The key to eliminating cultural tensions stemming from today’s new software development models lies in understanding and applying twelve critical management activities.

Maintaining a competitive edge in today’s business environment requires adopting IT development and delivery models that revolve around flexibility, speed and superior performance. But it also depends on ensuring that all the parties contributing to these efforts are able to collaborate effectively and aren’t hindered by cultural differences.

In my previous post, I explained that Accenture partnered with the University of Cologne to explore the “soft” factors of digitization—in other words, the cultural barriers that can get in the way of effective collaboration in a software development environment composed of interdisciplinary and geographically distributed teams. In this post, I’m going to share key insights from this research so that you can better understand how to maximize the effectiveness of new software development models within your organization.

Critical success factors and key findings

Our joint research shows that, at the highest level, managing the social aspects of new IT delivery models is a crucial success factor. Underpinning this insight are three key findings:

  1. There are distinct cultural patterns that exist within any project on three different levels: national, organizational and team
  2. The degree of cultural complexity (meaning the number of different nationalities, organizations and teams within one project) can have a negative influence on relationship quality, which impacts the development and delivery process
  3. There are specific management activities that can reduce the negative effects of cultural pattern differences

Overall, the research identified a total of twelve such management activities, which are represented in the graphic below. These activities are combined and recombined to address issues at each of the three levels.

12 managment activities for mitigating cultural pattern differences
Figure 1. Framework for mitigating cultural differences in digital age IT delivery operations

On the national level, direct and open communication, particularly between onsite and offshore teams, facilitates extensive information exchange. On-sight exchange programs help parties better understand each other’s thoughts, methods and cultural attributes—which leads to deeper and more supportive relationships. One-team culture establishment allows team members to define themselves as project team members first (before their native culture). This team culture is created by defining common values, joint events, joint working space for the team and the matching of client and vendor roles. Personal relationships are enhanced through:

  • Robust communication and interaction
  • Joint and team events
  • Putting together those with similar backgrounds
  • Co-placement of the team within one location
  • Encouraging respect for each other’s work and culture

Lastly, high quality project management is ensured by comparing team members’ project management skills and choosing the best person for the role.

At the organizational level, de-escalation routines must be actively managed, especially in cases where there could be significant differences in communication style or language barriers. At this level, extra effort should be put into the client focus of the vendor, as trust and relationship quality between vendor and external client is extremely important. Dedicated client management is a top priority because it has a positive effect on project success by ensuring the client’s wants and needs will get exclusive attention from one committed and accountable party. Direct and open communication also plays an important role at the organizational level by ensuring comprehensive information exchange and quick issue resolution. Monitoring and control drives structured and proactive interaction between teams. An agile development approach facilitates regular and active communication and participation.

At the team level, structured knowledge transfer increases trust between parties while reducing culturally-induced hierarchical and management style differences. Job-rotation programs between software developers and software testers or between management- and execution-focused teams can lead to greater understanding of the other’s tasks, processes and cultural patterns. Monitoring and control along with an agile development approach perform the same roles at the team level as they do at the organizational level.

In my next post, I’m going to share how to apply this framework to improve your firm’s IT development and delivery efforts.

Dr. Nikolaus Schmidt

Senior Manager, Global Offering Development Lead, Financial Services Technology Advisory

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