Lessons from an international outsourcing team
Written by Sharon Hendricks, Scrum Master at Saratoga
As an outsourcing software development partner for international organisations, Saratoga delivers custom, innovative and sustainable technology solutions that create real-world business benefits for our clients.
One of our long-standing international clients is a company based in the UK, which develops warehouse management systems for their customers across the globe. With over 40 years’ experience in delivering innovative supply chain solutions, our client is a leader in their field.
We’ve partnered with this organisation for a number of years as a trusted provider of outsourcing services, and a dedicated team of our technology professionals work closely with client stakeholders to successfully deliver various projects.
Sharon Hendricks, Scrum Master for the outsource development team, shares some of the many lessons they’ve learnt in working closely with this global client.
A key project for our client is the next-generation technology platform they’re developing, which will enable their customers to automate and manage their complex omni-channel supply chain operations with a scalable, flexible and easy to use platform.
The project team for this platform spans across four continents, making the standardisation of processes and tools extremely important to the success of this project.
From a technical perspective, Saratoga was instrumental in advising the client on which tools would be the best fit for the development team in communicating the project deliverables.
Key to the success of this team was establishing a single communication process to allow for constant engagement between the various stakeholders. The implementation of agile scrum processes created consistency in communications between the remote teams working from South Africa, the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.
The scrum team for this project is a very diverse, multifunctional team with the scrum master based in Cape Town, a product owner based in the US and a release manager based in the UK, while the development team consists of four developers and an enterprise architect based in Cape Town and a development manager working from the UK.
Additionally, business specialists, system analysts and testers contribute to the team from the US, the UK and Australia. The final layer of stakeholder complexity is a support element for the project as the platform is currently live and running in production in large warehouses in the UK, US and Australia.
While working with technology professionals from across the globe brings with it a number of benefits in the range of skills and knowledge within the team, it does make the communication practices and process management of this project a critical factor in enabling successful deliveries.
Key processes for team success
With team members based across the globe, this project has a complex solution delivery life cycle (SDLC) with multiple time zones the team needs to navigate. With guidance from the scrum master, the team adopted scrum methodologies – the ceremonies of which they follow as closely as possible. For example, the team stand-ups take place at 3pm (Central Africa Time) in order to maintain an inclusive work environment for the entire project team.
Sprint planning is one of the more tricky ceremonies to master as there are numerous customer platforms with differing release cycles and versions of code. Retrospectives can be equally challenging and, due to the size of the team, they need to maintain a living list of action items that is reviewed at each retrospective.
One approach that has proven successful in better managing retrospectives has been for the team to run their retrospectives in smaller teams initially, and to then communicate any specific pain points across the broader project team. The actions from the various retrospectives feed into quarterly performance scorecards for each business unit, allowing for continuous feedback and monitoring for areas of improvement.
Due to the complex nature of these processes and the number of stakeholders involved, the team is continually looking at ways to improve the processes in place and the efficiency of the broader team.
Communication tools for a connected team
As this project team has been working as a globally distributed team since well before COVID, the team is well-versed in communication technologies that have recently become more prevalent with remote work.
To effectively manage communications across various stakeholders and time-zones, the team has incorporated the following tools into their project processes:
- Microsoft Teams is used for all meetings and scrum ceremonies.
- Jira is used as a ticket management system and drives stand-ups and planning sessions.
- SharePoint and Confluence are used as storage points. Key to the streamlining of project processes is well-structured storage with easy access to business and technical specification documents, test scripts and test plans and to optimise the storage of individual customer infrastructure specifications.
- The development team stores best coding practices and onboarding requirements for any new team members in a Wiki on Confluence.
“My experience as the Scrum Master on this project has been interesting and ever challenging. The expectation and the norm is to have stand-ups first thing in the morning to set you up for the day. This was the first mind-shift and hurdle for our SA team. One could argue that with our project team being so widespread, it is at least first thing in the morning for some of the team members! Practising scrum principles has kept us focused and has helped with creating a mindset of embracing change within the team. Our focus has been on people above process and this has kept us functioning as an effective global team.” – Sharon Hendricks, Scrum Master at Saratoga.