Communication issues are one of the most common fears of entrepreneurs who want to contract-out a part of their activity. No wonder! Lack of knowledge on how to communicate with an outsourced team can literally ruin the project, being a thread of many of its phases: from getting the brief, through collecting requirements and planning, the development, till the last bug fixes. Lack of understanding for the idea, no common goals, delays, minor misunderstandings resulting in the product not growing up to your expectations… Does any of those sound familiar?
Here is what you can do to communicate with an outsourced team effectively:
1. Request access to Slack, Rocket, or some other instant messenger
It will make communication with the team much easier. You will be able to contact the developers directly, answer their questions, or report bugs right away, without waiting for the next planned call. It is much more convenient than email.
2. Appoint one person who will be responsible for the contact
Even if you are going to communicate with the whole team using Slack, Rocket or some other instant messenger, it’s good to know who is responsible for the communication. It can be a project manager, an account, or a team leader. He or she will collect your requirements and make sure about their execution.
This will help you avoid a situation when some important issues vanish because someone didn’t pass the information to the right person. Try to specify the way you will communicate and the reaction time in case of any problems that may appear on the way. If you are attached to the procedures that you use in your company, you find them simple and effective, you can ask your outsourcing provider to follow them.
3. Plan sprints
Preferably, they should not be longer than 2 weeks. Set days and hours when you will have a call with the sprint summary and planning. At each summary, you will be able to see what part of work has been done and adjust the next sprint to the current needs.
4. Have good project management software
…and make sure all parties use it. At the beginning of your project, complete the backlog and prioritize. Revise it after each sprint — it may be necessary to change some priorities or add some tasks that you did not realize at the beginning.
Don’t worry if you don’t have any experience with such software. Most of them are very intuitive. And their creators usually provide a good knowledge base through their blogs or other resources. Compare a few (eg. Nozbe, Taiga, JIRA, Trello) and choose which works best for you.
5. Set KPIs
Good KPIs should be SMART:
- Specific. According to Jay Liebowitz, an effective KPI is one that prompts decisions, not additional questions. It should be clear, unambiguous, and each team member should know exactly what they need to do in order to achieve the goal.
- Measurable. Saying “we will make the app work faster” it’s not a very good KPI. To make it right, you need to know the initial speed and know to what extent are you aiming to improve it.
- Attainable. The situation when the KPI targets are too inflated may negatively affect the morale of the team. It’s good to reach high but it needs to be possible to achieve the goal.
- Relevant to your organizational goals. Achieving the goal should actually mean something, bring value. Spending 20 hours on some task does not bring it – but having some feature tested and working surely does.
- Time-bound. It’s important to specify when the result(s) can be achieved.
6. Ask questions
If you don’t understand why accomplishing some task takes so much time or why something is being done in a certain way – ask. Honesty is crucial for any successful cooperation.
Try to create an atmosphere for conductive free movement of ideas. Make sure that everyone in your team knows that they have the right to speak their mind, suggest solutions, or express their concerns.
7. Be aware of the curse of knowledge
You know your vertical, you understand your customers, you are aware of their problems and their needs. You know your competitors, their competitive advantages, you see the difference between different solutions that… most people have never heard of.
The curse of knowledge is when you have some knowledge that the other person does not have and you have forgotten what it is like to not have that knowledge and how long it took you to gain it. This leads you to make assumptions about what other people should understand. And causes annoyance when they don’t.
Every industry has its jargon – words and phrases that mean something to insiders but are meaningless to newcomers. When explaining your idea to the development team, try to avoid using it. Simplify the ideas, try to use analogies to some widely-known fields. If you want to understand the technical details of your project, request the same.
8. Answer the questions
The thing with questions goes both ways. As much as you need to understand the actions taken by the team, the team needs to understand your goals. In order to make it right, the developers who are working on your product need to understand your product not only technically but also in terms of business.
They need to know who is going to use the product, how they’re going to use it, and why they’re going to use it. They need to understand the problem that stands behind your idea and the way the final product is supposed to solve it.
The requirements also need to be clear and unambiguous. If someone from the team asks you to specify them – do it as soon as possible.
Finally, let your employees know the best way to contact you and the times you are available. If you can’t find regular hours, use some scheduling tool such as Appoint.ly. Once you synchronize it with your calendar, it will show your team only the time slots when you are available and enable them to set an appointment with you.
9. If there are any, don’t forget about cross-cultural differences
Let’s think about speaking one’s mind, for instance. In Western cultures, we generally don’t have a problem with that. When we disagree, we express our objections. When we think that something should be done differently than requested, we say it. And when we face a problem, we want to discuss it and find a solution. Of course, we try to do it in a polite way, but we are rather clear (or at least we want to be clear) in what we say. For many Asians, however, this kind of attitude may be considered to be impolite. Instead of saying that something is going wrong or that they disagree with something – which may be offensive to their interlocutor – they are rather likely to express ambiguous opinions and going all round the houses. According to Declan Mulkeen (How Culture Impacts The Way We Think And Speak),
Japanese and Indians find it rather more difficult to say “no” directly. It can sound rude or “in your face”. They would rather imply a negative than saying it out loud. This can cause misunderstandings as westerners sometimes might assume a deal is done and dusted, whereas there was never a “yes” implied.
Keeping such differences in mind and understanding them will help you manage communication issues and understand your team better.