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How to Address Challenges in Geographically Distributed Team

Collaboration
Cultural Differences
Cross-Functional Collaboration

24 September, 2021

Sachin Shah
Sachin Shah

CTO at Self Employeed

Sachin Shah, CTO, shares how he created an elegant solution to improve the delivery process.

Problem

Working at one of the largest multinational retailers as a lead architect meant I have to ensure the software is built correctly and can scale when large demand is placed upon it. The offshore team was about 100 people, and we had an onshore solution architect team who provided the solution design to them (the offshore team). There was a constant challenge in the delivery, whereby the designs provided by the solution architects during the sprint planning phase were confirmed to be fine with the engineering team.

However, they often missed the sprint target for delivery, and on assessment, it transpires that the offshore team was expecting more details in the solution designs. Whereas the onshore team 一 if they were to provide that 一 would take them much longer time. For instance, if they had to effectively deliver the design in the foremost part of the sprint, they would have to start that during the previous sprint. That was the only possible way to show them in the next sprint. There was a bit of back and forth between the 2 teams in terms of the right level of detail, and that was when I stepped in to address the challenge.

Actions taken

We brought both the teams 一 including both the leads 一 together to discuss their challenges. We asked them upfront about the amount of detail they wanted. Essentially, they agreed to stick to the middle ground between the two teams. After they accepted a certain amount of detail to be enough during the meeting, the engineering team picked up from there and delivered the code. Bringing the two teams together to understand each other’s viewpoint of where they are coming from, rather than going into email warfare, assisted in managing the situation.

I realized that the issue was the gap between the two teams, especially between the offshore and onshore a given level of physical distance between them. In addition to that, the cultural differences made it more challenging to resolve the situation. I chipped in and arranged a retrospective session, after the sprint. To understand the viewpoint of both leads, I gave them the indication of what we were further going to discuss. Again, I came up with a middle-ground solution, whereby we would offer a design template that would be acceptable for both teams.

When dealing with the cultural differences, there were 2 aspects of it. First of all, people started understanding each other over time and how people from different cultures work. Indeed, that needed training in terms of how differences in culture and team dynamics work together. Since it was a big organization, various cultural training was expected to be completed by each employee on a periodic basis.

At the back of implementing the new design template, these were monitored in terms of improvement. We wanted to make sure that it improved the achievement rate within the given sprint or reduced the defects injected as a result of delivery. We discussed this after the retrospective session of every sprint and whether the template and change in approach were helping the team or not.

Lessons learned

  • Bring people together to understand the root cause of the issues. As you see, emails going back and forth discussing specific issues get people in a “room”.
  • Be mindful of the cultural differences. It will improve streamline projects and work relationships. Plus, it would not leave any room for misunderstandings if you sympathize with the situation.
  • Identify the specific metrics that need to be monitored and keep a close eye on them. Evaluate the operations, and improve them accordingly.

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