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Arcadia human behaviors-icgse_2011-08-16


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What factors impact communication and human behavior in distributed software development teams? How cross-cultural differences can cause misunderstandings and how to solve them? Real cases from …

What factors impact communication and human behavior in distributed software development teams? How cross-cultural differences can cause misunderstandings and how to solve them? Real cases from Arcadia's experience and how we solved them. With all differences, distributed multi-cultural team of software developers has it's great advantages.

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  • 1. ICGSE 2011, August 16, 2011
  • 2. Contents
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Arcadia’s background
    Project management: communication challenges
    Human behavior factors
    Arcadia’s real cases
    Just fix it!
    Hush! Boss is here..
    What did you mean?
    © Copyright 1993-2011Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 4. Arcadia’s Background
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Started in 1993, when Russia just entered “ new era” of capitalism after long life in socialism
    Business — new “wor(l)d” for Russia
    Working with foreign clients was something new for majority of Russians
    We had to learn business and learn Western culture. We found that
    our clients differ from us in some ways of thinking, communicating, understanding
    our clients differ from country to country
    We had to establish cross-cultural relationships, to find ways to solve problems and to clarify misunderstandings with each client
    We succeeded! That's proven by long-term relationships with:
    F-Secure Corporation (Finland), Aditro Group (Scandinavia), Johnson & Johnson PRD LLC (USA), it’s learning (Norway), UNI-C (Denmark), OPP (UK), etc.
    Now Arcadia has 180 employees and 700+ successful projects under its belt
    Nowadays, Russia has an excellent software development industry with RUSSOFT — the biggest and the most powerful association of software houses in Russia (Arcadia is a founding member)
  • 5. Process Evolution
    10 years ago…
    waterfall development process
    communication on executive and project management levels
    kickoff face-to-face meetings
    separate development teams worldwide with separate responsibility
    Agile development (SCRUM) with communication on all levels
    regular face-to-face meetings
    daily communication via different tools (VoIP, etc.)
    distributed development teams worldwide with shared responsibility
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    More communication means better interaction between team-members, better exchange of technical experience and knowledge, more creative work, etc.
    More communication means more cross-cultural and personal misunderstanding, more "human factor" involved in daily project communication
  • 6. Project Management Challenges
    © Copyright 1993-2011Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 7. Some Real Situations
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 8. Project Management Challenges
    Were is the problem?
    on our side (the client is not OK with the quality of our service),
    on their side ((s)he is not a good communicator)
    in the cross-culture area (in his/her culture (s)he acts politely, while in our culture
    it may be misinterpreted)?
    How to prevent team-members on both sides from being offended and/or misunderstood?
    How to achieve rapport with the client?
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Image courtesy mkkw at
  • 9. human behavior factors
    © Copyright 1993-2011Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 10. Human Behavior Factors
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 11. Human Behavior Factors: Environment
    Laws & law enforcement, people's attitude to law compliance
    People's trust to government and official sources of information
    labor market, average salaries and prices
    living conditions
    density of population
    Historical background
    Geographical location &  climate
    Availability of natural resources
    Infrastructure of business:
    availability of mobile communication and internet
    most commonly used ways of payment
    density and quality of roads
    accounting rules, etc.
    Social institutions
    Russian education tends to be many-sided (universal) rather than specifically practical
    Common habits in everyday  life, etc.
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 12. Human Behavior Factors: Cross-Cultural
    Cross-cultural differences — one of the most complicated source of misunderstanding
    Language: defines ways of thinking, creates misunderstanding if one or more communicators speak not in native language (eg, “Finglish”, “Runglish”)
    Body language
    Common metaphors & jokes: national favorite book & film characters; jokes which cannot be understood by a foreigner without long explanation
    Stereotypes, incl. stereotypes about other cultures
    Historical background
    Values: generally accepted measure of success; importance of relationships, status or reputation, etc.
    National  etiquette: dress code,  rules of conduct in office/dining-room/elsewhere, ways to show respect and disrespect, e-mail / letter writing rules, etc.
    Sense of time and punctuality (polychronic vs. monochronic cultures)
    GeertHofstede™ Cultural Dimensions:
    power distance
    uncertainty avoidance
    masculinity / femininity
    long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation
    High-context vs. low-context cultures (by Edward T. Holl)
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 13. Cultural Reasons for Team Failures
    Belief that a common task will override cultural differences
    Power distance
    role of leader / feedback / status differences
    Individualistic/collectivistic cultures
    want personal rewards
    blame others when problems occur
    Doing vs being
    “doing” means task-oriented – straight to the job
    “being” means people-oriented – small talk and avoiding conflict
    • Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation
    Different cultures have differing subconscious templates for problem solving, decision making, etc.
