Excerpts from my recent talk at Boston College

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to present a guest lecture to a grad-level symposium on outsourcing theory at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College.

I attended Boston College for several years in the '90s. At the time I thought I wanted to be a philosopher when I grew up. Turns out love of wisdom is not a growth industry.

I actually started my career in high tech at BC, working in their IT shop to fund my graduate studies in the Philosophy of Science. So I always enjoy going back to the campus.

And as an added bonus, the course was taught by a man I like and respect - Mohan Subramaniam, D.B.A.

Professor Subramaniam is the author of a significant amount of new theory and scholarship in the space of global innovation, and really knows his stuff. I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with him and his students.

The attendees were a mix of professionals and MBA candidates. Their experience level ranged broadly. I tried to keep my comments generic enough to apply to all levels. What follows is a transcription of the salient bits of my presentation:

Managing Global Teams – a Practitioner’s Perspective

I began my talk with a description of the high-level thought processes that drive most organizations to begin outsourcing some portion of their operations. In my experience, this starts with a tacit desire to be faster, cheaper, or better.

All business-drivers that ultimately lead companies to outsource fit into one of these three buckets.

I defy anyone to find a driver that is separate from the desire to be faster, cheaper, or better. The class took me to task on this, and presented some drivers they thought fell outside of my purposefully simplified model:
  • More flexibility in ramping up or eliminating staff - This may be faster, it may be better, or it may be both, but it certainly fits into the model. Faster ramp-up, better ability to align resources to business realities.
  • Access to a large or talented labor pool - This is a form of better. Access to better people than you might otherwise be able to attract and retain.
  • Ability to slough off non-core work and focus on the core -- This too, I argued, is very simply a form of better. Ability to focus on the core is the ability to be better at what is important to your company.

I then presented this flow chart, that sums up the decision gates most companies go through:

If you’re good at this stuff you’ll enjoy good results. You'll be faster, cheaper, better or some combination of the three. Hooray! Good for you.

But if you’re not good at this stuff, you will fail. Like this. Or this. Or this.

In order to understand "this stuff" you first need a framework to talk about the various flavors of outsourcing. I presented my framework.

All sourcing models, I contend, boil down to two questions: Us or Them? Here or There?

I presented the attendees with my UTHT matrix. This matrix, taken from the opening chapters of the book I’m working on, defines a simple 2X2 matrix (I do love a simple 2 X 2 matrix!) and lays out a way to describe all outsourcing team models into 4 quadrants, and 5 team variants.

The team variants I described are as follows:
  1. Pure Local Insourcing
  2. Global Insourcing
  3. Local Hybrid Teams
  4. Global Hybrid Teams
  5. Pure Global Outsourcing
I talked about how each of these 5 team types is subject to a 4-fold problem. Most "traditional" technology teams deal with at most 2 of these facets. In three of these five outsourcing models, you double the complexity of the working dynamic, and face all these problem facets:

Outsourcing is difficult. It adds complexity. In traditional teams you have to deal with the problem space and the team dynamics of your local team. That’s an easy set of problems. You know technology or you wouldn't have gotten the chance to lead a technology team. You know your team; and you probably manage them by walking around. Throw in the complexity of vendor and client relationships and an extra team with potentially conflicting culture and goals - and you've got a real mess.

I use this same slide in my vendor training to describe the fact that outsourced service providers have among the toughest jobs on the planet because they have to be savvy and proficient across all four of these facets. This part of the talk really resonated with the more experienced attendees. I think the truth of this statement may be lost on younger MBA candidates who haven't had the difficulty of managing across multiple facets of a problem space...

This was all to lay the background, and to give the attendees the understanding that the simple, obvious decisions (sic) they’re making and suggesting around their theoretical work and case studies in outsourcing create a whole new level of complexity once implemented.

That’s probably enough for this post.

In my next extract from this talk, I’ll go through the “lessons learned” portion of my talk.

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