Leveraging talent abroad to grow a small business by Andrew Lenti

A small business's guide to using performance metrics to master the art of outsourcing, remote governance, and agile cross-continental synergy cultivation.

As a team, one of the biggest discoveries we continue to make over the years lies in our ability to consistently improve our working relationship with our overseas product development partner allowing us to optimise ongoing performance with our clients.

We have been lucky. Since our inception in 2015, we have changed partners only once (in 2016) and have since seen steady improvements in speed and quality from our Bangalore-based colleagues as a result of our complementing skill sets and our synergistic agile approach.  

When managed effectively, such a relationship allows us increased confidence to make more daily product-related decisions and ultimately allows us to become rapidly efficient in giving our clients a taste of what they may be looking for by offering alternatives in proof-of-concept testing increasing their likelihood of making a long-term investment.

Consistency is king but equally important is being ready for the unexpected and the capacity to remain focused when challenged by connectivity issues, language barriers or when key overseas staff members require time to nurture a fever, bereave, or take a last-minute day off to spend time with their children who are on their summer holiday.

Some time back I posed a ‘simple’ question to several discussion groups consisting of programmers, agile enthusiasts, project managers and product specialists regarding the best way for a small business like ours to manage the performance of a product development team from a long-distance?  Although the answers varied, to my great surprise, the majority of the responses from IT personnel stated that there is no magical KPI to track your product team if you want to be agile and offer quick solutions to your clients. Several experts even warned us that using KPIs of such will result in a negative impact on the developers by introducing the unnecessary stress associated with an approach that will most likely be viewed as micro-management in an environment that requires creativity, agility and that famous fail-fast logic necessary to sustain the innovation lifecycle.

As a producer of continuous improvement solutions, we are accustomed to challenging the status quo and being in disagreement with 'the experts'. In this case, wanting to try our own home-made KPI management tool, we paid little attention to those who advised us not to introduce performance metrics into our team of programmers and began testing a wide variety of KPIs seeking those which would increase efficiency while not sacrificing creativity. 

Over the course of a six month trial period using our KPI management solution together with our trusted Indian development partner, we have made several mini-discoveries regarding the best way to manage a long-distance relationship of such. Our discoveries to date offer us a streamlined set of KPIs and managerial reporting supporting speed, agility, and creativity WITHOUT losing time in administration activities or getting bogged down in ‘analysis by paralysis’ challenges.

In doing so, I offer this post to anyone who seeks best practices in performance measurement when leveraging skills overseas to support the architecture, build and implementation of a cloud-based solution. In short, our findings to date tell us that being organised and disciplined doesn't necessarily mean that you will sacrifice creativity.

In closing, I am of the belief that the only way to truly understand what can go wrong in a business operating model of such is to see its dark side first hand, to take the time to capture the know-how acquired from the lessons learnt along the way, and to continuously acknowledge that there are very few experts in the field that have travelled on this same path and for that, use good judgement when 'asking directions from those who have never been to where you are going’.

Best of luck in your outsourcing endeavours and please continue to share with me any feedback, observations or best practices for the learning never stops, especially in this fascinating field.

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Andrew Lenti has been working with multinational organisations involved in business transformation initiatives since 1999.  In that time he has been based in 7 different countries. He has rich experiences working with business leaders at all levels of the organisational hierarchy and has spent vast amounts of time working with shared service centres of excellence on business restructuring implementation projects. He is one of the co-founders of TOPP Tactical Intelligence Ltd, a European operational excellence software provider and is one of the original architects of P.R.E.S.T.O., the cloud-based,  performance enhancement continuous improvement business management software currently being used by large and small organisations as a tool in performance management and assisting with operational restructuring. 

If you would like to learn more, please visit www.toppti.com