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 14. Cross-Cultural Human Behavior Factors: Power Distance
    Russian attitude towards power & authorities can be characterized as… “it’s complicated”
    It's usual for high-level top-managers and high-level state officials to keep distance from people and to expect signs of respect. Status is important
    People do not trust the government and local authorities because those are reputedly corrupt and incompetent
    Corrupt practices in many occasions led to incompetent and corrupt officials on high-level posts as well as corruption-generating and unclear laws (that's why many Russian people tend not to respect laws and pay taxes reluctantly)
    During the last 100 years there were several occasions when the new government discredited the old one undermining people's trust in any power authorities
    From the very childhood we were educated to show respect to elders and to those with higher status These signs of respect include keeping quiet in front of a respectful person, “giving first word” to him/her and no speaking “until you are asked for”
    Until 1990-s there was no official business, thus no business education. Many people still do not have even basic knowledge of economy laws and business principles, let alone best management practices
    That resulted in lack of people with good managerial education on top positions in Russia in 1990-s
    incompetent managers, focused on keeping their status instead of achieving results, increased people's distrust to any power and expectation that the boss will play "find-who-is-guilty" and “who-made-more-mistakes" games instead of solving real problems
    Now situation is improving! But some inertia and considerable number of incompetent managers still exist
    This distrust and power distance will not necessarily exist in every organization, it will depend on corporate culture. But “by default” new people coming into a company tend to behave very carefully and respectfully in front of their bosses
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 15. Cross-Cultural Human Behavior Factors: Low-Context vs. High-Context Cultures
    (terms presented by anthropologist Edward T. Hall)
    Low-context cultures: tend to use explicitly formulated, clear messages
    US, UK, Canada (English-speaking), Germany, Scandinavia, Australia
    High-context cultures: when communicating, tend to leave many things unsaid, implicit. On the other hand, they view a simple low-context message as a text which needs to be “deciphered”, interpreted
    Asia, Russia, France, Canada (French-speaking), Greece, Spain, Italy
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    message unclear (unpleasant surprises may happen when it's too late)
    Communicator from high-context culture
    Communicator from low-context culture
    message can be perceived as unnecessary and even rude ("why is he repeating to me such obvious things, as if I'm a baby?")
  • 16. Cross-Cultural Human Behavior Factors: Low-Context vs. High-Context Cultures
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    NB: For people from low-context cultures it is usual to define exact and complete agreements about every task: what, how, when, etc. For people from high-context cultures such approach may seem excessive, inappropriate and even rude.
  • 17. Sample Cross-Cultural Differences : Directness in Communication
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Misunderstandings: “British people never say what they mean — you can’t trust them.”
    “Finnish people are rude and too direct.”
  • 18. Human Behavior Factors: Professional Culture
    Professional way of thinking
    Slang, metaphors, humor
    Competition in the industry
    Competition on labor market
    Professional values
    Most common personal traits
    Professional etiquette, habits
    Sometimes different social/professional groups in one country differ from each other much more than similar social/professional groups from different countries
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 19. Human Behavior Factors: Organizational Culture
    Common values
    Formal rules, incl.:
    dress code
    flexibility of working hours
    Informal rules
    Power distance
    Work atmosphere
    Knowledge & experience exchange
    Communication habits & rules
    Criteria of personal success
    Office/ living conditions
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 20. Human Behavior Factors: Personal Differences
    Avoid stereotypes!
    Everything about cross-cultural and professional differences is «average body temperature across the hospital» (as we say in a Russian proverb )
    When you approach a new person,you can assume there is a certain "higher probability“ that (s)he will have certain "national" and "professional“ traits, but this possibility is usually lower than 100 %
    Understanding cross-cultural vs. personal differences is important because they require different approaches
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Image courtesy
  • 21. arcadia’s real cases
    © Copyright 1993-2011Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 22. Company A
    Client’s profile
    Over 1500 employees
    Over 250 people in software development
    2 service providers (nearshore and offshore)
    Multicultural environment: Finnish, Indian, Norwegian, Russian and Swedish members in software development teams
    Parameters of co-operation with Arcadia:
    54 specialists at Arcadia – a dedicated development center
    35 software products, 20 simultaneous projects, slightly customized SCRUM methodology at the foundation
    daily communication – VoIP/phone/mail
    KPI – 10 days of face-to-face meetings per team member per year
    Assigned manager at Client’s side – responsible for cooperation and communication and popularization of outsourcing partnership concept
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 23. Case 1: Just Fix It!
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Situation: big task, tough deadlines, Russian+Finnish+Swedish team
    A technical problem was found, and the client asked the Russian side to fix it
    Russian team started with finding the one to blame for this problem
    Only after achieving common understanding that the problem was not caused on the Russian side, they started to fix it
    Finally, the problem was fixed, but the game of finding the guilty led to lost time: the team hardly avoided missing the deadline
    Thus, the client risked to fail the delivery on time and break contractual liabilities
    The problem was escalated to the top management of both companies: "Well, we knew it wasn't Russian team’s fault! Why did they look who was to blame instead of fixing the problem first?”
    Question: what's wrong and how to prevent such problems in future?
  • 24. Case 1: Just Fix It!
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Low-context/high-context culture
    Low-context manager asks "Fix the problem please", the high-context culture team reads "There is a problem and I believe it's you who caused it”. People are nervous and irritated
    The lack of common business education at schools and technical universities leads to a rather vague idea of such term as "contractual liability"
    Educate people about basic business principles
    Explain the main focus is to solve the client’s problems right now, no matter who caused it
    Explain the difference between high-context and low-context culture: Scandinavian managers are saying what they are saying, nothing else
  • 25. Case 2: Hush! Boss Is Here
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Situation: there are regular face-to-face meetings between Russian and Scandinavian team-members of all levels: from PMs to junior developers.
