24/7 global application development? Sounds good, doesn't work.

Follow-the-sun, 'round-the-clock programming sounds great. The UK team hands the job off to the U.S. team, which hands it off to Bangalore, and so on. But the model rarely works in the real world, says Compass America senior consultant Frank Mazzucco. Application development is a collaborative process requiring a lot of communication -- which breaks down when working in three different time zones.

In an interview in an IT Business Edge newsletter (scroll down to 3 Questions), Mazzucco says:

For example, a decision that involves input from all three development centers could not be made in real-time and would likely take multiple days.

If you must do it... Mazzucco suggests:

If you absolutely must do 24/7 development, there are a few steps you can take to ease the pain. For example, daily communication and handoff meetings between the three geographical team leads are a must. But since there is no good time for all three team leads to meet (somebody would be sleeping!), this would typically be done at the time of handoff, between the two affected team leads.

The challenge of working in multiple time zones is neatly explored in chapter 8 of the new book Offshoring Informaton Technology by Erran Carmel and Paul Tjia (Cambridge University Press 2005, reviewed in Think Tank). They also discuss how daily work hours (start times, end times, lunch times, break times and weekends) vary by country, which can disrupt "overlap windows" (the time when folks on different continents are working at the same time). Did you know:

In Israel, the weekend is Friday and Saturday. For Americans working with Israeli partners, the Israeli weekend creates a long "blackout period." The Israelis have essentially left for the weekend when the Americans come to work on Thursday morning. The reverse happens with the Israelis, who work for much of the first two days of the week without being able to contact their American colleagues.

Not to mention international holidays. Carmel & Tjia write:

The patchwork of national holidays is bewildering. One American technology firm had a staff in more than a dozen European nations. The Human Resource (HR) director reviewed the calendar for all of these nations and came to the remarkable conclusion that due to different, non-overlapping national holidays, there are only 50 regular work days in common in any given year for the purpose of scheduling synchronized meetings (e.g., the entire month of August is not usable in many European nations).

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For more on this topic, see:

Dual-Shore Project Management

Computerworld's Think Tank (September 2005, see book review)

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