The 'Perfect' Offshore Representative – Fact or Fiction

MR. X - the solid IT professional“But the XML in the layout is not allow the product to display in the left bar widget, as the right bar widget is a better bar widget, and I am personally in right bar widget. I work hard for right bar widget, and hard work is best for the company image” –

Mr. X- solid IT professional
over 10 years of ‘hard working’ experience

That is a perfect example of an ‘offshore IT’ nightmare.  No matter how much an offshore IT resource may know about IT, their ‘outstanding’ communication capabilities, or lack of knowledge regarding the project’s business domain will always remain MAJOR causes of project failures and IT bankruptcies. ‘Hard work’ in the IT sector can sometimes ruin the best of business models, bringing everything to a grinding halt. This happens to be the twenty first century, ‘working hard on purpose’ is obsolete. ‘IT’ means working smart, not working hard – the latter’s  for fare collectors and construction workers.
Coming to the question – what are your key terms for defining the ‘perfect offshore IT representative’ (if there is any such thing). Do prioritize on the adjectives, adding the most important quality first. e.g. Technically sound, conversation, strong interpersonal skills, grasping power, domain knowledge, client relations experience etc.
Furthermore, feel free to share your best/worst experience w.r.t. interacting with an offshore rep., IT or otherwise. The objective of this discussion is to identify the best set of traits needed in a resource, suited to catering to an offshore client. So have your say, people, before ‘Mr. X’ takes another  firm down the drain.


  • I have 15 years experience of manageing multiple global IT support organizations, and have seen outsourcing nightmares and outsourcing successes both on small and large scales. The one thing that is the single most important factor in any global relationship is personal communication, and doing it over multiple time zones takes a lot of practice.
    My examples of success point to the usage of multiple communication tools to take advantage of all parties’ personal time and work style. Obviously, dealing with multiple languages and cultures demands mutual respect, and achieving that can only be done through communication. Instant messaging, phone conversations, audio phone bridges. video conferences, chat rooms, etc. can all be effectively used depending on the business objective.
    I always made sure that I really knew the key contacts I needed in any global support or outsourcing relationship. I spent the time talking to them, getting to know them personally, and making sure they knew me. Once that was achieved, the professional relationship followed suit and everyone was successful. Any chance at a face-to-face meeting should always be taken advantage of.
    I truly believe this is the single most important thing to get right in a multi-cultural outsourcing or global support initiative.

  • If I can’t understand someone, I’ll just say so, as politely as possible. “I’m terribly sorry, I’m having difficulty understanding your accent. I’m used to a northern North American and/or Canadian dialect.” After a while I’ll ask if there is someone else I could speak to.
    One person got really mad and insisted they were speaking northern North American English, what was the matter with me? It just got sillier and sillier from there.

  • Heidi, I’ve done the same thing, after getting a combination of arrogance, obstinacy and obsequiousness. If you think that’s hard to understand, add to it English that gets faster and shriller as the person runs through the script and, finally, hangs up, pretending it’s the T1 line.
    You’ve asked for honest. Prepare for it.
    I don’t like outsourcing. The one time I worked with it helped cost me a rather valuable job. The people worked overnight, ma’amed me to death, didn’t have the competence to match colors or do much else but suck up to the managing director, and, if there was a mistake, made certain it was my fault beause they lacked proofreading and English skills and didn’t want the responsibility because they were paid a pittance and were afraid of losing that. It didn’t matter if I lost mine.
    The other times I had to deal with it came with a WASP-named recruiting firm that outsourced its cold calls to a barely comprehensible T1 line on which someone ordered me to call. I didn’t. Then, there was the “award-winning” technical service of a leading PC company. Wait on the phone for another, get knocked off. Ditto for an ISP. When they finished the script and still couldn’t answer you, oopsie, bad T1, bad. No biscuit.
    WHO did these people think they were fooling, or did they not care as long as they were paid?
    The key word: grab from others rather than concentrate on one’s own country, and if the “others” run into a bad patch and go a bit nativist, why not step up the demands to grab more, each time in fields less and less susceptible to the skillsets they offer.
    The sales model is limited. We save you money. Not after you have to do it twice.
    The sales model is mendancious. Don’t tell me your name is Jane or Keith when I know perfectly well it isn’t. Don’t lie to me about where you live. I’m not stupid; I will ask to speak to a supervisor; and I will report it.
    In my opinion, you need to get, first off, the language skills up to par. We here in the states tend to be monoglot. This does not mean we’re stupid and can be ripped off with impunity. Second, you need to incorporate into your sales model our (equally puerile) demands for honesty and customer service. Third, you need to know when to back off rather than incur animosity that we will (self-indulgent as we may be) remember when times are better.
    Just how stupid do you think your potential clients are? (That is a rhetorical question. It not only does not require an answer; it would probably get flagged if I gave it.)
    The male employees should not bully. The female employees should not get haughty. We could all try being professional.
    This -is- my experience. I tend to be at least adequate at working a cultural interface. That I am this put off signifies that some people have blundered big time.
    You asked.

