The Winners—Offshore the Managers

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 06-30-2005
Resolved: That offshoring technology executive and/or development management will benefit project effectiveness and organizational competitiveness.

My column earlier this month suggesting that we offshore technology executives and managers and asking for "pro" and "con" arguments on the resolution that starts this piece generated lots of responses.

Most are insightful, many sardonic, a few emotional. Last week we ran some of the better responses (for the rest of the debate, click here), and here we present the winner for the best of each side of the argument, each of whom receives a copy of my new book, Management by Baseball—A Pocket Reader.

PRO OFFSHORING

This one was close, and was won by a small fraction, on style points:

Assumption 1: Overall, IT managers are programmers who don't really like programming.
Assumption 2: Competent programmers don't need "managing" as much as they need "direction."
The perfect scenario would go like this:
1) Promote lousy programmers into management.
2) Offshore these management jobs, laying off the managers.
3) After awhile, someone will figure out that offshoring doesn't work at all.
4) Lay off the offshore managers without replacing them locally.
5) Allow the programmers to do their jobs, directing them as needed but without "managing" them.

This scenario removes incompetent programmers, reduces layers of parasitic management, frees programmers to do more programming and fewer "status reports," and improves morale all round.

Roger Carlson
Senior Measurement and Evaluation Specialist
Department of Quality, Spectrum Health

None of the "pro" respondents who were serious adhered to the rules, and several of them conflated offshoring with domestic outsourcing, which was not the point of the resolution.

Carlson narrowly edged out the equally risible response of Craig Herberg (see letters to the editor). The implicit assumption is that the practice of management in the United States makes management a cost center, not a utility that advances productivity, and that programmers left to their own devices would provide a better benefit/cost ratio.

Click here to read Angus' original column, The First Thing We Do, Let's Offshore the Managers. To read the letters, pro and con, responding to the proposition, click here.

William Kerilla's argument, which far exceeded the length rule, asserted it's the business side of the project that dictates success or failure of a project and questions how "… having people/teams 5,000 miles away is going to reduce this element is beyond my reasoning." I agree that that's the weak link, but it argues equally, if perhaps not intentionally, against offshoring the line workers.

CON OFFSHORING

Again, many of the "con" responses didn't adhere to the rules. The most solid of the ones that did was this one:

Reasons presented in the Article for offshoring management are distractions. They mostly relate to incompetence in management, whether onshore or offshore.

Solution: insist on competent management (or development) wherever it's located.

Today, effective leaders are neither onshore nor offshore. They must be globally effective, regardless of location. Part of being effective—delivering results—involves finding low cost, competent resources, again wherever they exist. The work of managers interacting with their customers and other constituents face-to-face is probably more critical than programmers interacting with users.

The cost savings of offshoring one senior executive position is certainly higher than one developer. But, obviously there are many more developers than CIOs.

Dennis Crane
President
Business Navigation Group

The Crane assertion is if the reason for offshoring is poor management, then fix management, don't offshore it.

I buy this as a solid argument, a tad idealistic, perhaps, but certainly worth aiming for, at least in reasonably healthy organizations. I don't agree that having managers interact with customers has any higher value than programmers doing it, but we just have different opinions on that one.

I'm glad we had this dialogue. Offshoring is certainly an issue with at least two sides to it, not something we should reject or accept out of hand or as a given ("it just is, so get used to it"), because it's not a given. It's a choice currently rewarded through the tax code.

As the dollar continues to devalue relative to currencies not anchored to it, and as oil remains above $42 a barrel, the world economy will tweak and then whomp mightily the assumed economics of offshore development.

Continued experience with both failed and successful projects will tweak the quality of offshore production and, in countries with less totalitarian regimes, that will affect cost structures, resulting in higher-quality, higher-cost offshore development. That, in turn, will remake the reasons for and the benefits of offshoring development.

In the meantime, though, let's give a great "huzzah" to all our entrants and, of course, our winners.