Executing a successful relationship with decentralized software partners

Once defining your strategy for collaborating with a software partner, how to run a high-performing and world-class relationship?

Planning session promoting in-person interaction between both parties

As a company, we were born because of demonstrating our execution capabilities through working functional products. Doing this is not easy, that’s why It was important for us to share the way we have developed many of our customer relationships during the last years, crafting software out of Latin America, and the business decision-makers & stakeholders located mainly in the US.

In every single region of the world, particularly those mainly involved in technology, it is evident all the challenges the industry is facing in terms of talent acquisition: political changes, immigration policies adjustments, scarcity in the volume of roles and people, underskilled workforce for the type of activities you need to cover — these are just some examples of the many things a business needs to care when building a software team and an engineering culture. Even more, when you are a company based out on a city that there’s no significant concentration of engineers or any type of role you might be seeking, how do you start attracting talent and retaining them?

Panel interacting with the audience answering their questions

We arranged a panel in conjunction with the Austin Technology Council (ATC), and invited one of the most loyal customers we have to the conversation, PointB, to share thoughts on the main topic: “Global & Agile: How to execute a high-performance decentralized team strategy”. Along with the ATC, we agreed it was important at this particular moment of time (Jan/2020), to discuss in detail how to run and execute a proper strategy to manage a relationship with remote teams, particularly software partners and companies that can allow businesses to fastly tackle the learning curve from an engineering and software standpoint, and assemble a team to beat any type of challenge right away.

The discussion was relevant to the audience, approximately 30+ decision-makers and C-level executives from the Austin, TX metro area, where the conversation was incredibly led by Amber Gunst. We wanted to concentrate the most relevant key takeaways as a set of steps in order to run these partnerships, once your company has defined they need to work with a company abroad.

Taking around 60 minutes, we took notes and created a sort of chronological path for any company, once the strategy has been internally defined and the company is ready to execute a partnership:

  1. Select based on culture alignment and expected outcomes
  2. Plan a quick and small test to validate
  3. Communicate properly: find ways to mitigate any lack of understanding
  4. Being transparent and reciprocal prior to and during the relationship
  5. Consider frequent in-person interactions

Select based on culture alignment and expected outcomes

Before jumping into a relationship of this kind, consider the entire model, philosophy and work culture the partner has. I wrote some years ago a post describing the factors any business should consider to select the right software partner. I believe this is still relevant, and even more when you want to foster a long-term relationship and grow along with those partners.

There should be a similar foundation between both companies, and this will allow the engagement to thrive. Complementary values, company activities, cultural rituals, even an alignment in purpose and value proposition, will be part of the cultural common ground and will allow all next points to be performed without any frictions.

Talking about the outcomes, there are many ways to ponderate an outcome in a relationship like this, but generally speaking, either you will look for a partner: 1) who can augment your execution capabilities with a major control on your end, or 2) who can provide some guidance, support and add value layers on top of your current service or product.

How you want to measure that outcome will depend on your business objectives, financial modeling and how you perceive value on this relationship. It won’t make sense to select a partner in the 2nd scenario, and telling them the majority of the things they should do and the way to perform those activities; neither the other way around. An up-front conversation regarding outcomes is a must on the initial conversations of a potential engagement.

Plan a quick and small test to validate

There’s no better way to prove an engagement will work than testing the waters together. The test will benefit the two parties, both the partner to realize if this is a relationship they would like and be able to take, and for the client-side company, willing to invest in a small-win test to prove whether what they see (and hear) is what they get.

In this particular step, visiting the other party to generate the first physical interaction is critical. Feeling the environment of the counterpart and meeting the leadership group, the culture and the way they work is the first step to move forward with the test. Of course, you would need to go back-and-forth with some emails, calls and do your job in selecting this partner. But consider the whole cost as an investment, versus a failed relationship because you didn’t have the chance to visit and shake hands with these people.

Additionally, the test you select should have a minimum or medium-level of criticality within your organization, in order to be easily managed and establish a clear list of outcomes that can be measured once the test is finished. All points highlighted in this post should happen in some way despite this is just a test. If the test project is successfully delivered, then you can be confident to move forward with that partner.

Communicate properly: find ways to mitigate any lack of understanding

Through the entire process, communication is critical. This is why selecting the area or region where the partner is located becomes relevant to handle any cultural shocks and communication troubles and reduce them at its maximum expression.

Starting from the capacity of that partner and the majority of the team to speak English properly, being straight-forward in the things you would expect, activating video cameras in calls (not all countries might express unconformity through words), and reinforcing messages to assure all parties are in the same page and expectations aligned at the end of any session or meeting.

Using written agreements is also important. Many information and agreements might remain just in those past talks your company and the partner had, but capturing that information via email, probably a contract (depending on the severity) or any other medium to trace the decision, will be a source of truth for any moment you need to recall a decision. Sign offs, handoffs, scope changes, team members transitions, or just a question—all need to be captured and share with the right stakeholders on that current engagement.

Being transparent and reciprocal prior to and during the relationship

If through the entire relationship we can find transparency in terms of sharing information and upcoming work, this will allow the entire relationship to be developed, grown and be moving at the rhythm it needs. For capacity purposes, introducing people into new technologies, preparing the staff to learn something new, or simply adjusting the current model to adapt to other contexts— having an open channel in a bilateral direction will allow businesses to deliver the right value to the end-customer or the end-user.

Additionally, the reciprocal mindset will allow both organizations to correspond in similar manners and values. For example, if you need to visit the partner wherever they are located, try the next time inviting them to your office location and perform similar exercises but with a different context. Maybe if you ask for some specific price point, you would expect to share a similar type of information on your end. Reciprocity is powerful, and will only work on a context where both companies are culturally aligned, fostering the extension of the relationship for sure.

Consider frequent in-person interactions

This is one of the most critical steps throughout this journey. Consider on a 1.5 to 3 months basis (at least), traveling on-site with the partner to planning sessions, working together and/or to celebrate an important goal.

Recognizing that we are humans, in the end, is the most simple way to generate empathy and rapport. Everyone has feelings, wants to be appreciated for the work they perform, likes to celebrate if they achieved something meaningful, and has fun with other human beings. Whether it is a meeting, presentation, or a heavy loaded week of activities, having these physical interactions is crucial to building real trust between the parties. With trust, confidence is gained, assertiveness and transparency.

An important consideration on this factor is selecting the region where you would like to work with, and summing all other elements such as social culture affinity, timezone, and other typical factors analyzed as part of the strategic piece of working with a partner.

The more you can visit one of the parties, the better for the outcomes of the relationship — it doesn’t matter visiting the partner or making them visit you. The less effort and energy invested in these activities, the more likeliness to encourage and make this interaction happen more frequently and a better relationship can be developed.

Whether it is for talent access, cost optimization, a business opportunity or an experiment within your organization, nowadays the modus operandi of many engineering teams rely on and will keep growing on this strategy, partners and members located in different regions different from the main headquarters (or any other formal office) of your organization. All of this is due to the technological advances, making it possible for any team to synch at different timezones, work in parallel activities, located in various regions, allowing any company to hire the best talent anywhere they are.

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