Dynamic 365 team.
Offshore Dynamics Team
In a successful practice, there is a need to have tight control of costs. Offshore development is one way to do this.
I am a big advocate of growing onshore staff and supplementing that with staff in an offshore location. I believe staff in offshore locations need to be part of the team, not outsourced. In other words, they are not contracted out to a third party.
I have found that remote skill can be on par or even better than local skill. I highly recommend developing an offshore team. It's beneficial not just for the cost savings, but also for the up-skilling of people in other countries. We need to have a constant focus on growing the entire Microsoft Dynamics 365 ecosystem.
Having offshore staff can be very effective; but only for two roles, in my experience.
Which Roles to Offshore
I have found it very difficult to run Architects and Functional BAs remotely without that face-to-face engagement often required with customers. They need that face time. I have also seen the model where a Project Manager is in a remote country. Eventually, two Project Managers end up handing work backwards and forwards to each other. That is a cumbersome load, and you start to reduce the amount of benefit you get. I have found that remote staff should report direct to the Project Manager for the projects they work on. With Skype for Business video, everyone can participate in daily stand-ups. You will just need to work in with different time zones.
Dynamics 365 Developers
I have found that Dynamics 365 Developers are a great fit for offshore locations. They complement a local practice. However, I still like to have a local Lead Developer for each project, and then every additional Developer can work from a remote location if needed.
I found my Dynamics 365 Developers work very well in a remote scenario when they report directly to the Project Manager for that team. In other words, there's not an in-between person. Since they directly report to the Project Manager, the Project Manager still owns the outcome for those members of the team.
Tester is another role that I find to work well from remote locations. I have found it to be very effective if you have them report to a Test Manager who directly engages with the PM on a project. On a side note, I will add here: Developers are NOT Testers. I like to run the function of Testing separate to the delivery team, as it keeps everyone honest. 🙂
Tips for Running an Offshore Dynamics Team
Develop it slowly. Build credibility, and remember, they are your people just like the people in your local office. You need to invest into their skills development and spend time training them on business expectations, communication standards and general consulting skills.
Invest in them the same way. Develop their skills. Coach and mentor them, and challenge them to meet their full potential.
Engage and make them feel a part of the team. As Practice Manager, I tried to visit them at least a couple of times a year in person. In the same manner, you've got to make them feel that they are part of the team. You need to take an active interest in their lives and culture.
Offer career advancements. We have had the model where we have had people that wanted to move countries permanently from offshore locations to onshore in Australia. Being able to see somebody move from his or her home country to another where potentially there is a better opportunity for them and their family, is one of the joys of the job.
Collaboration in a Distributed Team
If your team is situated in the one location, as much as possible, have them seated together when they work from the office. There will be a transfer of tacit knowledge that is extremely valuable. People collectively learn off the learnings of others when they work near each other.
I have worked with a team that span multiple countries all year round—not just per project. The current practices that I run are in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney, and Brisbane, and then in Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila in the Philippines. These teams are distributed over wide distances. From a collaboration perspective, I have found the following to work well:
My number one collaboration tool would have to be Yammer due to these reasons:
It is a great way to gain visibility inside the business. In my observation, you will have staff that excel in this. They are quick to answer, find solutions and provide their insight or their experience on a project and post that to Yammer when other staff have questions.
It is a place where anybody can ask any question. There is no dumb question. I work on a rule of thumb: if you go more than an hour and you cannot solve a problem, you need to put it on Yammer. If you have done your Google searches first and been unsuccessful, you need to get up on Yammer and get the collective brainpower of the team involved in your problem.
It is a fantastic tool for cross-location productivity. Yammer is fantastic when you have distributed teams if you've got multiple projects in flight, and when a bunch of your staff are out on client site, Yammer is the glue to keep everyone together.
It allows your offshore team to feel totally connected to the core of the larger team. It enables them to share and gain insight and to know that they are not on their own.
Skype for Business
The second tool that I cannot speak highly enough of is Skype for Business. Its benefits include:
Its video functionality allows engagement between people. When you have remote staff that work on the project, and they attend the daily stand-ups via Skype for Business with video on, it allows the best level of engagement outside of being in the same room physically. You still see nonverbal communication.
It provides transfer of knowledge. If you run “Brown Bag” sessions online, Skype for Business allows that information to be shared effectively, and the session can be recorded and posted to Yammer and Office 365 Video, so team members that missed it can still gain the value from it.
It allows you to record meetings. This is useful when team members come together for our monthly Town Hall meeting, as an example. Those at customer sites who can't make that meeting can go and listen to the recording.
In my next blog, I will discuss upskilling, training and mentoring programs.
Please let me know in the comments what you have found effective with offshoring work and the tools you use to collaborate.