Faster, Cheaper, Better

This essay is extracted and de-identified from a presentation I gave to the assembled executive staff of my company, which I will herein call Big Co.

The presentation was introduced in the context of:

1) A “trip-report” on our recent tour through India and Sri Lanka, and
2) A follow on presentation to this statement, from our EVP of product development:

Collaborative multi-shore development is core to how we will build software and provide services, now and in the future.

My presentation started right after that. I had 5 slides, but the voice-over was the interesting bit. This is what I intended to say during that presentation. For the sake of this essay, presume that Big Co. bought Little Co., where I used to run the QA team, about 18 months ago. Now I work in Big Co., running a bigger QA team.

I was well prepared, but I was also “in the moment”. I think and hope I said something close to this…

Collaborative Multi-Shore Development

That’s a mouth full. But let’s not mince words. Collaborative multi-shore development means outsourcing and off-shoring. When we say “collaborative multi-shore development” we mean using contractors, somewhere else on the planet, to help us build and manage our technology infrastructure.

I started running multi-shore teams at Little Co. Soon after we were acquired by Big Co., our CEO (nod to the CEO) sat down to talk to the engineering management team from Little Co. When the topic of our then fledgling off-shore efforts came up, he asked me: “Why'd you go off-shore? To do it cheaper, or to do it faster?”

At the time I gave a very weak answer, saying something along the lines of “a little bit of both”. Since that time I've been on a fact-finding mission that's included my recent trip through India. And now I have a stronger answer. “Cheaper and faster? Sure. But we also outsourced to do it better.”

Big Co. shouldn’t struggle obtaining and maintaining skills that aren't core to our business. We should, as all of our customers have done, go out and find partners who can do those tasks for us – faster cheaper and better. That’s the promise of collaborative multi-shore development.

India Inc.

Just for background, India Inc. is how the Indian media refers to the burgeoning corporate economic sector in India. When you say “multi-shore development” today, you de facto reference sourcing work in India.

When we were in India recently, we met with the president of the Indian division of a large financial services company. He gave us a great sound-byte to describe his view of India Inc. “You come for the cost differential. You stay for the people and the culture.”

India Inc. has built itself on the back of an intensely intellectual culture, with free but highly competitive education. The Indian Institutes of Technology and Management (IITs and IIMs) are on par with the best technology and management schools on the planet. Think Cal Tech or MIT. Think Harvard Business School or Sloan. Think culture of innovation.

  • India graduates more engineers each year than the all the member nations of the European Union combined.
  • It’s a culture with a rapidly developing first-generation middle-class workforce.
  • India’s population will pass China’s within the next decade.
  • And the Indian IT outsourcing industry has adopted process and quality control standards like CMMI as a technical differentiator over their global competition.

“You come for the cost differential. You stay for the people and the culture.”

This is a big deal. This represents an opportunity and a threat. For all the reasons above, small software startups all the way to technology giants like Cisco, Microsoft and Google, view India Inc. as strategic to their technology roadmap. India Inc. represents a huge opportunity for Big Co. – Smart hardworking people who will do hard jobs for us, for less than it costs in the US? We gotta get us some of that.

But if our competitors beat us to the punch, then our service delivery cost will be too high, and our pace of innovation will be too low, and we’ll run the risk of failing to dominate our market. We can’t let that happen.

Today’s landscape at Big Co.

Just so everyone in the room here today has an understanding of where the company is, here’s a brief snapshot of our current multi-shore collaborative efforts.

(Pause to give folks a few seconds to read through the list of a dozen or so major software projects on the slide.)

Our efforts to date are largely grass-roots.

We have over 100 multi-shore engineers engaged, with at least 4 vendors, in at least 3 countries, doing almost any kind of technology work you could imagine.

This has given us great lift and capacity enhancement in some projects. I don’t mean to minimize the good work that’s been done, but this is a very hard way to make significant impact to the company’s trajectory.

Tomorrow’s landscape at Big Co.

We need to change that landscape. We need to realize the opportunity and avoid the threat of faster cheaper and better.

This is important stuff. It needs to be somebody’s day job.

We need to consolidate our engagements, and avoid a nickel and dime approach to multi-shore development.

We need to manage and on-board our staffing partners consistently.

We need to systematize our approach to multi-shore development. We need to make it frictionless, and make it the default position for all our technology projects.

We’re going to ask our managers to learn new skills – they’re going to have to lead people from a different culture, across 9.5 time zones. We need to train them on how to be effective at that.

We need to change our culture, and ensure that our employees embrace this as opportunity, instead of fearing it as a threat to their jobs. We need to change our grass-roots mode of operation, and do multi-shore collaborative development from the top down.

And most of all, we need to ensure that we assess and manage risk.

What we need from the executive team:

To get all this done, we need your help. You are the thought leaders of Big Co. You set the tone.

We need you to embrace globalization.

We need you to understand that globalization means not just selling and delivering globally – but also making and supporting globally.

We need you to embrace the cultural change we’re trying to effect.

We need you to speak with one voice.

People don’t like outsourcing. It’s hard. It’s nobody’s first choice. If our people sense dissent from you, they’ll drag their feet on these initiatives. They’ll “pocket veto” our multi-shore development efforts, and we will fail to realize the opportunity we have in front of us. And if that happens, we’ll end up with slower, more expensive and worse, instead of faster, cheaper and better.

(Applause and accolades. CEO decides we should consider outsourcing senior staff to India.)