Communicate! (with Remote Software Development Teams)

With remote software development teams, you need to be excellent at communicating “asynchronously”, across time zones. Much of your communication will not happen in real-time, so you can’t afford to play “Question and Answer Ping Pong”.  Here are some proven best practices to follow as you address how to manage a remote development team.


Set Up a Communication Framework

It’s too easy to lose valuable information when team members are communicating across multiple platforms like Skype, WhatsApp, Slack, Email, Zoom chat, Google Hangouts, text etc.. 

As difficult as it might be, insist on limiting your technical communication channels to two or three

Email can be used for overall communication between managers and other stakeholders, but technical communication channels should be limited. 

Communication Framework for Remote Software Development Teams:

  • Jira or another project/issue tracking platform can be used for technical documentation and overall project information.  It can also be used to store communication protocol and process information. 
  • Slack could be used for instant communication and to post “group chat and notifications”.  This is particularly helpful if direct communication after hours is used to answer bottleneck questions.  Many delays can be avoided in this way.
  • Video chat platforms like Skype, Zoom or similar can be used for video meetings and to share screens for collaboration.   

Establish Clear Communication Protocols

Very early, establish communication protocols and expectations with your remote software development team.  These will cover items such as:

Daily Collaboration Schedules

Work schedules between remote and internal development teams should be structured to maximize the number of daily collaboration hours.  This is critical in the early stages but can be relaxed once the teams are up and running.  A minimum of 2 hours of daily workday overlap with your remote team is suggested, more if possible. 

Meeting Frequency

  • Scrum meeting times and frequency
    • Scrum Masters and relevant Team Leads from both teams
    • Daily at first, less frequently over time.
    • Keep recurring meetings at regularly scheduled times.
  • Monthly Technical Management meetings
    • Attended by Technical Managers from both teams
    • Track key KPIs and manage expectations
  • Quarterly Executive Meetings
    • Executive Engineering Management from both teams
    • Roadmap discussions and executive feedback.

Low-Context Communication Expectations and Standards

Set specific standards and expectations for low-context communication from your remote software development team.

 Avoid the “Question and Answer Ping Pong”

  • Each email and direct message should be precise, meaningful and thoughtful.  Short, vague emails usually trigger Q&A Ping Pong.
  • Coach your teams to write emails with as much information as possible.  Nothing should be left to interpretation. 
  • All team members should develop a habit of reviewing and proofreading emails and direct messages before sending.  The simple question to answer before hitting send is; “If I were the recipient of this message, would I understand it without sending another email to clarify something?”

Once your remote team understands the importance of low-context communication, these improvements become a matter of practice. 

After Hours Communication (for bottleneck questions)

Even with the best asynchronous communication between teams, it’s important to have the ability to get quick answers to bottleneck questions.  Without this in place, project schedules often suffer the “death of a thousand cuts”. 

Project schedules often suffer the “death of a thousand cuts”, waiting for answers to bottleneck questions.

We highly recommended that you get permission and cooperation from your offshore developers to periodically answer quick bottleneck questions sent to them after hours (on slack or another instant message platform).  Being available (only as needed) just a few hours before and after the remote team’s formal workday can save weeks in schedule.  A good remote team will see the value of this and agree.


Consider Developing a Glossary of Terms (Wiki)

Most teams use industry jargon without even realizing it.  In fact, even technical jargon deemed common in the US might be misunderstood by a remote developer.   It’s a good idea to develop a Glossary of Terms or Wiki to define any terms and definitions deemed relevant.  



About Cloud App Developers, LLC

With a team of 1,500+ Engineers from 6 countries, we provide multiple options to optimize what’s most important to our customers. Need to scale a large team rapidly? Need same time-zone development? Looking for particular tech skills? We have you covered.

We also offer IT Staff Augmentation Services for Software Development and Data Science Engineers.

Our Architects, Developers, Data Scientists, and Data Engineers are extensively screened and have domain expertise in several industries, including Telecommunications, Financial Services, Insurtech, IoT, Logistics, Industrial Automation, etc.

Developer Screening, Testing & Training

With the multitude of changes, dependencies & processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction & concurrency is required. Our screening processes ensure our teams can deliver “Agile @ Speed” in your development workflow.

