Agile Scrum and globally distributed teams

Agile Scrum and globally distributed software development

Challenges and Solutions

Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM

Date: 2013-03-30

(Currently looking for consulting opportunities within USA.  Please contact

  • Communication is the single largest contributor of the failure of agile scrum in globally distributed teams
  • Scrum is not optimal for globally distributed teams, but it works better than many other processes.
  • Scrum aggravates the challenges faced by globally distributed teams
  • Globally distributed scrum requires few  other  roles compared to traditional Scrum
  • Agile process knowledge still very limited in several of off-shore locations. Hence resources trained in agile process are also limited and very high in demand
  • Many global vendors are very comfortable in water-fall process where deliverable is highly predictable. Ever changing agile process brings disruption to that flow.
  • But even with all of the above Agile Scrum in globally distributed teams are here to stay because benefits outweighs challenges

 1.       Background

With wide acceptance of Agile SCRUM from Silicon Valley startups to every day software development, several organizations with globally distributed operations have already switched to agile or on the process of switching. This presentation mainly focuses the challenges of North American companies to do globally distributed software development in countries with 10-12 hours of time difference. Several techniques are listed in the article to resolve every day issues faced by these teams both off-shore and onsite. This article is based on practical experience of resolving different challenges.


2.       Off-shore and Near-shore teams

Software development teams from India, China, Russia, Poland and few others in the same region are generally referred as off-shore software development teams. Eastern Europe and South American companies also provide cheap software development solutions which are normally referred as near-shore teams.

3.       Not optimal but works well

It is not optimal to do agile development in a globally distributed team environment.  But benefits of the agile process outweigh the challenges faced compared to any other process like waterfall or RUP.

4.       Challenges and Solutions in a Distributed Scrum

4.1   Country based

Every country brings some natural challenges to software development. Agile by its nature of requirements like close interaction and communication within a team, aggravates some of these issues.

India and China brings the disadvantages of 10-12 hours of time difference with any of the North American companies. China and several others bring the disadvantage of English language.

But china has advantage over India and several others to do business in Japan, South Korea because of the language knowledge.

4.2   Communication

If an off-shore agile SCRUM project fails, single largest contributor of the failure will be communication due to 10-12 hours’ time difference between North American companies and off-shore development countries. North American companies having off-shores teams in Eastern Europe or South America have a better overlapping hours between both off-shore and onsite teams.

Some of the solutions are as follow:

i.        Video based meetings

ii.        One Instant  messenger  for onsite and off-shore staff

iii.        Overlapping working hours

iv.        Common sprint management tool including query escalation and resolution

v.        Automated daily status reporting

vi.        Shared source code repository

vii.        Common Build and deploy infrastructure

viii.        Share Drive

ix.        Shared Wiki for Information exchange

4.3   Resource Challenges on off-shore locations

Staff get selected in most agile development team’s is 1 in 5 interviewed. Most off-shore locations have very high demands for highly trained software developers and their low availability. More so in agile, it is better to select the candidates with better fit for agile process.

4.4   Team Layout Changes

Most effective team for agile off-shore development is combined off-shore onsite team 7 onsite and 5 off-shore. In my experience none of the other team layout are as successful as above.

4.5   Additional Roles Required

With the time difference there are additional role in the off-shore scrum team.

4.5.1 Off-shore scrum master

Senior member of the team assume this responsibility to resolve queries and status.

4.5.2 Proxy Product owner

There will be only one Product Owner in the team located generally onsite.  Off-shore should have equivalent proxy product owner role reporting to product owner. This role will speed up the development process

4.6   Additional Meetings  and Process Steps

Release planning (onsite)

Sprint backlog (combined)

Story pruning meeting (Add more details to excite meaningful discussion)

Sprint Planning (onsite)

Sprint Planning (off-shore)

Combined sprint planning (Off-shore and onsite)

Daily Stand-up off-shore

Daily Stand-up Onsite and off-shore together

Sprint Retrospect (Combined)

Burn down chart (Combined and/or separated)

4.7   Process Knowledge

Agile process knowledge is very minimal in several off-shore locations and many teams are learning fast. Besides China still lags overall delivery framework. Travel of resources both direction will help with this.

4.8   Agile contracts

Most off-shore units are run by vendors of the client organization of North American Countries.  Both vendors and clients like fixed process contracts whereas agile is ever changing and fixed price is not much of possibility rather T&M contracts are used.  It is overly difficult to commit deliverable within T&M

4.9   Onsite Knowledge Travel

Bringing people to onsite will speed up knowledge transfer and it is important to do onsite knowledge transfer to several of the key employees.  This also helps to attract right talent to the team.

