Some time ago, one of the Companies we colaborate with, Apperian, wrote this article in their blog. In spite of they did not explicitly mention Solid Gear, we certainly know they were referring to us, and we have reasons to be proud of being the “They” mentioned in the article as the successful offshoring relationship with a “team from Europe”.
I can not agree more on what it’s said in the article. It talks about an effective relationship due to three different areas in which a careful focus was required: time zone, culture and communication. For the first two, we accomplished the requirements, as our time zone allowed us to overlap with them in a natural way, and we have a close cooperation attitude and a non-taking-assumptions-for-granted culture, which matched perfectly with what they were looking for. But it’s the third one which I wanted to remark. The communication was the key: there were improvements by using online collaboration tools and more frequent small meetings to make sure that requirements were clear and questions were answered promptly. No doubt this helped, but the key factor was that they decided to budget for travel so that they could bring people here and send some of us there, a few times each year.
During last October, three of us who work in EASE project had the great opportunity of traveling to Boston, to Apperian’s headquarters. The main purpose of the travel was not because of technical issues, but for building a stronger relationship among the development teams, separated by so many miles. The stay there couldn’t be more satisfactory. We discussed about a lot of technical stuff and we had very useful meetings with them, but the most important reason to be there was that we may know closely each other, being face to face and spending some time together working side by side, and there was where the trip was really worthy. Several walls were brought down, and at a personal level, the way we treated each other was effectively strengthened, getting some familiarity between the people on both sides. When reading daily emails and when listening during the periodical online meetings, we were able to assign faces to those mails and voices, and that made a huge difference in terms of familiarity and confidence, with no place for misunderstandings. A sentence in a mail that before may sound impolite, now was understood as normal because we knew the personality of the remitter after having personally interacted with him.
On the other hand, the “fear” we had before in terms of taking part in the meetings and technical discussions was overcome by our desire to collaborate and contribute with our opinions and knowledge, knowing that people on the other side of the line was people who we had shared a beer with, a meal, or a coffee-machine-conversation. The results were evident: we were eager of cooperating, as we became more confident every day, and the doubt of taking part in some conversation for the fear of making mistakes was magically transformed to certainty, confidence and sharp points. They also noticed a substantial change in our attitude and now our opinions have become much more relevant to them.
Another key factor that made the difference was the treatment we receive from them. It was already respectful before, but after the trip it has been accentuated in some ways. They do not consider us a team of subordinates, but a team of equals, same as them, but thousands of miles away. They give us interesting things to work on, and both teams do some of the less fun things. We do not have lack of full information anymore, and we are usually informed of the needs and reasons behind what we are asked to work on, making them to think it twice occasionally after providing our feedback. This has eventually become one of the things they value most from our “offshoring” relationship, as we do not accept what they say as the universal truth and reply them when we have to. The benefits to this approach include greater satisfaction and deeper product knowledge on our side, which makes us to be, maybe not indispensable, but definitely a very important part in the engineering team.
I remember telling my family and friends about the purpose of a business trip like this, and they couldn’t believe that a company spent such amount of money to send three people for one week to Boston, with the main purpose of narrow the familiarity between them and us. After the trip, I can certainly say that the benefits are really worthy, maybe in a more intangible way, but very profitable in the long term. Luckily they think the very same, and probably they will budget for another travel this year, so other team members can take advantage of such a great opportunity like this.