I was reviewing this years client list and the work we’ve done this year. We have a lot to be thankful for and we really appreciate their business and like to send them a small token of appreciation during the holiday season. We hope they come back for more work and the gift, trivial really, is just a way of saying thanks.
I started thinking about our clients. With the exception of a handful, most of them are not in the Kansas City area. Heck, most of them aren’t even in the Midwest. So what this means is that we never see our clients in a face-to-face meeting and have to rely upon phone calls (both traditional and via Skype), emails, instant messages, and the occasional screen share or video conference.
This makes managing a project harder in my opinion. There is so much information that gets passed when you’re sitting across from a person that you’d be hard pressed to write it all down. It’s hard to get that same level of info electronically.
I get a chuckle when I hear about companies looking to offshore their development work to developers in developing countries. Sure, it’s possible and you might be able to save some money but there’s a hidden cost.
In an Cutter Consortium survey Link over 20 years and 8000 projects they found that offshore projects reduced the cost of projects to $3.2 million versus the $3.5 million it typically cost by doing it on-shore. From a time perspective the on-shore project took 12.6 months and the offshore took 9.6 months.
The real kicker is that the defect rates for offshore projects were an incredible 7565 versus the 2702 for onshore projects. So even though the offshore project cost less and took less time, the company had to fix nearly three times more defects. In the long run I’m not sure the offshore projects saved anything.
In the same study Agile methodology came out looking like a winner. The average agile project took 7.8 months with a cost of $2.2 milling with a defect rate of 1372.
Last summer we worked on an agile project. It takes some time getting used to but after the initial learning curve the project went very fast and the client was very happy with the results. If you have a big project you should probably think about using agile.
I apologize for digressing from the main topic. Certainly one of the of biggest challenges with a long-distance client is communication. I suspect this is why the offshore projects have higher defect rates. Everything needs to be written down and communicated – mostly via email. Throw in cultural and language differences and you have a recipe for misunderstandings (if not outright disasters).
A couple of things that I’ve learned is that the communication skill of each client is different. Some can handle an email with a list of questions. Others can’t so you end up with single point emails. Email management is a must!
We use a bug tracking system and encourage our clients to log in and use it. Most get it and love being able to track what’s been fixed and what hasn’t. Others just won’t use it (despite regular prodding) and resort to emails. Depending upon the size of the project, it might just be easier to transcribe those emails into your bug tracking system.
Long-distance clients need special attention. They need reassurance that you are really working on their project. For some clients we do a 3P report where we report on Progress, Problems and give the Plan for the upcoming week (sounds sort of agile, no?). With the web becoming an integral part of our lives and business, learning how to work with clients from anywhere in the world is an important skill.
How do you deal with long-distance clients? Do you try to have a face-to-face meeting with them? Do you think you do anything special for your clients?