4.10      Sending regular Ambassadors to off-shore

Occasional travel (Once in 6 month at least) is very important to build trust between onsite and off-shore teams.

5.       Opportunities

5.1   Low cost and reasonable quality

Lower cost and comparable quality are still reasons for outsourcing software development to off-shore locations.  Some arguably say the availability of man-power, which is difficult to validate.

5.2   Better overall results

In my experience overall quality for several stakeholders are good compared to the traditional waterfall fixed price projects. Often the entire project is executed on a lesser cost than waterfall.

6.       Conclusion

As mentioned earlier off-shore software development using Agile SCRUM is here to stay.  It is adopted by many development teams every day and early adopters are beneficial from cost advantage as well as earned value.


Roles and Responsibilities in Onsite Off-shore Agile Scrum

Roles and Responsibilities in Onsite Off-shore Agile Scrum Teams

(Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM,

(Currently looking for consulting opportunities within USA.  Please contact

  • Role and responsibilities of offshore and on-site scrum teams are different.
  • Difference is mainly due to time difference and cultural issues.
  • Because of these differences sprint process requires several additional process steps to make off-shore scrum working
  • Proxy Product owner is almost a must for off-shore scrum team success
  • Product owner talents very limited in availability in many of off-shore countries
  • Strong, independent, self-organizing scrum teams will not be reality in the near future (there could be one-off)
  • To some degree, culture differences make it hard in creating self-organizing teams. But help is on the way.

1.     Introduction

Distributed agile teams are always a challenge to work together. Even more so when it comes to 10-12 hours of time difference to off-shore location like India and China. Absence of a product owner in an off-shore location makes very hard for an off-shore team to perform. But it is a reality that, these teams will have to be located different parts of the world due to cost reasons. The successful formula has to take different approach.

2.    Scrum work flow

  • Release planning (onsite)
  • Sprint backlog (combined)
  • Sprint Planning (onsite)
  • Sprint Planning (off-shore)
  • Combined sprint planning (Off-shore and onsite)
  • Daily Stand-up off-shore
  • Daily Stand-up Onsite and off-shore together
  • Sprint Retrospect (Combined)
  • Burn down chart (Combined and/or separated)

3.    What is different and why

Traditional off-shore work culture is very much adapted to water fall process, which includes well documented requirements and very well defined deliverables and contractual obligations controlling delivery components.

Agile comes with exact opposite of these requirements which makes it very hard for the team to operate. Some of the challenges will be as follows

3.1 Undocumented requirements

It will be difficult to conceptualize the business problem on a faraway off-shore location without strong domain knowledge. The presence of strong product owner with lots of domain knowledge can help to bridge the gap.


3.2 Work Culture

Generally off-shore has strong committed work culture.  Most off-shore location like India and china has very young work force with 1-5 years of experience. This young and dynamic workforce can contribute very well if fewer variants are placed on them.  Strong leadership is a necessity in that case.


3.3 Interaction Requirement

Off-shore teams are built mostly not to have many interactions because of time zone difference. Agile enforces that interaction.   This demands requirements of after-hours telephone connectivity as well as equipment to carry-out the work.


3.4 Process Structure

Off-shore teams are very familiar with strong process culture. Agile in essence is very lean on processes. Process ensures the quality even in the absence of strong leadership. Therefore off-shore agile teams require some amount of process.


3.5 Metrics

Off-shore teams are very familiar with performance metrics.  Defining and distributing those metrics can set goals for productivity, performance and thus overall improvement in sprint process.

4.    Off-shore Team structure, Roles and Responsibilities

4.1 Off-shore team structure

Dual-shore Teams Structure:

Dual shore team functions as one team at multiple locations with one scrum master and meetings with all of the members from different parts of the world.

Shared-Shore Teams Structure:

Shared-Shore team will have one scrum master; teams mostly function as multiple teams where daily standup area attended only by core members of team from multiple locations.

4.2 Roles and Responsibilities

Onsite agile catalyst:

This role is very similar to off-shore coordinator role in waterfall except responsibilities are different.  Agile catalyst is a member of off-shore team located onsite. His main responsibility is communication between teams and attending all team meetings from off-shore as well as onsite.  This resource will not have direct sprint task rather works reviewer of deliverables.

Off-shore proxy Product Owner:

This position is very confusing to several of agile teams.  But this is an important position for agile scrum success. This resource works very closely with actual product owner to understand product owner vision and then direct the off-shore team based on the vision.  One of the important point to note here is that this resource will not have any decision making capacity.  Ownership of every decision goes back to actual product owner only.

