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Project Management Lessons in Outsourced Product Development

Ramping up operations to meet the requirements of a rapidly evolving engagement from an offshore location has its own challenges. A product development team at Sasken Communication Technologies that is working for a leading UK-based digital radio communication systems and applications firm has learned several project management lessons through such an engagement.

It all started in April 2011 as an evaluative exercise with a one-member team, co-located at the client site. Today, the engagement has scaled up to an Offshore Development Center (ODC) with about 35 engineers located at the premises of Sasken Communication Technologies in Bangalore. The team designs, develops, and tests TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA), a standard developed to meet the needs of professional mobile radio products. One-third of the client’s new product development work in this area is handled through this ODC.

Building Trust and Relationship
Mr. Subhas Kamble, program manager, Sasken, who has been with the project for the past three years, says, “The client being a pioneer in digital radio trunking systems has veterans in its development and testing team with an average Total Relevant Experience (TRE) of about 14.8 years. The Sasken team had to match their experience with expertise and productivity. In other words, the client should be convinced that there will not be any productivity degradation by outsourcing the project to Sasken.”

The client had no prior experience in outsourcing. Hence, the first step during the engagement was to build trust with the client and establish a good working relationship. This also necessitated educating the client on the nuances of offshore outsourcing, Sasken’s built-in processes in securing data and intellectual property, and Sasken’s engineering and project management capabilities in delivery execution. The physical and logical separation of the ODC, a dedicated secure communication leased line between Sasken and customer locations, the configuration management and tools (either Sasken or customer owned) that facilitated offshore work, and many more associated information had to be explained to the client to improve trust levels. Today, the Sasken team with an average TRE of 6.8 years is able to match up with the seniors at the client site.

Product Evolution Management
The Sasken team did not have the complete product specifications and roadmap. The complete requirements document was also not available as the client, being a product company, was always found wanting on documentation. The team leaders studied the publicly available TETRA specifications and improved their knowledge to perform project specific tasks. The challenge for the team was to work in a technology intensive project with a partial view of the complete product and service specification with no associated documentation.

Dependency Management
The shipping of the hardware from the client location to Sasken ODC in Bangalore was fraught with numerous challenges. The European Union (EU) export license restricted the shipping of hardware with security features to non-EU countries. To deal with this problem, the security module was re-designed to be pluggable so that, if needed, the security module could be removed from the terminals before they are shipped for target-based software porting and testing in Bangalore.

The other major challenge was getting the experimental license from the Wireless Planning and Coordination (WPC) wing of the Department of Telecommunications, Government of India, for the import and operation of the radio frequency equipment, including TETRA terminals and base transceiver stations from the UK to India, and the subsequent operation of the same in the Sasken ODC. Sasken had to apply for an experimental license with WPC. It took almost 12 months for Sasken to get the license and import the hardware.

With these efforts, Mr. Kamble and his team were able to create customer satisfaction, confidence, and goodwill. It has motivated the customer to create more outsourcing opportunities to partner with Sasken.

(Dr. V. Sridhar is professor, International Institute of Information Technology, Bangalore, and Mr. Anees Haidary is senior manager, business excellence, Sasken Communication Technologies, Bangalore.)

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