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Innovative collaboration techniques improve productivity across global teams

Process and networking tools improve productivity 20 to 30 percent for global software development teams.

Challenge

This multinational software company had hundreds of development centers worldwide. The distributed team found it challenging to collaborate effectively and efficiently, with the result that product development timelines were long and costs high. Product managers were increasingly frustrated with the results.

Team members' location in different time zones and continents—even teams in the same location in different buildings—made it hard to efficiently conduct basic requirements gathering, development, and testing. The client asked McKinsey to help the development team increase its efficiency and adopt more productive protocols.

Discovery

When McKinsey first observed the team in action, a key finding was that the group had few tools to engage in knowledge sharing. The software organization’s high-caliber developers appeared skeptical of any process or work-management tool that they had not developed themselves. In addition, there appeared to be low re-usability of code among multiple product teams. This helped explain the persistent delays in product release.

To overcome these barriers to efficiency and ensure acceptance of improvement solutions, the McKinsey team conducted a series of workshops with testers, developers, and managers to identify issues within the software development lifecycle. The workshops were focused on resolving the eight largest bottlenecks and sources of waste that participants highlighted. In addition to shrinking or eliminating unproductive time, McKinsey also worked with the client to create an organization structure to support development and refinement of ideas to ensure the software team took ownership of and accountability for its work process.

Working together, the McKinsey and client teams implemented multiple initiatives to improve global research and engineering productivity. First, the team defined a set of tools, as well as the best ways to use them, that facilitated more frequent and more personal communications among stakeholders, including:

  • a social networking site to bring together the more than 20,000 employees worldwide to improve the visibility of individual and team expertise
  • a remote-team startup kit that defined roles, responsibilities, and best practices to improve dispersed teams' interactions and alignment
  • a "Digg for developers" blog and a Flickr-based tool to allow sharing of ideas in an informal manner
  • an RSS/Wiki-based product-specification process to keep product managers and technical folks tightly linked

Impact

The new tools and processes eliminated the 20 percent to 30 percent of time that the workshops had identified as wasted. In addition, the team designed a unit within the development organization to support innovation and knowledge sharing. Components included a new innovation center-of-excellence with a flexible staffing model that could bring experts from multiple functions and technical areas together to exchange ideas, leverage best practices, and apply team insight to expedite projects when needed.

Taken together, these initiatives are helping the client refine and speed its software development lifecycle, control costs as employees achieve higher productivity, and meet product release dates more consistently.

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