December 29th, 2022

IT Development of International Projects: from Processes to Communications

Today, more and more international companies are outsourcing external teams to strengthen their in-house development. This is an incredibly valuable experience for an outsourced contractor both in terms of building up technical expertise and improving their own product development practices.

SimbirSoft's 20 years of experience and 900+ completed projects allow us to provide consistent results. This is how we achieve mutually beneficial long-term cooperation: both start-ups and large brands trust us with their products, and many of them are our return customers. We are proud of international projects in our portfolio, because their success determines the ability to arrange processes like nothing else. In this article, SimbirSoft account manager Alina shares her experience of working with an international team and tells how their project management methods differ from those we normally use. At the end, there is a checklist with tips on how to successfully join a foreign team and overcome the language barrier.


Percona is an American IT company headquartered in Durham, North Carolina, which has an international team of employees from 42 countries. They develop open-source software for database management. Percona products are used by more than 3,000 companies, including Netflix, Adobe, IBM and Cisco.

The customer chose us to expand its own team: the project needed a frontend developer. Expectations were high: the proper level of hard and soft skills, good conversational English and prompt involvement of experts in the project. The project was launched in September 2021. Our frontend developer was the first to join Percona, and our DevOps engineer was involved a month later. Today, the customer team includes six SimbirSoft experts, and the account manager is responsible for interaction with the customer and arranging effective workflows.

At the very beginning, we noted a seamless onboarding process on the customer side. Each employee has a plan for the first months of work: what access to set up, what tasks to dive into. In addition, a buddy is assigned to the newcomer — an employee from the same team who introduces the newbie to colleagues and helps dive in on the product and upcoming tasks.

Yaroslavna, a developer at SimbirSoft:
I joined the Percona team a year ago. My immersion into the project was not easy. I am a frontend developer. However, to be effective, I needed to master some of the backend services, as well as get acquainted with all the project databases. But I quickly realized that the company has developed an incredibly loyal and employee-oriented culture of interaction along with the stringent requirements for practical skills.

Below, we will discuss what helps employees feel freedom and support, without losing efficiency, and how to combine strict requirements and loyalty in managing international projects.

The carrot and stick method does not work, and flexibility is encouraged

While observing how the customer arranges project management, the team microclimate and interaction between its members, I remembered a well-known saying that goes: "There is no 'I' in the word 'team'." In our international team, they respect individuality rather than individualism, they have strict requirements for hard skills, but don't tyrannize anyone for a mistake made.

Yaroslavna, a developer at SimbirSoft:
During the code review, we try not to say "you": "you did it wrong," "you made a mistake," or "you didn't take something into account." Instead, the "we" approach is used: "we have a problem," "why don't we change it," "we failed to take proper care of this." Along with strict quality requirements, the team accepts the fact that people can make mistakes. It's hard for me to imagine a situation in which a team member would be reprimanded for a blunder in public. The approach to employees is quite loyal: if a developer misses something, then his/her colleague or supervisor step in and help solve the problem. Everything will be friendly, without tension, stress or negativity. I haven't seen such an atmosphere in any other project. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the team is international, and therefore requires more flexibility in management.

As in any IT project, it is important for the customer to meet deadlines. But if the team does not meet the deadline for objective reasons, the managers will not rush things, because product quality is the top priority. If the team does not have time to complete the task, it will be moved to the next release so that the user does not receive an unfinished product. When a manager wants to release a bug fix as quickly as possible, this is communicated to the team in advance so that the team meets the deadline without having to work overtime.

Speaking of overtime: the company does not welcome overtime and workaholism in general. An employee who decides to take part in a conference call on his/her day off will be gently sent off to rest. Here, they value not only work, but also rest, and clearly follow the idea that ‌work-life balance is the best protection against burnout.

Another feature of the process alignment in our international project — flexible requirements for the product and the result. At Russian companies, they normally give a clear ToR with partially prescribed conditions for implementation. Our customer's team, on the contrary, focuses on the business idea, giving experts a certain freedom to choose a solution and encouraging initiative. Such looser requirements can be easily explained: the developer can do the job not as required by management, but much better. If problems arise during the development process, they are solved by changing the approach.

