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Global teams 'round the clock

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Dave » 11 years 21 weeks ago

Geographically distributed product development is continuing to take hold.

From an article I came across (via the excellent Future of Work Weblog):

The new flagship mouse that Logitech will announce this fall is truly an international beast. The mechanical engineering and design took place in Ireland; electrical engineering in Switzerland; corporate marketing, software engineer- ing and quality assurance at the company’s Fremont, Calif., headquarters; tooling in Taiwan; and manufacturing in China.

This model continues to offer strong incentive, not the least of which is speed-to-market as time differences between the various locales allow for a ‘round-the-clock engineering cycle.

[The] “follow the sun” model of collaborative engineering now taking hold in the electronics industry, as a shortage of good local talent drives companies to create geographically distributed project teams with members strategically located in regions that begin their days when others’ end. To shorten time-to-market for their employers’ products, these groups share the burden of a 24-hour work cycle.

Yet, this model presents real challenges, especially in terms of managing a team of far-flung people.

While around-the-clock collaborative engineering may seem an ideal way to cut costs and speed product rollouts, it is far from perfect. Unless solid working relationships are established at the start of a project, miscommunication can gum up the works. Some managers cannot adjust to supervising people they do not see in person. Cultural differences cause complications. And the workday never ends.

As the baton is passed to a younger generation more comfortable with the Internet, that problem will disappear, believes one expert quoted.

“People who are graduating now have been on the Internet all their lives and are much more willing to deal with each other at a distance than baby boomers are.”

And, of course, collaborative technologies are critical.

[That same expert] recommends embedding collaborative technology within a critical process. “Then it’s usually clear to the people involved how this can make the process better, shorter or less painful,” he said. “The value of collaboration itself is hard to explain, but if it’s in context in a process that people are involved with, it becomes clear right away.”

The article features the top five best practices and big mistakes in distributed engineering.

Five best practices for distributed engineering

1. A vision on the part of marketing
2. Buy-in from the key disciplines, which are sometimes skeptical by nature
3. Effective management of the process without it being overly controlled
4. Great people: Get the right people in the different disciplines and let them do their thing.
5. Passion (and lots of strong coffee)

Big mistakes in distributed engineering

1. Assuming from an e-mail or an instant message that you are on the same page with your colleague in a time zone 12 hours different from yours
2. Failure to take advantage of the myriad collaborative tools available
3. Managers who don’t trust that their remote employees are actually working
4. Failure to take advantage of the best skilled workers because they are in a vastly different time zone
5. Intruding on team members with too-frequent IMs

As global work increases, we’re learning more about how to handle some of the challenges it presents. It’s no secret that collaborative technologies play an important role in the success of geographically distributed product development.