How to Handle Time Zone Issues in software outsourcing

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The most common problem you will hear about software outsourcing is the time difference. Businesses have a hard time coordinating with their development team in a different time zone and time differences are seen as a huge problem because it delays productivity. However, time zone issues are a problem taken out of proportion because working around these differences is easy. Companies need only shift their focus from the time zone to work cycles in order to ensure greater efficiency and use of time.

What are Work Cycles?

When companies complain about time zone differences, they are not complaining about the time difference itself, but rather, the loss of a productive work cycle. For example, a software development team in Sri Lanka is working, while their clients in the US are sleeping. If the team runs into an issue, they cannot clarify it immediately because their clients are not in the office. By the time the client gets word of the issue, an entire work cycle has passed without the issue solved, which in-turn represents a lost work cycle.

What Should Be Done?

Fortunately, addressing lost work cycles is easy, the key is to create strong communication channels. Creating a culture where team members (both offshore and onshore) communicate thoroughly and regularly helps resolve issues without missing work cycles. To encourage strong communication channels businesses should encourage their offshore team to communicate frequently.

The best method for a company and its offshore development team is to meet online at an agreed upon time. It does not have to be an official meeting, but all members have to be online at the same time. Therefore, if there are any issues to be resolved, there can be brought up and clarified immediately. However, if there are no problems, then the offshore development team can continue working and keep the meetings short.

What Should Not Be Done?

Businesses should avoid arranging long meetings with their offshore development team. Long meetings might seem like the natural answer to prevent unproductive work cycles, however, in reality they are not very effective because they are expensive to set up, boring to conduct, and a waste of time. Another challenge that contributes to this is, many offshore teams do not speak English as a first language and feel extra pressure when having long meetings with prolonged periods of conversing.

Resolving problems related to time zone differences can be tackled by re-framing the problem to find a more innovative workable solution, which in this case is tackling the real issue: an unproductive work cycle, rather than focusing on the time difference itself. An organised communication plan is key here: establishing solid communication channels and agreeing to be online at a fixed time eliminates unproductive work cycles by improving information flows. Another key requirement to ensure the effectiveness of communication is appointing a single point of contact from each party, the product owner from the Clients side and the Project Manager(PM) from the development company. The PM will be responsible for planning, establishing and maintaining the communication flows throughout the project, thus ensuring effective work cycles are maintained. By following these key implications, time zone issues can be easily overcome and operational efficiencies can be maintained despite geographic/time zone disparities.