Time zone can be a major inhibitor to outsourcing relationship. There has been a lot of discussion about disadvantages and advantages of time zone difference. This article describes our experience in managing the time zone difference while working with our global clients.

Vietnam in the Time Zone Map

Countries in different parts of the world follow different time zones. Time zones tend to follow the boundaries of countries and their subdivisions. Following image shows the standard time zones of the world.

Vietnam is in GMT+7, which makes Vietnam’s time different to other places as follows:

  • EST (United States, Canada): Vietnam is 12 hours ahead in standard time and 11 hours ahead in daylight saving time.
  • PST (United States, Canada): Vietnam is 15 hours ahead in standard time and 14 hours ahead in daylight saving time.
  • MDT (United States, Canada): Vietnam is 14 hours ahead in standard time and 13 hours ahead in daylight saving time.
  • Sydney (Australia): Vietnam is 3 hours behind in standard time and 4 hours behind in daylight saving time.
  • London (UK): Vietnam is 7 hours ahead in standard time and 6 hours ahead in daylight saving time.
  • CET (France, Denmark, Norway…): Vietnam is 6 hours ahead in standard time and 5 hours ahead in daylight saving time.
  • Tokyo (Japan): Vietnam is 2 hours behind Tokyo.

 Time Zone Difference – the Good and the Bad

Time zone difference gives the benefit of “follow the sun” working model, in which the offshore team takes on the work in client’s night time and returns the result in the next day’s morning. This round-the-clock model speeds up the product development and reduces response time thus enhances customer service. However it also creates collaboration challenges and requires additional coordination cost due to delayed communication, misunderstanding and rework.

 Real-time dialogue is difficult across different time zones. According to a Forrester’s report “Rightsource your Agile-Lean ecosystem” September 2012, in agile development projects “geographically distributed teams add complexity, making it harder for teams to communicate the flow of work, backlog status, and issues and impediments.” When the offshore team needs requirement clarification, many emails may go back and forth. The offshore work is stuck until requirements are well clarified and understood by the offshore team. Rework might happen as the offshore team misunderstood the requirements. Additional cost caused by rework, delay and more management will increase project cost and thus reduce the benefit of outsourcing.

Our Experience in Overcoming Time Zone Difference

Most of our projects follow the agile model with the team distributed in different countries and in different time zones. We overcome the time zone obstacle by using process and technologies to empower people to engage, connect and collaborate. We have built a corporate culture that supports the offshore working model. Throughout the engagement, we work with the client to build a self-organized team in which both sides share the pain of the time zone difference by defining an overlap time when team will fully take advantage of for real-time dialogues.

IMT experience in managing time zone difference in outsourcing relationship

Building an Offshore Corporate Culture

Culture is considered a company’s foundational NDA. At IMT we created our four core values that define our behavior and shape our culture: client value creation, leading by innovation, respect for individual and long-term relationship. Each of our employees understands that in order to create added value for clients, it is important to overcome the difference of time zone to deliver the project successfully. Our employees are willing to work long hours and off-hours when projects need. In return, we have a flexible working time for employees. People work late will have compensation time. We provide remote working environment (Laptop, VPN, IP phone) for team members who need to provide support and attend meetings during off hours.

We encourage our team to go beyond and above the traditional outsourcing relationship to take responsibility, show initiative and really own the projects. This can only be achieved if the team consider themselves part of the clients’ teams. We work with our clients to build the offshore teams as true extensions of their teams. It is a normal practice that a client’s VP visits the offshore team and shares the product vision and the corporate KPIs. The working environment of the offshore team is set up similarly to the client team’s one. VPN is used to access common servers in client’s site. Offshore members use client’s email accounts for communication and their contacts are added to client’s corporate directory in some cases. These environment and infrastructure set up not only help increase productivity but also make offshore members consider themselves an integral part of the global team.

Agile Process

Our delivery model emphasizes more on project communication. While a lot of our projects follow agile Scrum, which requires daily scrum meeting, in other projects following traditional waterfall, we still apply the daily meeting practice. The daily meeting is done in offshore team and meeting log is sent to the whole global team or posted on common working space making it easier for anyone to have access to.

In a typical offshore project, product owners, system architects and scrum masters are in client’s team while the engineering team (developer, QA and BA) is in Vietnam. At IMT, many of our projects have Scrum Masters based in Vietnam. We find that having the offshore Scrum Master reduces bottle neck in communication and increases team’s morale.

To develop the mutual trust and help project communication, we regularly have the team from both sides visit each other. Client’s Product Owners, technical architects and key staff visits offshore team to discuss requirements and conduct training. Some members of the offshore team visit client facility for knowledge transfer, understanding client corporate culture, meeting with their counterparts in person. When the two teams know each other in person, the level of trust increases and communication becomes much easier.

One of the important practices that help boost team productivity is continuous integration. Our Scrum teams integrate code on a daily basis. By integrating frequently, the bugs can be located more quickly and easily. But to implement continuous integration it requires more than just a process but tools, team competence and discipline. It requires high level of test automation and a central source control repository with build automation. While it requires team members to follow the process strictly, we use tools to enforce the process compliance. Source code cannot be checked in if not reviewed and unit tested before. With continuous integration, when the offshore completes the working day, our production code and test result are available for the client team to access when they start their working day.

Good Tool & Technologies

It is also important to give the team a common working space to share, find, and collaborate on the information they need to get the work done. A lot of IMT’s clients are ISVs and Product Development companies, in these partnerships, our offshore teams are using the same working environment with the client team. Some of the popular agile project management tools we have been using so far are Assembla, Atlassian, Microsoft TFS, and Rally. In each project, we organize project wiki site as the knowledge management repository. The information in the wiki is enriched as the project evolves. In some cases, the articles posted by offshore team are even more than ones posted by local team.

For communication, email is one of the important means to exchange information but we also take advantage of instant message tools such as Skype or Microsoft Office Communicator. For sprint demo or web conference, TeamViewer, GoToMeeting or WebEx are mostly used. Having remote working environment for key staffs also makes it easier for them to attend the online meetings from home. Video conference used for meetings has advantage of “seeing the face” and thus increases the trust level between the two teams. We have video webcam for each member and video conference systems such as Polycom for meeting rooms. Our key members have Vonage or magicJack phones so that they can easily make international call or join conference bridges at home.

Having Overlap Time

No matters how good the tools and process are in place, it still requires an overlap time for the two teams to exchange real-time information. We try to find a collaboration period that has at least 1-2 hours of overlap between client’s and offshore teams. The team uses this overlapped time to resolve project dependency, clarify requirements, conduct demo and gather feedbacks. During the overlapped time, the offshore and client’s teams organize daily scrum meetings, discuss project issue etc. The following table describes the overlap time that we use with our clients

Client’s Time Zone

(Standard Time)

Time Difference

Overlap Time

Time in client location

Time in Vietnam

Overlap Hours

























Sydney (Australia)





London (UK)










Tokyo (Japan)











There are many ways to overcome time zone difference; at IMT we manage time zone difference by defining appropriate working process and taking advantage of collaboration technologies. Most importantly, all our practices are built around a corporate culture, which makes the offshore team an integral part of the client’s global team

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