Yaroslavna, a developer at SimbirSoft:
As a rule, we do not have a clear ToR, as is usually the case in Russian projects. In the process of completing the task, I can suggest making any changes. If the product owner and the team approve them, then we supplement the ToR and sometimes extend the development deadline. Our approach to projects is to make a feature not for the sake of the feature, but for the quality of the final product.

Nevertheless, high loyalty of the managers is based on no less stringent requirements for the employees' soft skills first of all:

Anton, a DevOps engineer at SimbirSoft:
Percona balances everything in an interesting way. We are accustomed to strict estimates in projects for Russian customers, including task deadlines. Percona is less strict with ‌ deadlines, but the price of this is that you work autonomously. Of course, if you ask for help, no one will refuse, but you must learn to understand the task yourself, without interrupting your colleagues. They won't spoonfeed you. You need to be proactive and strive for a high result, and then the managers will meet you halfway.

What difficulties did the Russian team have to overcome?

The first and most obvious is the language barrier.

Work in an international team means free communication in a foreign language: all conference calls and meetups are held in English, and product features also require technical vocabulary. Therefore, we have developed an important rule: you need to be very careful about the task description and not be afraid to ask again and fully clarify the details to avoid mistakes.

There are many Russian-speaking experts on the customer's team, which makes interaction much easier in some cases. However, there is an unspoken rule: if a foreign colleague joins the call, all participants switch to English.

Second, we must guarantee interchangeability in teams.

There is no clear division of roles in the project. If a specialist is able to cope with a task in a different area of activity, their help may be requested. A frontend developer can be involved in the backend tasks. In addition, developers often perform autotests.

Anton, a DevOps engineer at SimbirSoft:
The team is very strong, and you must be a versatile specialist with extensive competences. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage, depending on your point of view. But it's definitely very interesting.

Third, it is important to effectively manage the work schedule across different time zones.

A standard case for an international team: all employees are in different time zones, and they have to sync the time of meetings and adjust their working day. A good practice in international projects is to help the team with this: the schedule of regular calls is adjusted weekly. It helps to adjust to the locations of all team members.

Our guys had to adapt not only to a different cultural environment, but also to a different attitude to work processes. The carrot and stick method does not work here, and effective interaction is of paramount importance. Successful work with a foreign customer requires personal flexibility, a high level of self-organization, and tremendous involvement in the project. And, based on the customer's positive feedback, our guys successfully met the challenge.

9 life hacks from SimbirSoft team for effective communication in international projects

How to get closer

  • Don't ignore small talk. Polite talking about nothing is a powerful team building tool. It helps you improve networking, get out of awkward situations, and fit into a team faster.
  • Respect tradition. In a new company, especially a foreign one, many things will be different from what you are used to — from how you communicate personally to how your work processes are structured. Diving into a different mentality requires an impeccable work ethic, and it is an invaluable experience.
  • Communicate outside of work. Participate in informal meetings, join interest clubs, and do not hesitate to join discussions in off-topic chats. This helps to remove the boundaries between outsourced employees and the in-house team, bringing them together into one family.

How to erase the language barrier

  • Prepare for meetings and conferences in advance. Well-thought-out and clearly formulated brief notes will help you not only not to miss something really important, but also to avoid the stress of public speaking in English.
  • Don't be afraid to communicate verbally. Of course, it is easier to switch to the messenger: you can think over the wording in advance and check the grammatical correctness of the message. However, this greatly slows down the improvement of your language proficiency. The more you speak, the faster you will overcome the language barrier, if any.
  • Don't overuse online translators. Continuing the thought from the previous item: services that facilitate interaction work against us in the long run. It is important to learn how to make sentences yourself and expand your active vocabulary. And it is better to use an online translator only to check specific words.
  • But in some cases, make sure you are prepared. When it comes to more formal written communication or presentations, you need to take a more responsible approach to what and how you say. Specialized services are very helpful in this, which, in addition to grammar, check the text style.
  • Record important calls. This will help you not to miss important details of the conversation, and will also improve your skills in understanding foreign speech by ear (and, in particular, accents). Important: each case of recording a conference call must be agreed with the customer. This is necessary not only from the NDA's point of view, but also in the context of business ethics.
  • Keep learning. Many companies today offer their employees training in foreign languages. Even if you are a proficient speaker of English, join conversation clubs, as they will create a language environment around you and serve as an excellent practice of speaking.

You can learn more about our other projects here. For more cases and useful materials for business, visit our LinkedIn and Medium accounts.

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