Off-shore sprint team:

Off-shore sprint team layout is very similar to onsite.

5.    Hand-off between onsite and off-shore teams

Hand-off is an important part of success of teams from multiple locations. Story acceptance to offshore sprint team to be clearly discussed on requirement standpoint as well as on assumptions made. Sprint planning is good place to clear those doubts.  As like in any environment, expectation management is an important part of the hand-off both ways. Daily stand-up is good place to reiterate the decision taken and most importantly assumptions not validated. Impediments and their impact have to be clearly discussed. Expectations on every deliverables have to be discussed.

6.    Cultural difference

Every country has cultural difference of its own.  Education, induction to work force, work culture is very different in many countries.  India and china are prime example of hierarchical work culture to some degree closes opportunity to voice bigger concerns, sometime even opinions.   Scrum requires open and honest opinions and discussions to take advantages of self-organizing team.  To some degree lot of times off-shore sprint teams have to put to test to question solutions and ideas floated by others.

7.     Strong Independent Agile teams, Myth or Reality

Rapid advance in collaboration tools and gaining acquaintance of work culture in different countries will make independent agile teams possible in few years.

8.   Conclusion

This discussion is to communicate that, scrum teams on an off-shore location is still a challenge, but can be done.  It takes lot of effort to make it work.  If not managed properly time in managing an off-shore team will eat into sprint tasks with in onsite team members.  Often some of best talents in the team will be pulled to solve problems from off-shore which also can create a team moral issue and of course productivity.

Performance Metrics for Agile SCRUM Process

Performance Metrics for Agile SCRUM Process

Joseph Vargheese PMP CSM CSP, 

(Currently looking for consulting opportunities within USA.  Please contact

  • The metrics below focus on 5 different areas, Productivity, Quality, Effectiveness of SCRUM, Earned Value and Predictability of the SCRUM.
  • Metrics listed below will help track overall health of agile scrum process on enterprise level.
  • Normal Agile metrics are limited to commitments with in sprint like sprint burn down and stories dropped. Customer satisfaction is an important metrics.
  • Employee satisfaction indexes will help to realize true values of agile process and then work as an enabler for creating high performance sprint teams.
  • Though SCRUM ensure quality and releasable product after every sprint, quality will still be a  concern due to the nature of changes allowed with in a sprint and hence those metrics are very important.


1.     Introduction

A process is an enabler for software development. Process improvement requires quantitative measurements. Following information covers some of measurement techniques effective in agile Scrum process. These metrics can be further subdivided to get more accurate measurements

All of the below information are related to Agile SCRUM process only.

2.     Measurements in any process

  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Effectiveness of process
  • Earned Value
  • Predictability of the process

3.     Units of Measurements

  • KPI is a metric with strategic objective of performance and should have at least one time bound value
  • Metrics is any measure of a component
  • SLA is a contract on meeting certain KPI between two parties.
  • Metrics will lead to define KPI, and then further lead to define SLA


4.     Productivity

4.1   SCRUM Team Productivity (KPI) respective to peer teams

SCRUM Productivity is relative measurement between teams.  One of the easy measures is number of hours taken  between teams on Small/Medium/Large story types.  Story Points will be better to remove confusion of hours.

Example based on average hours by each story type over 1 year time

Story T-shirt Size # of Stories Analyzed Average Hours/story of 4 Teams Sprint Team 1(hours) Sprint Team 2(hours) Sprint Team 3(hours) Sprint Team 4 (Hours)





















Extra Large







Example based on average Story Points by Sprint team per year

Average Story Points/team/sprint Sprint Team 1(SP) Sprint Team 2(SP) Sprint Team 3(SP) Sprint Team 4 (SP)
Story Points 70 90 65 98 55


4.2 Test case automation velocity within a Sprint (KPI)

It is often referred as number of test cases automated with in a Sprint/per day/per tester

4.3 Test case execution velocity within a Sprint (KPI)

It is often referred as number of test cases executed with in a Sprint/per day/per tester

5.    Quality

5.1  Pre-Release Bugs (KPI)

This is a measure of defects introduced by Sprint development measured by the amount of hours spend to correct the issues tracked by team.

Examples based on Rework hours introduced by each team

Sprint Team 1(hours) Sprint Team 2(hours) Sprint Team 3(hours) Sprint Team 4 (Hours)
Release 1.0 104 140 55 77
Release 1.1 140 154 77 86
Release 1.2 76 175 45 95

5.2 Post-Release Bugs (KPI)

The defects slipped into production from sprint measured by sprint team introduced the defects and hours spend on fixing the defects.

