In working through the details of a "best practices" program I'm implementing with my team, I had an "Eventual Master of the Obvious" moment this week.
In the phrase I manage a remote team, the emphatic break down is like this:
Manage: 80 %
Remote Team: 20%
I drew a nice chart, that looks like pac-man. (I'll see if I can do it electronically and post it here some time soon...)
This is simple, but is a profound key to the problems I've been trying to resolve with management of remote teams. The place where most remote teams, and most outsourced efforts fail is in management. When I look back to all the failed projects and failed partnerships I've picked apart over the years, the common thread is bad management, not bad staff, bad partners, or bad engineers.
Years ago, The Mythical Man Month talked about the common problem in our industry - promotion of talented individual contributors into management positions. Skills writing code or designing product are not in the least predictive of skills in managing other people who do the same thing.
Many of the remote teams I've put together through time have been managed by people who were great individual contributors, but who hadn't mastered the 80th percentile of their job -- effectively managing.
Most of the "best practices" I've been pushing are in point of fact "management" best practices.
In the 20% of stuff that changes because of remote or outsourced staff, it probably breaks down equally along cultural differences (10%) and practical differences (10%). But it's not the major part of the job, and if you're in charge of remote teams, you shouldn't act as if it is...