    As a rule, everybody openly shares problems and questions: solutions are found, understanding is reached, everything is good
    But, if a top-level unit manager visits the meeting, Russian team changes its behavior. They become inactive and silent, they avoid speaking openly about problems
    This makes the client surprised and alert
    Question: Is it a sign of bad management causing distrust among employees or something else?
  • 26. Case 2: Hush! Boss Is Here
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    “Complicated” relationship between the Russian people and power authorities. Even if the manager is clever and competent, people tend to be silent in front of him/her just to show their respect.
    High-tech organizations (especially those who work with international clients) tend to be more democratic, but people need to make sure such democracy is appropriate in this very occasion
    Explain to the people that they are expected to act “Western-style”
    Remind people that Boss is “on their side” (he is not a punishing authority)
    Team-building: occasional recreational events (sporting, celebrations, or a glass of beer after work), so that people would stop feeling this imaginary “ distance”
  • 27. Company B
    Client's profile:
    Develops a virtual e-learning platform, millions of endpoints – schools and universities in Norway, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, UK, US, France, Germany
    190 employees
    33people in software development –Norwegian, Polish, English, Indian and Russian
    Parameters of co-operation with Arcadia:
    18 specialists at Arcadia – a dedicated development center
    Tasks: new features and maintenance development
    SCRUM methodology with daily communications (VoIP/phone/mail)
    Limited number of face-to-face meetings
    4 distributed teams, each responsible for it's part of work
    Project Coordinator at Client’s side responsible for overall product development
    Unit-manager at Arcadia: responsible for all administrative, organizational and project management issues
    Technical Leads at Arcadia's side responsible for technical co-ordination
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 28. Case 3: What did you mean?
    Situation: Project Coordinator on client's side has changed recently.
    After some period of time, the new Project Coordinator sent an email to Arcadia's Technical Lead telling: “Just to remind you: you should send me certain reports under certain deadlines”.
    The Technical Lead was a highly responsible person who always reported on time. On receiving the letter he started to think: “Why did she send me a reminder? Did she mean I forgot something? Or maybe the reports were not good enough? If I made a mistake, why wouldn't she just tell me about this!” He was upset. Instead of working, he was trying to solve the problem by guessing what was wrong in his reporting…
    Unit manager noticed that something was wrong with the Tech.Lead. She asked him about the cause, then she wrote to the Project Coordinator and asked for explanation
    Project Coordinator answered: “Your work is absolutely fine. I just sent a reminder, I always do so.”
    Question: Is it tactless behavior of the Project Coordinator or excessive touchiness of Russian TechLead? How to avoid unproductive time losses in situations of misunderstanding?
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 29. Case 3: What did you mean?
    Reason for misunderstanding clearly lies in the difference between high-context and low-context cultures. Low-context culture expresses itself plainly and directly, high-context culture looks for hidden signs and “reads between the lines”
    Negative perception of directness prevented Russian TechLead from asking a direct question
    Explaining to team members these cultural differences. Explaining that they should not read between the lines in the messages from Scandinavian managers
    Explaining that in case of any misunderstanding, it's not impolite or awkward to ask direct questions to the sender of the message to get clarification. This will save a lot of time and efforts.
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 30. How to Cope with Differences
    Effective tools for tackling day-to-day communication issues in multicultural teams:
    Social communication builds common ground, helps to focus on similarities. Face-to-face meetings are important!
    • Help group of people to integrate (popularization and explanation):
    It’s important to have an assigned person responsible for popularization and explanation of common work values, best practices and rules of the game for all parties involved
    Seminars, trainings, role-playing exercises, coaching and mentoring on cultural and business behavior issues for Service Provider’s and Client’s employees
    Remember that culture differences play a part:
    Delegate to low-power distance and communicate regularly with high-power distance people
    Play status appropriately
    Communicate in a low context style in international teams
    Decrease uncertainty
    Relationships matter as well as time
    Feedback – positive anyhow, negative face-to- face if possible
    (written criticism viewed more negatively)
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 31. Positive Side of Team Diversity
    Diversity of the team gives diversity of views and opinions, thus leading to more creative work
    While some team members are more focused on result and schedules (getting the product on time), other may be more focused, e.g., on emotional perception (creating good UI). Both are important for the overall results and thus both are valuable inputs
    Exchange of professional skills & knowledge gained in different education systems and exchange of experience gained in different situations is invaluable for both sides
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
  • 32. 32
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Thank you!
    Questions are welcome!
  • 33. Contact Information
    © Copyright 1993-2011 Arcadia, ZAO e-mail:
    Arcadia, ZAO
    St. Petersburg, Russia
    Tel.: +7 812 610 59 55
    Fax: +7 812 610 59 57
    Svetlana Kazanskaya, Director for Business Development
    Natalia Elfimova, Key Account Manager
    PavelGoryakin, Business Development Manager