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Qualifying An Agile NearShore Or Offshore Supplier

by Christopher Goldsbury on Dec 04, 2012 |

Nearshoring is more competitive in agile software development projects than offshoring due to closer geographical, and cultural proximity.  That's the opinion presented recently by Karl Flinders on ComputerWeekly on Nov 19, 2012.  Reading the article these points are made: 

  • Agile requires strong, continuous communication between the team and customer to succeed.
  • Closer geographic proximity means teams are working within the same, or nearby time zones, augmenting communication.
  • Similar cultural backgrounds reduce the number of misunderstandings and further enhance the communications needs of agility. 
While presenting an interesting hypothesis, the article does little to provide evidence for this insight other than personal anecdotes and the potentially biased opinion of some East European near-shore suppliers. Agile methodologies put primacy on co-location and communication. Most stress having the development team and customer in the same room together.  So on the face of it agile doesn't, idealogically, fit with offshroing or nearshoring.
 
But practical experience fosters pragmatism and adaptation and there are many agile teams working with offshore and nearshore suppliers. So is near-shoring a better fit for those agile teams? For starters, let's define near-shoring.  According to Wikipedia
Nearshoring is "the transfer of business or IT processes to companies in a nearby country, often sharing a border with your own country",[1] where both parties expect to benefit from one or more of the following dimensions of proximity: geographic, temporal (time zone), cultural, linguistic, economic, political, or historical linkages.[2] The service work that is being sourced may be a business process or software development.  
But some potential near-shore situations may not lend to Mr. Flinders' argument.  For example, Japan is very close to Russia geographically, but it's cultural proximity is probably not as close.  A firm in Japan hoping to near-shore agile software development to a firm in Validivostok may not derive the enhanced communication hoped for from nearshoring.  
 
Similarly, there are countries that are geographically distant but culturally very close.  The United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom all share a very similar cultural background, political and legal apparatus and heritage.  But their geographical isolation from one another is obvious from just a simple glance at a world map.
 
So if cultural and geographical proximity aren't the exclusive criteria that make an offshore or nearshore agile supplier competitive,
then what does?   Here's some thoughts compiled and paraphrased from CIO Magazine's 7 Tips To Offshore Agile Development and ComputerWorld's Is Your Outsource Agile Enough:
 
  • Communications equipment and standards for sharing agile artifacts virtually is embraced and internalized.
  • A partner that physically visits periodically and wants to "understand and know" your business and people.
  • The firm truly accepts and embraces agile software development methodologies.
  • The partner should have some overlap in time zones to make coordination of daily meetings easier. 
  • Agile offshore development can't be self managed and organic.  There needs to be an active manager of the effort who can intervene when the process has become unglued.
 
Once a supplier is selected, an agile team should take time to consider the wealth of lessons learned on offshoring agile development that the community has put forth.  Turning this back over to our readers, what other criteria make for a good offshore or nearshore agile supplier?  What lessons learned can you share about your own agile offshoring  or nearshoring experience?

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Offshore vs. Nearshore by Anders Ingerstedt

I do not entirely agree with the statements above. For European clients there is a significant difference between working with nearshore suppliers that are only 1-2 hours away by air and who are practically in the same time zone. Furthermore, the culture dependent differences are also significant between Asian "high-context" cultures who are more subtle and mindful regarding the opposite party, versus the Western "low-context" culture which is essentially facts based.

Many Asian countries have traditional hierarchical cultures that clash with the concepts of Agile. Even if this fact can be mitigated to a certain extent, it will take an effort. In my experience nearshore works far better for European outsourcing buyers than off-shoring to more distant regions.

- Cost of travel is significantly lower
- Cultural gaps are small
- Communication (English, French, German) is easier
- Attrition levels are lower
- Availability is generally very good
- Time zone differences are minimal

Here is an article explaining further: colabpro.com/wwwcolabprocom/blog/bid/191634/Whe...

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