Follow-the-sun

Follow-the-sun Approach to Business Processes

To thrive in a global economy, businesses must continually seek ways to overcome barriers of space and time, and customer demand must be promptly answered by high-quality, low-cost, or value-based products and services. One way for companies to to do this is by incorporating a follow-the-sun approach in their business strategy. Leveraging on the follow-the-sun approach can better position companies to meet market demands in a more timely and cost-effective manner.

Follow-the-sun, as the name hints at, exploits time zone differences to speed up project work. For example, a team in America can hand off its work at the end of its day to team members in India or China, who can then continue the work while the US team members sleep.

Talks about offshoring Opens in new window often mention follow-the-sun, also known as round-the-clock. Along with low costs, follow-the-sun is another allure of offshoring. It is often mentioned by those who seek to make offshoring sound unique and appealing.

Follow-the-sun approach has undeniable appeal. If work can be coordinated properly, then project duration can be reduced by a factor of two. Moreover, if three teams are correctly positioned across time zones, then a theoretical threefold duration reduction is possible. This is much like a factory running three shifts, 24 hours per day, producing three times the volume.

Using follow-the-sun development, a company may be able to save months from the development cycle and release a product earlier, thus giving it a competitive advantage.

However, it is important that coordination in follow-the-sun must be flawless in order to reduce project duration. One miscommunication can delay the entire day’s worth of work. In practice, few globally dispersed software efforts have been able to fully capitalize on the theoretical advantages of follow-the-sun.

Daily follow-the-sun coordination is simply too difficult for software teams. An IBM team, described in Carmel’s 1999 book, was set up to capitalize on follow-the-sun. However, fairly quickly, the global team discovered that daily handoffs were too difficult to coordinate.

Nevertheless, follow-the-sun can be effective for some activities and for certain phases in software work. Startups in Silicon Valley have been excited about rapid prototyping of new software products in which the coding is done in India, and then sent back to the US for comments and refinement.

Activities, such as bug-fixing (in the maintenance phase), or call-centers (e.g. technical support), are better suited to follow-the-sun, because they are usually small tasks (low granularity), of low complexity, and can be routinized between the time-separated sites.