Connecting the dots – Offshore knowledge transfer and acquisition
Possessing a strong foundation of Business Analysis for several years has certainly been a skill that has shaped my thinking and continues to do so. When asked to share my expertise in offshore project management, I decided to center my thoughts around my experiences with one of the most foundational aspects of any project in the IT realm – Knowledge Transfer (KT). Let us begin by understanding that ‘KT’ applies to both knowledge transfer as well as knowledge acquisition.
Knowledge transfer and acquisition are critical success factors in IT outsourcing projects. In the IT universe, it is all about ‘speed to competency’. The longer the clients are left grappling with knowledge, the costlier it is to the organization in terms of expenditure spent on the training, lost productivity, and poor performance, which has a direct impact on the customer’s experience.
There is a much higher complexity that appears when it comes to globally distributed projects. We believe that the world is a ‘global village’, accepting the fact that there are not only language barriers but other challenges such as cultural differences, diverse time-zones, distinct methods, and approaches, as well as disparate infrastructure that have a direct impact on the overall success of a project.
With the Coronavirus pandemic taking the industry by surprise and tipping the scales at being the biggest challenge faced by the IT industry, worse than the global financial crisis (GFC) in 2008, it is no exaggeration to say that many global IT companies depend on the highly skilled workforce to begin and continue running their critical operations and transformational projects. This urgent need has predominantly reshaped the thinking around requirement gathering activity that usually happens at the client location. In order to keep the business going, it is essential to find alternate solutions to handle the entire activity from offshore, eliminating the necessity of travel.
That being said, the effectiveness of knowledge acquisition and transfer depends on a few factors and techniques that we have adopted at each stage, which can be broadly classified into:
- Identify and collate a list of SMEs for the given process.
- Chalk out a clear ‘plan of action’.
- Schedule Meetings – Identify the participants, specify the timings, and fix a duration and frequency that is feasible for all the participants.
- Core hours overlap: Identify work timings that are in line with the clients working hours and are convenient for you.
- Homework – If you are acquiring knowledge, a good practice is to prep yourself by going through the company website and understand their business on a high level so that it is easier to understand and relate during interactions.
- Ensure you have the appropriate infrastructure in place – internet bandwidth, tools for video calls, good lighting, etc. are all basic aspects that you need for productive interactions.
- Check with the onshore team/SMEs if they have access to the tools needed for audio/video calls (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc.). This will avoid any last-minute changes.
- It is best to attend video calls in full formals.
- Be prepared with the notes and topics that need to be covered as part of the KT Plan.
- Meetings – While starting, the more frequent the number of meetings, the better. Once the recipient is familiar with the process, meetings can be conducted on a need basis.
- SMEs – Conduct a process walkthrough with the identified SMEs.
- Communication – In the form of interviews and building a connection with the source.
- Ask the right questions and be well prepared.
Collect (Knowledge Acquisition)
- Supporting documents or handbooks containing relevant details.
- Gain a complete overview of the business, the steps performed, validations, and if any third-party applications are involved, etc.
- Supporting screens of the applications used (if applicable)– It is always easier to relate to a picture.
- Samples of documents that are used (any sensitive data masked/ deleted)
- Video recordings – Ensure the process walkthroughs given by the SMEs are documented for future reference.
- Progress Reports – It is very essential to keep all the stakeholders updated on the progress against the plan (‘plan of action’ prepared at the planning phase) at regular intervals.
- Latest document – Updated versions must always be made available on the shared drive for the client to access. In the case of knowledge transfer, the source is expected to provide necessary documentation outlining the process. It could be a handbook that contains all the essential first-hand information to the business user.
For any knowledge sharing activities from offshore, it is extremely important to ensure that the recipient interprets the message as it is intended to. Some skills if practiced regularly, would help immensely, such as:
- Paraphrasing – Put your understanding of the process in your own words to check if you have grasped the information accurately.
- Ask more to get more – Never hesitate to ask questions or clarify any doubts that you may have during the session. Not only does it help you gain a better understanding, sometimes you might stumble upon a critical piece of information.
Tools Used in KT
- Invision – Helps to create and present interactive mock-ups for your wireframes and designs.
- Visio – A full-featured software tool that is a common choice for business analysts to complete conceptual and logical data modeling. The tool comes in very handy especially when you have to put together a process flow and walk the client/business users through it.
- Mindmaps – An amazing tool to capture ideas, requirements, and help organize a conversation with many tangents and helps to align comments, requirements, and ideas with the major thought branches in a conversation.
- Balsamiq – A wireframing tool that does remote, collaborative UX Design. Helps share or present mock-ups with embedded links using PDF.
Irrespective of knowledge transfer or acquisition, the effectiveness of both requires the willingness of the group or the individual to work with each other. It is a two-way process between the source and recipient. Do not forget, it is not just about the collection or dissemination of information, it is also about building a connection that will go a long way.
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