Technical English Proficiency

For Agile, “English At Speed” Is The Standard

Communication Excellence

Developers Trained For “Low-Context” Communication

Problem Solving Aptitude

Our Customers Expect Engineers

Code Testing

Code Quality

Code Reviews For All Developers


Interested in Agile Remote Development at Speed?

If you’d like to experience “Agile at Speed”, we’d be happy to schedule a brief call to discuss how we can help you.

The Secret to Agile with Offshore Teams

Agile Offshore Software Development

The secret to agile with offshore teams lies within the differences between low-context and high-context communication cultures. As many of you may have already experienced; focusing solely on developer skill and experience does not guarantee a successful offshoring experience. Agile offshore development performance requires “Agile at Speed”, which is difficult to accomplish without a certain velocity of communication. This article focuses on how this is accomplished.

“The biggest single problem with communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” 

-George Bernard Shaw

How appropriate this comment is for agile offshore development.  Language barriers and cultural communication differences can lead to misunderstandings that can hamper a development team’s throughput, foster mistrust between teams, and (worst case) contribute to disastrous consequences.  

But in the context of geographically dispersed, culturally diverse engineering teams, what do we mean by effective communication? We examine two important communication elements that are critical to Offshore Agile Software Development: Technical English Proficiency and Cross-Cultural Communication.


Agile Requires Technical English Proficiency

Effective communication clearly requires moderate English proficiency, at a minimum.  However, Conversational English Proficiency is quite different than Technical English Proficiency

There are many tests that can identify technical English proficiency, including the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), offered by Cambridge University’s Cambridge Assessment English (CAE) exam board. 

The Hidden Problem of Cross-Cultural Communication

The hidden problem of achieving agile with offshore teams is the difference between high-context and low-context communication cultures.”

Cross-cultural communication challenges are the root cause of many offshore/nearshore development failures.  This hidden problem causes mismatched expectations between customers and their offshore/nearshore vendors. 

Low-Context vs High-Context Communication

An excellent article detailing the cultural communication differences across the world, which summarizes Erin Meyer’s ground-breaking novel:  The Culture Map, can be found at Tech Tello.  A summary is provided below.

Low-Context vs High-Context Communication

Low-Context Communication Cultures

In low context communication cultures, effective communication must be concise, straightforward, and explicit for the message to be passed on successfully. 

“Low-context culture requires stating it as you mean it.”

The rule-of-thumb for low context communication is as follows: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them”

This process is designed to quickly identify and correct misunderstandings before they become problems.  It also serves to reduce pointless, time-consuming debates.

In low context cultures, communication occurs assuming that knowledge of each other’s histories and backgrounds is not present. Neither is most of the communication shaped by long-term relationships between speakers.

In low-context communication, the meaning of messages is more dependent on the words being spoken rather than on a shared understanding of subtle cues.

High-Context Communication Cultures

“High-context culture requires reading between the lines.”

In high-context communication cultures, effective communication is nuanced, layered, and sophisticated.  High-context cultures rely upon shared history and experiences to communicate. 

A high percentage of words can be interpreted in multiple ways, depending on how and when they are used.  This can be very effective and efficient if all members of a team have the same background, history and experiences to understand these subtleties. 

However, when this shared history and understanding is absent, as is the case when people from high-context cultures communicate with people from low-context cultures, the communication breaks down. 

In fact, the highest chance of miscommunication exists when two people from different high-context cultures try to communicate.  In this scenario, both parties try to communicate using nuances that neither is aware of. 


Communication Cultures by Country

Image source: Tech Tello

As you can see, the United States is the lowest context communication culture in the world, with most of the westernized countries leaning towards the left of the scale. 

All the countries that speak the Romance languages, including European countries like Italy, France, and Spain, as well as Latin American countries fall in the middle of the scale, while Asian and African countries are solidly on the right of the scale. 

Japan is the highest context communication culture in the world. 

Clearly, excellent software engineering can be found along the entire low/high context continuum.  This scale is not meant to measure communication effectiveness.  It merely points out how well people from two cultures can relate to one another. 


The Secret to Agile With Offshore Teams

If clear communication is the goal, multi-cultural teams need low-context communication and processes.

