Applying Remote Technical Consulting to Your Business : Page 3
By building a model and following these best practices for your remote consulting business, you can avoid problems and reduce costs.
by Puneet M. Sangal
Jul 31, 2009
Page 3 of 3
Remote Model Best Practices
With a model defined, here's a review of some best practices that can help make things function smoothly in a remote model:
Use Email Templates: These can be quite useful when trying to drive consistency. Email templates provide a great mechanism to echo consistent and familiar language to the customer. They can be used, reused, and modified for each situation. Email templates mitigate the risk of poor communication to a great degree by providing a consistent communications base.
Set Expectations: Failure to set expectations appropriately or acknowledge communications is a key failure in remote setups. Imagine a situation where a project manager sends a task to a remote technical consultant—who is physically 12 hours away. The consultant is about to retire for the day. He sees the task email, but leaves for the day without acknowledging it. The project manager is left to wonder the whole day whether the task was received. He gets panicky, and starts working on it himself. The technical consultant arrives the next morning and starts working on the task too. At the end of the day, the project manager and technical consultant both discover that they have been working on the same task! A simple acknowledgment such as “I received the task and will work on it tomorrow morning” would help. Similarly, expectations should be set, met and honored with constant communication, because missed expectations can cause the same type of pain as non-acknowledgement if not handled well. In remote consulting, it's far better to have people frustrated by over-communicating than to have them constantly wondering about progress.
Synchronization: Along the same lines, it is useful if one of the two remote persons stays late or wakes up early, so you can have a regular synchronization meeting. Particularly in models where engagements last less than 100 hours, you should plan to have a daily synchronization meeting.
Conferencing: Having a web conferencing and/or audio conferencing setup available helps to tease out operational logistics issues.
SWOT Analysis: Prepare a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats (SWOT) analysis that highlights the key strengths and weakness of the model. This is useful to drive tactical decisions with senior managements when considering growth. Also, opportunities (external) and threats (internal) should be mitigated on a constant basis with the dynamics of the organization.
A balanced scorecard provides a measurement from four different angles on the success of a model or business. It is a tool to take the vision and strategize it into reality. Applying a balanced scorecard on this setup provokes thought and puts essentials into perspective. The four dimensions in the scorecard are:
Internal Process Improvement
Learning and Growth
Use this scorecard and define your objectives, measures, targets and initiatives on each dimension for growth. There are a plethora of templates available on the balanced scorecard. Table 2 shows one such example.
Table 2. Balanced Scorecard: This balanced scorecard example shows two objectives, the current scenario, issues for change, the changes needed, the new scenario after the changes, and a description of the expected situation after the changes.
Current Business Scenario
Consulting on products A and B
Product C consulting is in resource crunch
Add consulting for product C
Scale one resource every half year
Cost savings, more revenue, better margin
Internal Process Improvement
QA is challenging, with limited resources
Resource crunch, high cost of hiring local resource
Add one QA remote resource
Dedicated service just for QA
Defined QA methodology
Learning and Growth
Employees not aware of culture differences
Culture sensitization issues
Training on culture
Better culture awareness
Better expectation setting and working synergy with global team
No measure of customer satisfaction
Improvement of customer satisfaction is subjective
Measure customer service on key parameters
Share metrics on a weekly basis with senior management
Better focus on customers, resulting in better quality of delivery
The model of having a local project manager makes it easier to visit customers, while the remote technical consultant can focus on technical delivery and implementation. Communication with customers in this mode happens over the phone, web, and via email. However when the situation requires the remote consultant to travel, it is good to define a model. Also, it's key to the success of this model to maintain a tightly integrated team, and useful to organize a summit where people can meet each other and build relationships. Having a travel model sets a foundation for travel philosophy and keeps the budget under control. The remote consultant should travel no more than once or twice a year, unless required for a customer visit.
Vacation and Work from Home Models
Similarly, you should have consistent models for vacation planning and for employees who work from home (WFH). Ideally, you should notify stakeholders well in advance when vacations are planned. However, in some cultures, vacations are not planned in advance—and that can cause disruptions in the system. In such cases, the organizational culture has to override the local culture and define a vacation model that all consultants must follow.
For WFH, you must ensure that the WFH work strategy is part of the organization’s philosophy, and that consultants leverage the freedom of WFH rather than abusing it. In addition, you must ensure that adequate facilities are available for WFH workers.
Culture is a set of accepted behavior patterns, values, assumptions, and shared common experiences. It dictates the behavior and attitude of a person. When people from different cultures begin to interact, it can take considerable time and effort for them to understand each other. In time-limited situations, it helps to be culturally aware. Cultural awareness is a subject in itself, but some valuable general information is available. For example, Figure 1 gives a glimpse into Hofstede’s dimensions for various countries. This can help you relate to the behavior patterns of a person from a different and unfamiliar culture. You can refer to this graph to get a rough idea of the culture you’re working with.
Hiring a consultant is different than hiring an offshore developer. The skill set required is not just technical; soft skills play an equal role. At minimum, look for following attributes when hiring a remote consultant:
Good communication skills: accent, grammar, clarity of thought
Culture fit: attitude, commitment
Role fit: good technically, firm grasp of basic technology concepts, trainable
Personality: agreeable, conscientious, open to challenges, emotional stability, extroversion
This article captures the practical details of a working model for remote consulting delivery. By building and following such models, you can avoid serious problems with your remote consulting business.
Puneet M. Sangal, Practice Manager, has 12 years' experience in global management, project management, selling services, consulting, and software development in Europe, Pacific, India, and the U.S. He has studied executive management at IIM Calcutta, and holds an MS from Northeastern University in Boston, MA, and a BE from BIT Ranchi.