  • One who reads the mind of his offshore parent / client well enough that instead of gasping over what they want, grasp what they are unable to express in their brief and accordingly suggest a solution which they exclaim upon, “Precisely; that’s exactly what would best suit to this”.
    P.S. I feel most people are just focused on the aspect of language barriers. There’s more than just that.

  • There is no denying offshoring nightmares; there is no dearth of offshoring successes. Otherwise offshoring would not be the huge industry it is.
    While large companies (or large projects) allow you to spend a little bit of money on due diligence, it is pretty inexpensive even for the small-time outsourcer to get it right.
    1. Use a marketplace like Elance ( or Guru or any of the reputable ones). You can look at the ratings and feedback of all the providers. Elance also has tests to verify English skills and you can see whether your prospective provider has taken that test.
    2.Use a company or team, not an individual. There will always be someone who you can speak to if one of them is incomprehensible.
    3. Insist on a telephone interview. Skype and other tools make this very simple.
    4. Engage the prospective provider in written communication as well. This helps you gauge written and technical skills.
    5. Ask who will be your point of contact and talk to him/her.
    6. Ask for contactable references in your region and speak to them, or at least get an email confirmation of their experience with the potential provider
    6. The biggest mistake: getting carried away by the lowest price. You are better off first short-listing providers who meet your criteria and then looking at their business terms.
    Outsourcing works, if you want it to work.

  • What would be most important to me, when deciding between two companies that are capable of doing the work in question, is which one can communicate more clearly. From various experiences in the past, I have found that strong communication can be the factor that controls the success of a project.
    I speak English, therefore the person with whom I communicate on a project must be able to speak English. This is not to say that everyone who works on the project must meet that criterion, however, the project manager must be able to communicate with me, and with the rest of the team in the language of their choice.
    The other criterion that I see as important is the ability to not hide behind technical jargon when explaining something, anything. I don’t want to have to figure out what you’re talking about by translating from technical to non-technical verbiage. While I have a technical background, I want to know that the people I work with really understand any issues that arise, and can explain them in both simple, non-technical, terms, and, when prompted to do so, in technical terms as well.

  • This is an especially dramatic example there are more subtle problems with communications. Clearly this fellow is useless, of what value are his code comments? Will his selection of variable, property, method names make any sense to a more accomplished English speaker? All the common aspects of software development are not available here.
    How can his managers assume they are providing professional service? How can someone think a student is prepared for professional life developing software if they don’t have college level English communication skills? So, there are more problems than this aren’t there? The entire educational and management delivery system is “out to lunch”.
    I have also seen problems on the other side. It seems incomprehensible to me that people think they can carry on business as usual when the developers are six time zones away. As it happens, the remedy for this, the client process improvements would be good ones even if the developers were in the same building. What is often lacking is a clear, well written and thought through specification. This is also part of the problem.
    At the end of the day, “hours” don’t measure intellectual work. It’s the result that matters. I think that there are people available overseas who are at least as good, perhaps much better than what might be readily available here. It is this perception of quality that should drive an offshore selection and not how many people you get for how little money. Nations such as Pakistan and India can compete on quality and they must focus on this.
    It’s also interesting, I find that people with excellent language skills are also the very best developers (whatever their first language). I have never met a developer who wrote like “Mr. X” who could write decent code either. I expect that in his own language, Mr. X does not express himself in an orderly way either.
    His use of the word “Personally” correctly written would be considered “passive voice”. When the only actor is “you” which object is running what quickly is lost in the train of thinking. For example: “When you use the right bar widget …” would be OK but passive. (I’m using nothing, the damn thing doesn’t work). “The right bar widget is displaying …. with the wrong … (values, colors, shape)” is active and provides more information.
    Maybe he is defending a foot ball goal? Could this be?

  • Zohaib,
    i seriously doubt that is a real life example of a developer communicating with a client – especially a client based in the English speaking world.
    if it is, then all i can say to the client, in the current due diligience/internet/twitter age : Caveat Emptor

  • why “representative”? You mean remote contractor or contractor-company doing programming, web programming, web development or something along those lines?
    There are simple rules useful for getting things done faster:
    – hire smart people, not glib liars with fake resumes/prospectuses etc. Smart people are generally a good thing, and they usually can communicate better too.
    – do technical interviews before hiring. Ideally do it yourself, if you know what you are doing
    – don’t hire people from a certain well-known region (the one that generates so many not-so-intelligent programming questions right here on LinkedIn). Do what smart people do – hire Eastern Europeans or low cost Westerners.

  • 1. Complete Understanding of the Business Objectives at Hand
    2. Technical Prowess beyond just Experience and Expertise
    3. Ability to Implement New Media, UI, UX and Program Logic Creatively
    4. Prior Project References and Design Wins on Major International Projects
    5. Ability to Quickly Communicate Salient Facts, RoadBlocks and Challenges

  • perfect offshore rep?
    i will only look for these essential qualities: cheap and happy to be trained (something on the lines of pavlov’s method because s/he will already be proficient in microsoft technologies).

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