What matters isn’t where either culture falls on the scale, but rather the relative position of the two cultures that must work together, in this case on Software Development.  The larger the gap, the harder it will be to communicate with your Software Development Partner, on average. 

When US-based companies with low context cultures work with SW Development partners from high-context cultures, there is often little basis (context) for shared non-verbal, nuanced communication, causing frequent miscommunication. 

Agile development programs will suffer if half your team is communicating non-verbally, with assumed shared understanding, and the other half is not.  Even moderate time-zone differences between geographically dispersed teams can magnify this problem. 


Selecting an Agile Offshore Software Development Team with Low-Context Communication

The easiest way to ensure low-context communication is to pick a development partner from a low-context communication culture. 

But you may have other reasons to outsource from a country that is not low-context. In this case, pick a Remote Development Team that:

  • Understands the importance of crisp, clear, low-context communication
  • Has put in place the proper screening, testing, and training to ensure low-context communication
  • Understands it is the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adopt a low-context communication style to aid in communication.

In our opinion, it’s the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adapt to their US-based customers’ communication culture.  It’s not about who’s right or wrong, but rather about workability.   The high/low context communication combination usually does not work unless low context processes and communication are established.  This is especially true in Agile Development Environments.



About Cloud App Developers, LLC

With a team of 1,500+ Engineers from 6 countries, we provide multiple options to optimize what’s most important to our customers. Need to scale a large team rapidly? Need same time-zone development? Looking for particular tech skills? We have you covered.

We also offer IT Staff Augmentation Services for Software Development and Data Science Engineers.

Our Architects, Developers, Data Scientists, and Data Engineers are extensively screened and have domain expertise in several industries, including Telecommunications, Financial Services, Insurtech, IoT, Logistics, Industrial Automation, etc.


Developer Screening, Testing & Training

With the multitude of changes, dependencies & processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction & concurrency is required. Our screening processes ensure our teams can deliver “Agile @ Speed” in your development workflow.

Technical English Proficiency

For Agile, “English At Speed” Is The Standard

Communication Excellence

Developers Trained For “Low-Context” Communication

Problem Solving Aptitude

Our Customers Expect Engineers

Code Testing

Code Quality

Code Reviews For All Developers


Need Agile Offshore Development?

If you need “Agile at Speed”, send us a message using the form below to schedule a meeting to review how we can assist with your offshore software development efforts. Thank you.

How Can a Remote Developer Team Thrive in Your Agile Environment?

Some Remote Developer Teams struggle in agile environments, while others seem to thrive. But how can you predict which teams are more likely to succeed? Identifying any “Agile Gaps” within a prospective remote development team upfront is critical to your dev team scaling efforts, especially if you can’t afford an “Offshore Vendor False Start”. 

Remote Developer Team


Table of Contents


Beware of the “Waterfall Trap”

As early as possible, you need to determine whether your prospective remote development team can thrive in your Agile environment (with its multitude of changes, dependencies, and processes), or if they are limited to Waterfall (with its clearly defined tasks and clear boundaries between development teams).  

remote software development teams

This “Waterfall Trap” has bitten many unsuspecting Engineering Managers as they scale their remote teams, only to be disappointed with the results.  Keep reading to discover the root causes of remote developer team failure and how to prevent falling into the “Waterfall Trap”

“Agile At Speed” Should Be the Standard

“In the time it took me to explain things, I could have coded it myself.”


-Typical complaint about remote developers

US customers usually expect their offshore dev partners to be an extension to their internal agile team. With the multitude of changes, dependencies, and processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction, and concurrency is required. 

This “Agile at Speed” is difficult to achieve unless your offshore dev team’s communication culture matches yours.  Without it, project schedules will slip, and your offshore partner will be a source of inefficiencies, causing a rippling effect across your entire dev team. 

Effective Cross-Cultural Communication

An excellent article detailing the cultural communication differences across the world, which summarizes Erin Meyer’s ground-breaking novel:  The Culture Map, can be found at Tech Tello.  A brief summary is provided here.

high context vs low context communication
Image Source: Tech Tello

Low-Context Communication Cultures

“Low-context culture requires stating it as you mean it.”

In low context communication cultures, effective communication must be concise, straightforward, and explicit for the message to be passed on successfully. 