Examples based on Rework hours introduced by each team

Sprint Team 1(hours) Sprint Team 2(hours) Sprint Team 3(hours) Sprint Team 4 (Hours)
Release 1.0 14 23 19 14
Release 2.0 0 14 23 0
Release 3.0 0 19 0 23

5.3  Number of issues found during code review process with in a sprint (KPI)

5.4  Number of defects found with in a story with in a sprint (KPI)

This metrics is an indicator of the clarity of requirement or quality of resources.  Both reasons could result in unexpected defects within a story. Appropriate remediation can be implemented based on metrics


6     Effectiveness of SCRUM

6.1 Capacity available (KPI)

Sum of original capacity available in a Sprint based resource availability and sprint duration

6.2 Velocity (KPI)

Sum of original estimates of all accepted work

6.3 Estimate Expansion (KPI)

Sum of work found during sprint work

6.4 Amount of work dropped out of Sprint (KPI)

6.5 Accuracy of Story Estimation (KPI)

6.6 Capacity utilization (KPI)

This is a very loosely used term with Sprint process.  This forces the team member to report all of the time he worked in a specific project. There is no specific rule of thumb here.  It is very easy to get 85% of time reported in any reporting system.


7    Earned Value

Earned value is an important part of waterfall process.  Earned value is a direct measurement in Waterfall process based on hours worked to date and the features completed.

7.1 Number of features released (KPI)

7.2 Number of Story Points released (KPI)

7.3 Cost incurred per release (KPI)

7.4 Number of Story Points remaining for a release (KPI)

7.5 Money required to complete a release (KPI)

7.6 Number of story points accepted by Product Owner (KPI)



8    Predictability of the SCRUM

8.1 Sprint burned down chart (KPI)

Sprint burn down chart will help to predict health of the sprint as well as the possibility completion of stories committed with in sprint.

8.2 Accuracy of Story Estimation (KPI)

Story estimation expansion is a common problem during the sprint.

8.3 Amount of work dropped out of Sprint (KPI)

8.4 Hours lost because of Impediments with in Sprint (KPI)

8.5 Number of queries originated due to unclear requirements (KPI)

8.6 Estimation expansion due to changing requirements with in sprint (KPI)


9    Customer Satisfaction (KPI)

It is measured using the input from the customer. Usually a set of questions will be answered by the user about both qualitative and quantitative satisfaction of the customer.


10  Employee Satisfaction (KPI)

Similarly for employee satisfaction is measured directly from employee user anonymous surveys, peer reviews or one-on-one sessions.  It is important to understand the employee satisfaction.  It often is a sizeable factor in creating high performance SCRUM team.

11  Conclusion

Above defined KPIs are only few high level KPIs.  These KPIs can be further subdivided into more granular level ones, to make to 1000 KPIs

Author: Joseph Vargheese

India and China IT Resource Challenges, 2012 Contemplation

  • India and China provides the largest pool of outsourcing software development talents to the global market.
  • Even though a million graduates come out every year in India and China, very few are globally employable.
  • More than 80% of developed nations’ talents  are globally employable where as China is 10% and India is 25%
  • Rapid increase of need in India and china forces employers to train talents outside of the traditional supply of talents.
  • Growth of local and global markets makes even lower skill level resource in high demand.
  • Today’s scarcity in India and China will be tomorrow’s resource “threat” to talents in developed countries because of the sheer volume of  resources now getting trained.


There is no doubt that India and China provides largest pool of outsourcing software development talents to global market. With 1.3+ billion people in India or China, thousands of universities and tens of thousands of technical institutes/colleges, one would imagine that getting right IT technical talents in these countries is very easy.  But truth of the matter, it is extremely difficult to get to right talent.  This article will list some of the parameters causing this issue and solutions for it. It has lot to do with university systems/training programs in these countries.

Resource Threat to Rest of the World

But how can these resources be a threat to resources in other countries, if there is scarcity in India and China.  Important point is that if companies need resources and if the university system did not train them, these organizations will train these resources to make them globally competitive for multinational employers to attract such talent.

Choice of Higher Education in India and china

  India China
Universities 348 2884
Regular Colleges 17625 – 
Engineering Colleges 3573 – 
Total Yearly Graduates 847000 1,900,000
Computer/Engg Grads 497000 763000
Globally employable talent % 25% 10%
Globally  employable talent /year 124000 76300

As per 2011 UGC of India statistics, India has 348 universities with 17625 colleges which include 3573 engineering colleges and 828 colleges educating Computer science/Computer Application post graduates, accounting total of 847000 graduates, in which around 497,000 graduates are trained to work in computer related industries. With 2884 universities and several thousands of colleges china produces 1.9 million graduates including 763000 engineering graduates (3 year and 4 year) trained to work in computer industry.

