Those who’ve been working in the outsourcing industry (on both the outsourcer and outsourcee sides) will agree that there are definitely challenges in the process that bring about a reduction in the returns from shipping tasks abroad. Those that give up prematurely tend to miss the root causes of the diminishing returns and focus more on the negative symptoms appearing at the start (and often continuing) of the game.
Those that have stuck it out will notice that the problem of communication is majorly responsible for the inefficiencies cropping up. The results from cross-cultural communication gaps are delays in product development, misinterpretation of requirements, and the seeming lack in polish and refinement characteristic, and expected, of products of the west. The challenge companies tackle now is getting this gap in communication to be as narrow as possible (eliminating communication gap is impossible even with speakers of the same language from the same background and culture) so that the returns are sizeable enough to justify continuing offshoring projects.
In communication theory, the elements in a communication “circuit”, if you will, are the sender, the receiver, the channel, the message, and the feedback. In the world of business communication, we might add the context of communication to this loop. The problems in communication arise out of barriers in each of these elements of the loop. The loop becomes as strong as the weakest link within it. If the sender and receiver are not prepared or aware of each others’ stances or backgrounds, that is a problem. If the channel (e-mail, phone, video conferencing) is not on par to continue a conversation close to a face-to-face one, then that’s another problem. If the feedback going back and forth between the two participants of a conversation isn’t effective, then the interpretation on the two sides will only diverge further.
I believe the awareness of the deficiences in the links in the communication loop is a good starting point to dealing the problem. Once we appreciate how sensitive each of these are, we may be able to adapt ourselves to better handle communication and hence achieve results in sync with expectations. Examples of this would be understanding the different priorities to channels of communication. Whereas instant messaging or a chat on the phone could work for situations where the content being exchanged is small, it would not work for situations where a lot of severe issues need to be addressed with extreme focus on detail. Another issue could be the way data is presented and the timing of that data. On more critical situations, perhaps an appointment or meeting should be arranged beforehand with a known agenda rather than interrupting the flow of work with a call or an instant message. The culture of e-mailing is another that could be improved again depending on the problems at hand. Often times we do not realize that the language or style used in presenting information is crucial to how it is going to be received and addressed.
In conclusion, there is no doubt that the issue of communication is a complex one and needs to be addressed with utmost patience and care. The myriad of ways we have to adapt our thinking and processes come with the territory of doing something so seemingly simple as offshoring a set of tasks. In the general scope of things, if we remind ourselves that change often requires some difficult adjustments and shifts in thinking, we can go forward and achieve the goals we’d set out to achieve. Outsourcing is one tough cookie to chew but people are still chewing. 🙂