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Lessons From India

Lessons From India

With problems magnified by distance and cultural difficulties, accusations and lies started to flow.

Keeping offshore IT projects on track is never easy, but outsourcing specialist Hugh Walcott has learned his lessons the hard way - so you won't have to.

Not so long ago, AVOGA consultant and outsourcing specialist Hugh Walcott was helping an Australian company manage a large offshore project with a business partner in India. The company had chosen to offshore for pretty much the same reasons all companies do: the promise of cost savings and the availability of much enhanced resources, from lashings of expertise to improved scalability.

On the surface the decision seemed entirely sound too - after all, the Indian partner boasted strong expertise in the desired project area and claimed to have more than 16,000 engineers based in Bangalore, India operating at CMM Level 5.

Indeed, company executives showed - and pretty much still do - every sign of feeling entirely comfortable with the initial agreement.

However, down at the project level things quickly started to go wrong. The project simply did not go well, Walcott says - so much so that even today it still struggles in the face of that troubled history. Key deliveries failed to be met and the veneer of commitment and ownership promoted by the outsourcer started to crumble. With problems magnified by distance and cultural difficulties, accusations and lies started to flow.

While many enterprises have a reasonably good understanding of what it takes to run a multinational business, Walcott says the project taught him volumes about what it takes to run a multinational project, particularly a highly technical one.

During the project, Indian team members seemed so relentlessly incapable of meeting deliverables that the company felt it had to arrange short-term visas for a portion of the Indian team to come to Australia in the hope of achieving some oversight and improved accountability. But if the camel's back was shuddering from the discovery that many of those so-called 16,000 engineers sported bogus CVs and lacked the necessary technical knowledge, the final back-breaking straw turned out to be the revelation that the much-vaunted CMM Level 5 rating was only applicable on site.

"That's what we fell into," Walcott says. "We saw that CMM Level 5 rating and thought: Great, these people are going to be excellent to work with. It turns out that as soon as you take teams - particularly teams that are young - out of their infrastructure/organization they lose any support and certainly any CMM Level 5 capabilities."

With pressure mounting, Walcott set out to integrate the Indian and Australian project teams. For him the experience was a formative one, the lessons learned helping him develop some new ideas about the best ways to structure and manage offshore outsourcing agreements, and reinforcing his belief in the value of audits as a way of keeping offshore projects on track.

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