My Experience

During last two years, I interviewed more than 250 computer professionals of varied skill sets from India and China for different types of openings.  Results were not encouraging.  Most of them are not trained enough to work for global market place, atleast not to the extent that western universities train resources.   Very small percentages of them are globally employable.

Following difference will explain why these resources are globally deployable.

Education Streams India and China

Even though years of education are very similar, talents coming out of these universities are not same skill level. Most cases they possess far below skill set than western graduates.

USA Equivalent qualification in India
Associate Degree Graduate Degree Post-Graduate Degree
Diploma – Engineering  Diploma (3 years) BE– Bachelor of engineering(4 years) MS – Master of Science in engineering(2 Years)
BSc– Bachelor of Science (3 years) B.Tech – Bachelor of  Technology(4 Years) ME – Master of Engineering (2 years)
BA – Bachelor of Arts(3 years) MSc – Master of Science(2 years) M.Tech – Master of Technology (2 years)
BCA -Bachelor of Computer Application (3 years) MCA – Master of Computer Application(3 Years)  
PGDCA – Post Graduate Diploma in Computer Application(PGDCA)    


USA Equivalent Qualifications in China
Associated Degree Graduate Degree Post-Graduate Degree
Associated Degree of Science (3 years) BS – Bachelor of Science – (4 to 5 years) MSc – Master of Science 2 to 3 years)
Associated Degree of Engineering(3 years) BE – Bachelor of Engineering (4 to 5 years)  ME – Master of Engineering (2 years)
Associated Degree of Art (3 years) BA– Bachelor of Arts (BA)(4 to 5 years)  MA – Master of Arts(2 years)


Innovative vs. Transaction Talents

Education system in India and china produces majority of transaction based talents. Transaction based talents are well known for their ability to understand certain defined problem domain and find solution for problem.  These talents are very good in repetitive tasks and often provide higher productivity as they attain more experience.

Those who can bring innovation to engineering process are often called as innovative talents.  Innovative talents are abstract thinkers and great problem solvers.  They also work well within a team and possess strong personal skills. Many universities in India and china do train such talents, but volumes of talents are very less.  IIT/NIT programs in India and “C9 league” programs in China are best examples of such training programs. Lately several private universities in India train and produce top talents.

Choosing education selection stream

There is a major difference on how students choose education stream in India and China compared western world.  Most part of western world students chooses education stream based on their interest.  But in these Asian countries, education selection is driven by earning potential at large.  Most often these programs are selected by their parents or relatives for them. School system is not equipped to guide this student to right career paths. Most often lot of students end up in careers they are not passionate about.  Students with interest may not be able secure admission because the competition from the above group.  Situation is slowly changing in India and China with emergence of several alternate education streams now to train these resources in IT field.

Skills gap in India and china

Here are major difference between western world and Asian countries. Some of them are part of culture and some are part of education.

English: English knowledge is not wide spread in all of China and rural India. India still have higher % of English speaking population due to English being medium of instruction in most of the Indian universities. Besides, British ruled India almost 2.5 centuries, and left English awareness all across the country. On the other hand china started these programs probably only few years ago. Their medium instruction is still in Chinese. China introduced the CET (College English Test) levels (4, 6) in recent years as part graduation process. But these exams only guarantee writing skills and emphasize on spoken language. Younger population in china speaks better. During my 2010 visit to China, I spoke to several students in university and schools system and they seem to have higher skills in English and thus future looks promising to China.

Team work: Team work: Ability to work in team comes natural to graduates of several western universities.  It is a premium skill set for lot of graduates in India and China. This is due to education systems, training of these graduates. Several of education curriculums in India and china give higher importance to academics and often forget to impart enough training in team building and leadership activities. We are seeing big leap in India, in this area from private universities and premium private colleges. They are showing active interest in training such talent using varied facets of skill development programs.

Technical skillsAverage technical skill level of equivalent degrees in India and China is far below expectation from average western university graduates. This is due to the lack of practical problem driven training coupled with excellent lab facilities and access to best teachers.

Some other areas of challenge are leadership and problem solving skills.


With the increased demand of IT talents in India and China, these talents with lower skill level is also put to work.  Many of these talents are getting trained and over period of time these skill gaps will be filled with job based training.  It is interesting to see how these talents will fill the global demand of skilled workers as world is turning out to be more and more one single open society.