The rule-of-thumb for low context communication is as follows: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you’ve told them”

This process is designed to quickly identify and correct misunderstandings before they become problems.  It also serves to reduce pointless, time-consuming debates.

In low context cultures, communication occurs assuming that knowledge of each other’s histories and backgrounds is not present. Neither is most of the communication shaped by long-term relationships between speakers. In low-context communication, the meaning of messages is more dependent on the words being spoken rather than on a shared understanding of subtle cues.

High-Context Communication Cultures

“High-context culture requires reading between the lines.”

In high-context communication cultures, effective communication is nuanced, layered, and sophisticated.  High-context cultures rely upon shared history and experiences to communicate.  A high percentage of words can be interpreted in multiple ways, depending on how and when they are used.  This can be very effective and efficient if all members of a team have the same background, history and experiences to understand these subtleties. 

However, when this shared history and understanding is absent, as is the case when people from high-context cultures communicate with people from low-context cultures, the communication breaks down.  In fact, the highest chance of miscommunication exists when two people from different high-context cultures try to communicate.  In this scenario, both parties try to communicate using nuances that neither is aware of. 

Communication Cultures by Country

Image source: Tech Tello

As you can see, the United States is the lowest context communication culture in the world, with most of the westernized countries leaning towards the left of the scale. 

All the countries that speak the Romance languages, including European countries like Italy, France, and Spain, as well as Latin American countries fall in the middle of the scale, while Asian and African countries are solidly on the right of the scale.  Japan is the highest context communication culture in the world. 

Clearly, excellent software engineering can be found along the entire low/high context continuum.  This scale is not meant to measure communication effectiveness.  It merely points out how well people from two cultures can relate to one another. 

The Secret to Agile With a Remote Developer Team

If clear communication is the goal, multi-cultural teams need low-context communication & processes.

What matters isn’t where either culture falls on the scale, but rather the relative position of the two cultures that must work together, in this case on Software Development.  The larger the gap, the harder it will be to communicate with your Software Development Partner, on average. 

When US-based companies with low context cultures work with SW Development partners from high-context cultures, there is often little basis (context) for shared non-verbal, nuanced communication, causing frequent miscommunication. 

Agile development programs will suffer if half your team is communicating non-verbally, with assumed shared understanding, and the other half is not.  Even moderate time-zone differences between geographically dispersed teams can magnify this problem. 

Read our full article The Secret to Agile with Offshore Software Development Teams here.

How to Ensure Low-Context Communication When Selecting a Remote Development Team

The easiest way to ensure low-context communication is to pick a development partner from a low-context communication culture. 

But you may have other reasons to outsource from a country that is not low-context. In this case, pick a Remote Development Team who:

  • Understands the importance of crisp, clear, low-context communication
  • Has put in place the proper screening, testing, and training to ensure low-context communication, and
  • Understands that it is the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adapt a low-context communication style to aid in communication.

In our opinion, it’s the responsibility of the offshore/nearshore vendor to adapt to their US-based customers’ communication culture. 

It’s not about who’s right and wrong, but rather about workability. The high/low context communication combination usually does not work unless low context processes and communication are established.  This is especially true in Agile Development Environments.


About Cloud App Developers, LLC

With a team of 1,500+ Engineers from 6 countries, we provide multiple options to optimize what’s most important to our customers. Need to scale a large team rapidly? Need same time-zone development? Looking for particular tech skills? We have you covered.

We also offer IT Staff Augmentation Services for Software Development and Data Science Engineers.

Our Architects, Developers, Data Scientists, and Data Engineers are extensively screened and have domain expertise in several industries, including Telecommunications, Financial Services, Insurtech, IoT, Logistics, Industrial Automation, etc.

Developer Screening, Testing & Training

With the multitude of changes, dependencies & processes within Agile methodologies, a certain velocity of communication, interaction & concurrency is required. Our screening processes ensure our teams can deliver “Agile @ Speed” in your development workflow.

Technical English Proficiency

For Agile, “English At Speed” Is The Standard

Communication Excellence

Developers Trained For “Low-Context” Communication

Problem Solving Aptitude

Our Customers Expect Engineers

Code Testing

Code Quality

Code Reviews For All Developers


Interested in Agile Remote Development at Speed?

