Offshoring usability

XIII.2 March + April 2006
Page: 28
Digital Citation

Communication across cultures

Roman Longoria

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While it has been difficult to start, staff, and operate a UCD team in India, I wouldn't attribute any of the difficulties to culture. Maybe I've been lucky, but I have not seen any dramatic levels of cultural differences. Most of the difficulties are common to UCD groups in general, or consist of just plain management issues. There are the logistic problems, dealing with time differences, but we've built some infrastructures and procedures to ameliorate those to some degree.

CA is a global company with development groups all over the world, so we're used to distributed organizational issues. With the right logistic and organizational processes we've been really successful in delivering high-quality UCD projects through our team in India.

One specific logistical aid is that we do about 90 percent of our usability testing remotely. Our UCD team works directly with our customers. We've set up a system through which we can view our customers' monitors from anywhere in the world. With this, we can view and record how they interact with our products while talking with them over the phone. The data collection is not as empirically pure as you would have in a usability lab, but the data we've gotten has been very good, and we can get evaluations done very quickly, and at a low cost. Just as important, our customers love being involved like this.

Since this is how the entire team works, there is nothing unique about how the Indian team operates, and that's the way I like it. In the past, when I interviewed candidates, some expressed concerns that their potential design projects would be less meaningful than the ones assigned to US team members. They were happy to hear that from a project perspective, there is no difference between my US teams and my team in India. The type of work and the project visibility are the same no matter where one of my team members is located. In fact, most projects have a team composed of members from both the US and India. I think that is important to convey to Indian staff—that they are treated like everyone else.

There have been some communication problems due to some strong accents, but overall this has been minimal. We have a stringent hiring process, and our criteria are high. I've talked to more than 50 candidates, and have only hired a few. I'm very happy with my staff.

The talent pool in India is relatively small. Most UI professionals there have some Web-site-design experience. CA makes enterprise IT management software. Finding people who can translate design principles from that experience to application design has been a challenge. We've also been working with key university design schools to provide feedback on their curricula, support design projects, and to hire interns.

There is also no getting around the time difference. But I've been willing to have conference calls late at night and early in the morning, and I've asked others to do the same. I have Monday-morning staff meetings that start at 8:30 a.m. US Central time, which is 8 p.m. in Hyderabad. It is not uncommon for my team in India to work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night. To offset this, we try to keep the meetings to a minimum and let people come in later in the day. I've also been on meetings with people in India at 3:00 a.m., my time. It's important that we all share the pain of working 11 hours apart.

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Roman Longoria
Computer Associates

About the Author

Roman Longoria is vice president of User-Centered Design for CA. He has over 15 years of human factors and applied psychological research and design experience working within the software industry, NASA, the Department of Defense, and academics. For the past ten years, he has been focusing on the design of enterprise software. He was one of the first members of the Usability and UI Design group at Oracle in 1995. In 2003, he founded the UCD group at CA, which is responsible for product design, UI standards, usability testing, accessibility, and institutionalizing UCD. He earned his PhD from Rice University specializing in Human Factors and Industrial/Organizational Psychology, is a Certified Professional Ergonomist, and is a recognized author in the HCI field. He can be reached at

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