Author: Joseph Vargheese  



Is your off-shore engagement profitable

Is your off-shore engagement profitable

Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM

Atlanta GA USA

Dated: 2012-03-09

 (This article is a qualitative assessment, so please don’t quote anywhere)



Most companies do off-shore software development to save cost.  But in most cases it is not effective to have off-shore environment unless closely monitored. Even some of best run environment are not as profitable as perceived. Following method will help to measure off-shore effectiveness.  This model used to measure T&M offshore model. It can also be extended to use for outcome based as well as fixed cost models.


Perception is deceiving.  Attraction of lower cost compared to onsite cost alone does not determine the cost effectiveness. There are overhead costs, not figured into this perception.

Early warning signs

  • Are you hearing your manager’s complains about off-shore management difficulties?
  • Are you hearing that your team members are not happy with off-shore software delivery?
  • Are you hearing off-shore communication difficulties?

It is the time to measure your offshore productivity.

Understand variables

The first step is to understand following variables

  1. Communication overhead (Communication overhead is due to time zone and cultural difference  generally calculated at 10% of cost. This is the time spend by your onsite team to communicate work required from offshore)
  2. Capacity utilization (Billed hours vs actual productivity hours reported against task assigned)
  3. Onsite governance cost (Cost of onsite governance to verify the deliverables produced from offshore environment estimated as high as 10%)
  4.  Employee Productivity (Productivity of the offshore employee compared productivity of onsite employee)
  5. Software rework cost on offshore created issues (case by case basis)

Measuring these variables

                Client should start measuring these variables on regular basis.

Average offshore operations is at 6$ loss per resource hour

How is that possible?  Let us examine some average numbers.

Capacity Utilization: 75%

Resource Productivity: 75%

Communication overhead: 10%

Onsite Governance: 15%

These numbers look very attractive to any normal user.

Let us assume your onsite cost per hour is 75$ your offshore cost is 25$ per hour. 

Your overall productivity is 75% * 75% which is approximately 50%

Your earned value is at 75$ * 50% = 37.5$

Your expense is 25$ + 75$ * (10%+15%) Onsite governance cost = 43.75$

In effect your offshore center is at loss of 6$ per hour of a resource

Steps to improve

  1. Negotiate reasonable offshore rates.
  2. Improve capacity by scheduling available capacity and tracking on regular basis (Target: 90%)
  3. Improve your productivity by having KT programs and frequent onsite and offshore travel programs (Target: 85%)
  4. Reduce onsite governance cost to 5% (Convert your offshore coordinator to a contributing resource)
  5. Reduce communication overhead by having overlapping working hours (5%)
  6. Reduce or avoid rework by putting together KT and close feedback mechanisms


Client required to have constant monitoring of these numbers to ensure minimum variance on achieved performance.  It is recommended to add a part-time role of offshore performance manager to monitor and govern the progress achieved.

High Performance Software Development Teams

High Performance Software Development Teams

Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM

Atlanta GA

Dated: 2012-03-03



Creating a high performance team often comes as a dream to several software development managers and senior management, because they often produce as high as 5 times the output of a normal team.  But it is not easy to put together a high performance team.  This article presents some steps to create and maintain high performance teams.

Accidental exposure

Three times in my 16 years of career, I had opportunity to work or manage high performance teams.  Almost all three times, evolving of these teams was very accidental. I was able to maintain the tempo of team and productivity level. I like to share my experience with these three very different environments.

Small and Nimble

Teams were small and nimble in all three instances with size of 4 or 5.  It make cross communication channels to minimum.

 Visionary Leadership

My first exposure to a high performing team comes from a small company.  I was a team member that time.  My manager was initially an individual high performer then built a small team of high performers. He understood the strength of every team member and proactively guide in the areas team member may face issues. Idea is, not to waste time. He encourage people to help each other even before other member seek for help.  I felt as if he could predict everything going to happen in the team which was always amazing to me. He was a visionary leader.  If we think outside the box, almost all of high performance companies are built by visionaries and so are the teams

 Co-dependent Members

Second exposure was in large insurance company where I was a manager.  I was asked to deliver mission critical project in small time frame and given freedom to pick the team members. Application has components from PC to web to mainframe and data return in the same path. I never looked at individual high performers instead selected performers who work together very well. To my surprise team worked very closely and came up with three different solutions.  Every member of the team was dependent on other’s skillset wherever applicable to speed up the process. We selected two solutions and worked in parallel sharing some of efforts on both solutions.  First solution was a performance disaster and second solution was a huge success.  Application was delivered on time with minimal or no defects. Same team was kept intact for several assignments and every one of them delivered on time.