If you’d like to experience “Agile at Speed”, we’d be happy to schedule a brief call to discuss how we can help you.

Are Communication Skills More Important Than Technical Skills?


Are communication skills more important than technical skills? Having worked in Offshoring for 25+ years I can tell you a primary driver of success is the technical communication skills of customer-facing engineers.  English proficiency provides a foundation for this, but that’s only one part of what constitutes effective communication in a modern engineering context.   

In the “New Normal” of remote, geographically dispersed development teams, the need for effective communication is more important than ever.  This is especially true when outsourcing in the Offshoring / Nearshoring models, as it can be challenging to maintain Agile and DevOps processes and practices.

Development Managers, tasked with finding scarce development skills in a hot market, have increasingly turned to Offshoring and Nearshoring.  This strategy can pay off handsomely, provided English proficiency is a major consideration in your vendor selection process.  At a minimum, proficiency in communicative English is essential for engineers when interpreting technical information and creating solutions as a team. However, an effective Agile/DevOps culture requires even higher proficiency standards.  Below are a few suggestions for enabling effective technical communication across your outsourcing base. 


How to Ensure Strong Technical Communication from Nearshoring & Offshoring Partners

  •  Pick the right test

General English tests are considered insufficient for assessing global communication competency in an engineering context.  Assessment exams, like the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), offered by Cambridge University’s Cambridge Assessment English (CAE) exam board can be very useful in measuring technical communication skills.  CAE processes 5.5 million candidates per year and is recognized by 25,000 employers and institutions worldwide.  (See table below)

The Common European Framework divides learners into three broad divisions (A, B, C) that can be further divided into two levels.  For each level, it measures performance in reading, listening, speaking and writing. (Only levels B and C are shown, reflecting relevancy in an engineering context)

CEFR Framework Levels

Level groupLevelDescription
B
Independent user
B1
Threshold or intermediate
Can understand the main points of clear standard input on familiar matters regularly encountered in work, school, leisure, etc.Can deal with most situations likely to arise while travelling in an area where the language is spoken.Can produce simple connected text on topics that are familiar or of personal interest.Can describe experiences and events, dreams, hopes and ambitions and briefly give reasons and explanations for opinions and plans.
B2
Vantage or upper intermediate
Can understand the main ideas of complex text on both concrete and abstract topics, including technical discussions in their field of specialization.Can interact with a degree of fluency and spontaneity that makes regular interaction with native speakers quite possible without strain for either party.Can produce clear, detailed text on a wide range of subjects and explain a viewpoint on a topical issue giving the advantages and disadvantages of various options.
C
Proficient user
C1
Effective operational proficiency or advanced
Can understand a wide range of demanding, longer clauses, and recognize implicit meaning.Can express ideas fluently and spontaneously without much obvious searching for expressions.Can use language flexibly and effectively for social, academic and professional purposes.Can produce clear, well-structured, detailed text on complex subjects, showing controlled use of organizational patterns, connectors and cohesive devices.
C2
Mastery or proficiency
Can understand with ease virtually everything heard or read.Can summarize information from different spoken and written sources, reconstructing arguments and accounts in a coherent presentation.Can express themselves spontaneously, very fluently and precisely, differentiating finer shades of meaning even in the most complex situations.
  • Choose outsourcing partners from countries ranking high in English skills

If you plan to scale-up a team rapidly, it’s important to pick Nearshoring/Offshoring partners from countries ranking high in English skills, as it is easier for the partner to scale a team for you if the pool of engineers with English proficiency is larger.  EF EPI is an English Proficiency Index that covers 100+ countries and regions, based on over 2.2 million test results.  Here’s a snapshot of their current testing results:

  • Make your communication expectations clear with potential outsourcing partners

Sub-par communication is often thought of as a “necessary evil” when working with lower cost regions of the world.  This does not have to be the case.  Universities and development partners are beginning to realize the importance of building technical communication excellence into their organizations.  All potential development partners will claim they are good at communication.  Ask them to show you.  Pick a partner who demonstrates excellent technical communication skills during peer-to-peer meetings and calls as you evaluate them as a potential outsourcing partner.  Don’t settle for “the way things are”.

We hope these suggestions offer some useful guidance to improving your technical communication levels within your outsourcing base.