The next release of “Universal Voice to Text” for all messaging applications with translation into 120 languages is being co-developed in 7 locations by teams in a massive dispersed development effort.
Shared components are developed in Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv. The localization and translation applications are developed in Paris and Hong Kong. Noise control is handled out of Raleigh USA; there are PFDSD teams (prepare for deployment/service/ documentation) in Moscow and Seoul.
There are thousands of teams like this, many of whom have a common set of inherent tensions. The goal of this post is to highlight the 3 most frequent tensions characterizing geographically dispersed development teams which co develop products. I will use the above case study as a shared platform to illustrate.
Issues to be discussed are
- Hidden agendas
- Blaming and unwillingness to share risks.
Hidden agendas are politically driven survival & control motives which impact the interface between the various components of the dispersed team.
The major hidden agendas consist of maintaining jobs, proper positioning to impact major decisions, and maintaining long term involvement in the product to ensure that the team is not easily disposed of.
In the case above, Paris and Hong Kong are adamant that their applications do not become part of share components, which will ensure the viability of their teams.
Trust is a very rare commodity in dispersed development teams, due to cultural differences, hidden agendas, lack of personal relationships, the anomie inherent in virtual organizing and poor mutual responsiveness due to time differences.
In the case above, there are acute trust issues between the Silicon Valley team and the Seoul team due to a 4 day turn around time on issues. Deep mutual suspicions have been developed in the last six months and the trust issues are out of hand.
Another illustration of trust comes to mind. Mr. Lau in Hubei, China and Mr. McDougal (from Cincinnati USA ) are about to sign a contract. The contract is for 200 million dollars over the next year. Mr. Lau has one more request. “I have a son who I would like to work in your company. Keep an eye on him and perhaps he can go to US to learn English. Mr. McDougal thinks: I cannot trust this guy. He is totally corrupt. Mr. Lau thinks: I cannot trust this guy. I give him 200 million dollars business and he does not value our relationship.
Dispersed development teams work in the context of very aggressive commitments with huge risks factored into customer commitments and inevitable technological challenges.
In the case of above, the Universal Voice to Text including translation has been promised to a client by November, 2016. And guess what, it ain’t gonna be ready by then. So the teams are blaming one another for late deliveries as an excuse for the schedule slips which are happening weekly. Just last night, the Raleigh team complained that some background noises come across as syllables and words, shifting the blame to the shared component group in Tel Aviv.
It is very rare that dispersed teams will share risks, preferring instead to blame one another for obvious reasons, aka hidden agendas driving long term survival.
More on the global consulting mindset here.