 Identity and positioning

Imagine that your company wants to build a very high performance team.  You have selected 5 of your high performers and put in one team.  I can almost guarantee that it will be a disaster and high conflict of interest. My reasoning is that every member of the team should find their identity within the team and like to get that respect and positioning from others. It looks as if an invisible hierarchical system is being developed organically within the team and members understand their position within the team.

This is same reason why hiring decision are important to these teams.  Let me explain two of hiring mistakes. I hired highly knowledgeable person (He wrote several books as well) to high performance team and It was a disaster. He could not find the identity within the team.  Another example is of hiring resources with several awards and she also could not find identity within the team as well.

Challenges and common goal

High performers require challenges and recognition of their importance within the team. I have an experience to share here. A company was starting a very important initiative to go to Web visibility of application.  A meeting was called with few of the best minds in the company and I was the project manager in that effort.  Meeting also attended by few senior management folks because of the strategic importance. One of the team member slept in that meeting. After the conclusion of the meeting one of senior manager called me and asked me to officially warn the person slept in that meeting.  I thought that was not the right approach, instead I called resource and challenged him to make this project successful and promised to write great review based on the success and given the freedom to make any decisions.  He did that project successfully and several projects thereafter. He got high visibility within the company which excited him.  He created a self-goal to work as a change agent within company and act as catalyst to bring new ideas to company.  He also excited people around him to have similar goals.


Communication is the key in success of any high performance team.  That is why expected team size is 4-5, which makes smaller number of communication channels. Prompt and two way interactions resolve issues very quickly and make email communication to minimum.

Off-shore software development vendor selection process

Off-shore software development vendor selection process

Joseph Vargheese PMP CISA CSM

Atlanta, GA, USA

Dated: 2011-July-5


1.     Initial planning

  • Number of resources and budget
  • Type of project
  • Complexity
  • Development process
  • Data Security
  • Compliance

2.     Countries of preference

  • India (Very high process maturity)
  • China (Very cheap testing resources. Very good for Japan and Korea with no language barrier)
  • Brazil (same time zone  with North America, Good for Infrastructure)
  • Vietnam (Very good rates for medium skillset)
  • Russia (Very cheap single digit per hour rate for email only communication)
  • Costa Rica (Same time zone.   Medium skill set)

3.     Preference parameters 

  • Quality of deliverables vs. cost
  • Quality of manpower available
  • Communication Overhead
  • Overlapping hours of operation
  • Process framework
  • Information and Data Security infrastructure

4.     Primary screening process sources

5.     Right sizing a target vendor 

  • Above 10 Millions :  Large companies above 50000 people
  • 4 to 10 Million :  Companies with 10000 to 50000 people
  • 1-4 Million Companies with 1000 to 10000 people
  • < 1 Million: Companies below 1000 people

6.     Pre-screening process

6.1 Domain Expertise

Does the vendor have organization has expertise in the domain? example insurance, banking, healthcare etc…

6.2 Technology Expertise

Does vendor organization have expertise in the technology domain   Example: mainframe, client server, Web, Database etc..

6.3 Process Expertise

Does vendor organization have expertise in the process framework and exposure the development process used by client whether it Agile, Waterfall etc.

7.     Development methodology alignment

  • Agile Development
  • Waterfall Development
  • RUP Development

8.     Cultural alignment
Please make sure cultural alignment is good with destination vendor organization including fast paced environment vs. highly process environment

9.     Training and development

Continuous infrastructure for training and development is key factor the success of the offshore environment due high employee turnover as high as 20%

10. Full RFP process

Full RFP process is recommended only for engagement above 2 million.  Engagements below 2 million a short RFP process will suffice.

11. Vendor presentation preparation

An agenda with short set of slides should be provided in advance for streamlining presentation material.

12. Global rate card

This point client should start collecting all possible needs for next two years with in organization and start getting pricing for the same.  It will be a tough negotiation  to get a better rate on a later time.

13. Vendor contract components

If it is not black and white, it can’t be enforced.

  • Intellectual property rights
  • Communication channels
  • Overlapping hours
  • Governance model
  • Escalation Process
  • Penalty for not performing
  • Exit Criteria
  • Offshore performance management
  • Rate lock

14. Managing a vendor 

  • Governance model  Implementation
  • Escalation Process
  • Formal issue reporting and tracking system
  • Continuous staff training programs
  • Key employee backup program
  • KPIs
  • Tuning of delivery model and process framework

Hidden facts of an off-shore software vendor

Hidden facts of an offshore software vendor

Dated: 12/28/2011

Joseph Vargheese 

Atlanta GA USA

This article mainly reference operations in India and china, and assumes minimum knowledge of offshore operation in China, India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Russia and Vietnam.

