Challenges of Off-Shored Product Management

In 2004 I started off “offshored Product Management” for Thomson Financial (TF) in Bangalore. It was a brave move by TF to plunge into a territory that no other firm had shown valor to. In complete honesty, I did not fully realize the nature of the beast – “offshored Product Management” – until I saw it in the fighting pit. There were several differences in this form and traditional Product Management, a world I came from

  1. (Somewhat) unidirectional: If one thinks of Product Management as Janus looking at two directions, then this version looks mostly inwards. That is, the focus of off-shored Product Management is emphatically more on definition and ruthless control on execution and quality
  2. Degree of separation: In an earlier post, I had written about dis-intermediation between the product manager and the end-user community. In off-shored product management this is a reality – a bad one but sadly on that cannot be wished away. It is not unnatural for off-shored product managers to have had no contact with users. Sometimes contact happens only when something breaks down real bad. The problem is solvable, but should not be made a sine qua non – has the potential to completely jettison the off-shoring of Product Management plans by the parent
  3. Layers of complexity: Building software products is not an easy task. In off-shored Product Management, the matter is further complicated due to geographic (read time-zone) dispersion of different arms of the organization that are expected to act in unision of build a product. Business pragmatists would avoid this pitfall while setting up the off-shoring model but common sense – as we all know – isn’t that common.
  4. Abrupt ending: Product Management is a neat loop. A loop that starts with the customer and ends with the customer, touching all the internal functions in between. Unfortunately this is difficult to replicate in off-shored Product Management because of #1 above. Product Managers experience an abrupt end in the cycle and often depend on sales and commercial managers to loop in the feedback with which they embark upon their next release. Chinese Wishper flourishes rampantly.

These challenges are definitely not exhaustive and can have firm-specific manifestations. The trick in managing these challenges is to use a framework to define which products are more amenable for off-shored Product Management on the face of these listed challenges. Some organizations fall into a rather predictable trap of establishing CMM (or equivalent) processes off-shore to overcome the difficulties. That is incorrect since it is not natural – one arm of an organization trying to establish a process that the other arm doesn’t want to sign up on. It just causes more friction and eventual (and painful) demise of off-shored Product Management.

Post Script: Captive firms (i.e. wholly owned off-shored arms of parent companies) face a lot of headwind in operations. While these differ from pure-services offshored plays (like Helpdesk or Accounting off-shoring) to more higher end off-shoring (like Product Development) here is a nice post from Basab Pradhan that takes a deeper dive.

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