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Overcoming Language & Cultural Barriers in SD Outsourcing

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Overcoming Language & Cultural Barriers

High-speed internet, videoconferencing platforms, and the resulting opportunities for remote work have created a fascinating new landscape where software development outsourcing is a very popular practice. Now it isn’t uncommon to have a project manager in Canada and a developer in Serbia. What about a DevOps specialist in Argentina and a software architect in the UK? Perfectly possible.

Wonderful as this may sound, outsourcing isn’t without its problems. What happens if not everyone on your team speaks perfect English? What if the more individualistic approach of the West sometimes clashes with the more collective culture of the East?

This is why we need to address the language and cultural barriers in outsourcing — and think of potential solutions.

The language

Let’s be honest — proper communication isn’t easy even when everyone speaks the same language fluently. Misunderstandings can and do occur, leading to dithering in the workflow. Errors in punctuation and grammar can have surprisingly big consequences. So much critical information is at risk of being missed which, in turn, impacts the project schedule.

Such issues can hamper the understanding, productivity, commitment, and even comfort of those employed on a project. In a communication-intensive industry such as this, the fact that there are 6,909 distinct languages in the world can only make things worse. After all, not everyone will be a master of English, Mandarin, or Spanish.

The culture

Vocabulary and grammar aren’t where this story ends. Nuances of meaning can be tricky to deal with. Communication styles are an even bigger obstacle. Some people will have a forthright approach while others will be more cautious. This leads us to cultural differences.

Of course, we don’t want to dip into antiquated stereotypes. Still, there is no way around the fact that certain regions have different beliefs, expectations, and approaches to problem-solving. For example, professionals in Japan tend to have a strong sense of hierarchy. People in France, however, may take a more freeform approach to structure. This can create obvious cultural barriers in outsourcing software development.

It’s important to find solutions.

Define the basics

Before you set out to find an outsourced team, take a good look at your business. When outsourcing your software development, you need to clearly communicate the purpose and goals of your company. 

We’re talking not just about the specific project you’re hiring the team for. We’re talking about the entire vision and mission of your enterprise. Make sure everyone’s on the same page and is comfortable asking for clarifications. Pick the right words, be articulate, and frequently check for understanding.

Get to know your team

Contrary to what some managers may think, getting to know your team members doesn’t end once the interview phase is over. That’s only the beginning. In order to keep the lines of communication open, you have to create a relaxed environment.

Get thoroughly acquainted with your team members as individuals. Of course, organizing team-building events in the traditional sense of the word isn’t exactly easy when everyone’s 2,000 miles away. However, videoconferencing platforms and even online games serve as excellent alternatives.

Foster diversity

Some cross-cultural differences can have a substantial impact on how your project develops. Fortunately, it’s in your power to avoid the negative and boost the positive sides of said differences. Instead of looking at them as cultural barriers in outsourcing, you can always assume a different angle. Observe them as opportunities to benefit from what each individual is able to bring to the table. Welcome discussion, compare perspectives, and create a safe space based on respect.

Focus on language learning

Of course, we also have to address the issue of language. Focusing on idiom compatibility when picking your team will sometimes be possible. However, this won’t always be the case. Often, different people will have different levels of understanding of English or whichever other language you decide to use.

Providing your team members with language classes may seem like a large expense. However, if it’s done online, in groups, it could actually be more economical than you think. What’s more, it could come across as a great benefit for potential employees. Letting them know you’re providing this can help you attract better talent.

Put it in writing

Here’s another idea that could boost the quality and consistency of your communication. Instead of video calls, you could try emails and cloud-based project management systems such as Slack or Asana. At first, that may add a slight layer of complexity to the communication process. However, since the learning curve isn’t very steep, this initial phase will soon create a foundation for greater accountability. 

Having it all in writing is a great way to document each process for future reference. Keep it all on record. You never know when you may need it.

Pick the right processes

Moreover, we shouldn’t fail to address more technical issues. In order to break down cultural barriers in outsourcing, you will need to stay away from generic solutions. Instead, adopt a more tailor-made approach and consider diverse software methodologies.

Let’s assume you have a team from Eastern Europe working on your new app. If you find that they prefer well-defined instructions and structured processes, you might want to implement a Waterfall or V-model.

If, on the other hand, your team from Latin America prefers flexibility and proactiveness, Agile methodologies could be your best bet.

Provide the necessary training

Whichever system you wish to implement, your team will need to know how to navigate it. It’s up to you to provide the training. Take your time with this one. You may create detailed processes and procedures but make sure you present them in simple and direct language. Don’t forget to discuss past results and strategize on upcoming tasks. It’ll help you mitigate issues further down the line.

Use nearshore outsourcing

One of the best ways to mitigate the risks of outsourcing is to hire a nearshore software development partner. Nearshoring is one of the three main outsourcing models, which combines the best of offshore and onshore outsourcing. Nearshore outsourcing happens when you hire a software development provider of a nearby country or region, e.g. you’re based in the U.S. and hire a Latin American company.

Nearshore outsourcing is a great alternative because it provides you with a more affordable alternative than onshore outsourcing while reducing the potential language and cultural barriers you might find in offshore outsourcing. That way, you’ll be collaborating with a team that’s located close to you and that has similar perspectives on how to do the work. 

Stay consistent

Language and cultural barriers in outsourcing software development are definitely surmountable. One of the crucial strategies is to define your goals and have a clear idea of what you wish to achieve. Communicate these clearly to your team. Get to know each member and foster an environment that encourages diversity as a tool for building better cooperation. 

If language is an issue, investing in classes can make a huge difference. Whatever you do, it’s best to have it in writing. If you’re introducing new processes, always provide the necessary training. Making this a part of your outsourcing strategy will allow you to establish consistency, build stronger ties with your team, and turn your differences into assets.

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