Ins and outs of outsourcing
Whether a job is "outsourced" to a remote internal team, contracted out to an offshore firm or awarded to a gig engineer who has hung a virtual shingle, there are a number of ground rules and "gotchas" that the project manager must consider. The concerns range from location and infrastructure to technical definitions and the mutual understanding of project objectives and terms.
Few companies know more about dealing with globally distributed design teams than EDA specialist Synopsys does. According to Glenn Dukes, vice president of professional services, the company works with more than 250 consultants around the globe, in locales ranging from Synopys' well-publicized Dubai Circuit Design Center to cities in eastern Europe, India, North America and Taiwan.
Most of the contracted consultants work with Synopsys customers on design prototyping and tapeout.
Synopsys chose Munich, Germany, as a regional hub primarily because of the city's infrastructure support, Dukes said. "You can win anywhere if you have reliable power and QoS [Internet quality-of-service]," said Dukes.
On the other hand, the company set up an operation in China, Dukes said, but "we had issues with QoS, as well as data import/export [laws], so we [moved to] Taiwan instead."
Time zone differences and infrastructure disparities are not the only "geographical" variables that figure into global design projects; cultural considerations also loom large. For example, "in India, it may be bad to vocally voice a concern," said Dukes. He recalled a project that had experienced a hiccup when groups in Japan, China and Taiwan clashed over a cultural issue, but he noted that all parties had managed to put their differences aside. "The key [was] to make sure politics" didn't figure into the discussion and get in the way of achieving the project's goals, he said.
Communication is another hurdle when multinational teams are assembled. The effort to keep everyone on the same page starts with the kickoff meeting and continues throughout the project. "Program management is so critical," said Dukes. Everyone involved with the project must be clear on its goals, objectives, measures for assessing progress and terms.
Face-to-face meetings could be in order not just at the outset of the project, but also at various waypoints toward its conclusion. Videoconferencing might not cut it for critical design reviews or a debate about a nonstandard interface. When "hard discussions [are needed] and tough collaborative decisions need to be made," call a meeting, Dukes said. "You have to get beyond information [transfer] into [true] understanding."