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The Role of Onshore Anchors in Agile Project Management

The Onshore Anchor is critical to the success of any distributed delivery team, as it plays a key part in helping to overcome the artificial construct that is having software development teams split across different cities and time zones. The Onshore Anchor is not an additional role or person for a project team, but rather a specific responsibility that needs to be taken on by a member of a distributed delivery team.  It is carried out in addition to the delivery role (e.g. developer, business analyst, etc.) being played on a project. At a high level, the Onshore Anchor is about being the advocate for the offshore team on the project and ensuring that they are set up for success.

The following is a list of responsibilities for an Onshore Anchor on a distributed delivery project:

Communication

Between the onshore and offshore teams

Visibility

Changes to the organizational structure will originate from onshore so it is faster for the onshore anchor to be responsible for providing visibility of these changes to the offshore team.

Often there is tacit knowledge that can help inform a decision about who to speak that is not necessarily captured in a visual organizational chart. It is the Onshore Anchor who is responsible for providing this organizational context and knowledge about who are the right people the team needs to engage with in order to give or receive information or resolve an issue.

Accessibility

Knowing who is the right person to speak to only solves half the problem. The Onshore Anchor and the offshore team also need to take ownership for ensuring that the quality of the communication is as good as it can possibly be.

Offshore

The entire team needs to take personal responsibility for ensuring that they speak clearly into the microphone and stand up in front of the camera when talking. However, there needs to be clear ownership around ensuring that the technology is adequate, the VoIP connection is good and that there is limited ambient noise. Designating this responsibility to a specific individual - the Onshore Anchor - increases the speed with which these tool-related problems can be resolved. The communication tools such as the always on video connection are the life line of the offshore team, the Onshore Anchor needs to ensure that the tools are always available.

Between the offshore team and the wider organization

Dependency Management

The Onshore Anchor should be responsible for building new relationships outside the project boundary. This is something that the offshore team is handicapped to do and will rely on the Onshore Anchor to spread their network across the client organization. If the Onshore Anchor limits themselves to just the project stakeholders it will limit the business context and opportunities for growth / innovation for the offshore team.

The Onshore Anchor should proactively provide information about what is happening across the organization and the business environment periodically to the offshore team. This should not be just about the project but about the business unit, IT unit, and the surrounding ecosystem in which the team sits in. Sitting offshore, it can be challenging to imagine, accept and appreciate. The offshore team tends to become disconnected with the client organization if this is not done. A call with the team once a month to generally share and talk about events would be useful.

Empathy

The Onshore Anchor is responsible for creating empathy on both sides, particularly in the early stages, from both a social and cultural perspective.

Social

The Onshore Anchor should focus on developing a relationship between individuals on the team. It is important to personalize the offshore team to the onshore stakeholders and team members so that they build a social connection to them. Encouraging an element of fun and sharing of personal details and interests (e.g. cultural events, dress up days, having cake in both locations to celebrate events over a video link) is important. Establishing this connection is a vital part of developing the trust required in high performing teams, and becomes doubly hard when the majority of the interaction is using VoIP.

Cultural

The Onshore Anchor should facilitate cultural understanding in both teams, particularly with regards to working practices and behaviours such as setting expectations around working hours.

Facilitating cultural exchanges that celebrate both the diversity and similarity of the cultures is a easy way to build the important social connections and understanding within the team. Nothing brings people together better than cuddly bears (koalas and pandas) and food.

Feedback

The Onshore Anchor should be comfortable with raising offshore specific issues. For example, it was discovered early on that in the offshore delivery center most of the local lunch places close by 1pm and hence if the client scheduled meetings during that time then the team might miss out on lunch. Once this was shared with the client, they were very understanding of the problem and committed to trying to avoid scheduling meetings at this time.

Offshore Team

Being there with the offshore team in the time of crisis is again extremely important. There will be wrong check-ins, some differences in coding styles or some delay in getting a response. This will often create chaos on that day when the onshore team starts work before the offshore delivery center. Managing those scenarios and helping the onshore team maintain their trust with the offshore teams is a very important role for the Onshore Anchor.

The Onshore Anchor should be sensitive to when the demands on the offshore team are becoming unreasonable and be comfortable with having diplomatic but difficult conversations around this. For example, in one case a clear sense of equality was established between two teams early on, and when a request came through for the offshore team to match the onshore team’s working hours, the onshore team was asked if they would be willing to rotate weekly and work same hours as the offshore team.

Finally this component should also be ensuring that on the off shore team is receiving the effective feedback on their performance and the overall engagement. Keeping in mind that effective feedback should be about improving confidence and effective for the person receiving it, doing this regularly should assist the offshore team on their journey of continuous improvement.

Initiatives

The following is a list of initiatives that an Onshore Anchor could drive that has worked well in the past:

  • New starter page: One click reference for everyone who joins the project. Has names of everyone on the team, some business presentations and pointers on who to talk when you need something
  • Team member profile: Asked everyone on the team to do a short profile of themselves with a 'happy picture' of theirs, including guys from business. Examples of fun questions are: “Who you wanted to be when growing up?”, and “Say happy birthday to me on..”
  • Encourage correct pronunciation of names: Insist on people in Australia learning everyone's Chinese (actual) names. To help pronounce the names correctly ask the team in China to write English phonetics of their names in the profiles and avatars (e.g. Qing(Chin)song)
  • Buddy system: Formed on-shore and offshore pairs early on for on boarding. Getting pairs to work together on small actual stories is a great opportunity to learn and gather context whilst delivering value.
  • Icebreakers: Set up games and team events that help team members get to know everyone better. For example try two truths and one lie where each team gets a chance to guess which fact about someone is a lie.
  • Cultural presentations: Get both sides to do presentations for everyone on the team about their culture and the ways of life in each country/city.
  • Celebrations: Look for opportunities for the team to jointly celebrate team wins and milestones, as well as events such as birthdays or cultural celebrations.