Location of your ODC

Location of youroffshore software development (ODC) environment determines offshore vendor price point as opposed to single rate for a country. Resource cost attributes to biggest expense in an ODC. But those salaries are determined by the location. For example average software engineer salary in major cities is around 14000$ in china and 16000$ in India (as of 2011). As operation move from one city to other cost also changes. For example salary in Dalian (second  tier city in China) is 25% cheaper than Beijing (first  tier city in China) or Shanghai or Shenzhen. There will be another 20% resource cost advantage if company move to a city like Jinan, which happens to be located few hours from Beijing. Similarly in India moving from Bangalore/Chennai/Hyderabad to second tier city like Bhopal/Kochi/Mysore may have 30-40% cost advantage.

Not all cities are same

Not all cities are good for sourcing highly skilled software professionals. Companies outsourcing to second  tier cities have to think about the type of manpower they can source from that city. Generally second  tier cities have lower supply of highly skilled man power compared to first  tier cities. If your operation is a heavy R&D based, it will be advisable to stay within a first  tier city.

Challenge in English

Recognize the fact that English speaking resource is a challenge in many outsourced countries. It is very challenging to recruit English speaking resources in China and Russia. Unfortunately the client will have direct feel of the problem only when contract is done and the staff selection has started. To some degree, vendor could find English speaking resources in India/Vietnam/Brazil/Costa Rica because of the higher supply.

Infrastructure and Operations cost

Infrastructure and Operations cost are not always a component in many countries. It is not the same level playing field between outsourced countries. China has high federal subsidies to operate within a software technology park owned by government, including subsidized tax, electricity, water, rent for several years. Brazil, Vietnam and Russia have some subsidies. But operating cost in these countries is much lower than India and China. India has subsidies for operations mostly driven by state governments to attract companies to that state. It includes subsidized rent, electricity and water. The high federal subsidies make China’s operation cheaper than other countries.

Experience and Salary

Experience determines the salary not the technology. Many  vendors sell CRM and ERP skilled offshore technology worker for a higher price. But for most of these countries, including India/China, resource pricing is driven by YOE. That means SAP professional and QA tester will only have  a small difference in remuneration for same years of experience.

Employee turnover rate

Most of the time, “stated employee turnover rate” does not include first year. Most of the time, vendor will state a yearly attrition rate excluding employees leaving in the first year of their employment, unless specifically asked. That number alone could be an additional 10%.

Overlapping hours

Practically overlapping working hours are hard to realize. Many  vendors provide overlapping hours coverage with their USA counterparts as work from home option or office. Most often employees can’t stay during night time due to family commitment or transport etc. In case of  work from home, most of the Indian or Chinese homes are not equipped with internet and phone facilities. Yet another note is that, in large cities these professionals are staying with an extended family in a 2 or 3 bed room apartment, which will not give them enough privacy required to function.

Many cities in India and china get cold during winter time. Life becomes almost stand still after 8:00 PM. That means transportation is very minimal as well as safety become issue for female employee to travel alone.

One size may not fit all

A high performing vendor in one area may not be suitable for other type of efforts. Vendors like to get every type of business available within a company. Every vendor engagement is a standalone unit. Most people do not understand that it is very challenging to bring another horizontal knowledge base to that engagement. For example you have very successful .NET based engagement and suddenly an SAP requirement comes. Natural choice will be the vendor performing currently. But most often it will be as challenging as starting a new engagement.

Disappearing resources

It is usual to exchange experienced resources for other projects. As engagement gets matured, vendor will start pulling experienced resources stating various reasons. Reason is that they are more valuable somewhere else in their organization. This will reduce the quality of your engagement. Client should consider contractually binding these resources.

Plan for the worst, expect the best

Terminating the contract and knowledge transfer to another source is always a sticky point during the contracting process. As time goes your offshore vendor can grow significantly, which make your current operation very small for them. On the contrary, client could grow fast which warrants a better offshore partner to cover client’s needs. Client’s outsourced contract should be able to terminate any time and always add an option to do a knowledge transfer to another vendor. It should be at the discretion of the client to decide on the notice period and not all resources are required for knowledge transfer.

Bring Competition

Competition brings best out of everyone. Always consider  two vendors for your engagement, because inherent competition always brings better value for the client.

Reverse knowledge transfer

It is a challenging issue to bring back knowledge from outsourced engagement to onsite. The challenge will become very high if the resources can’t speak English. This issue  has to be addressed during vendor goverance process.

My special thanks to Rajesh Philip for reviewing this article