What Is the Follow the Sun Model? | Lucidchart Blog
Skip to main content

“I went down the street to the 24-hour grocery store. When I got there, the guy was locking the front door. 

I said, 'Hey, the sign says you're open 24 hours.' 

He said, 'Yes, but not in a row.'”

—Stephen Wright

Successful businesses satisfy customer needs—and for some businesses, especially those that have expanded globally, that means providing superior customer service and support 24 hours…in a row. Adopting a follow the sun support methodology can help you provide high-quality, on-time service and support when your internal and external customers need you. 

What is a follow the sun model?

The follow the sun model is a service and support method that is designed to address and satisfy customer needs without regard to geographic location or current time. Companies large and small are able to provide 24-hour service without putting the burden on one site and requiring employees to work late shifts or overtime.

Follow the sun is also used by software development teams that are spread out across global sites. The constant workflow increases response time and reduces time to market.

Because it is always daytime somewhere in the world, you need a way to support customers around the globe no matter what time zone they are in and without too much delay. The method literally follows the sun so work is performed during normal work hours anywhere in the world. And customers in one location do not get preferential or more support than any other location.

If the workdays among satellite offices overlap, work can be passed from an office that is shutting down for the day to an office that is still open or just starting its day. By following the sun, the issue is worked on until it is resolved. Response times are increased, delays in problem-solving are reduced, and customers are satisfied.

4 principles of follow the sun

The follow the sun model is based on the following principles:

  • Increase response time to solve problems more quickly, and reduce development and production times to get products and services to market faster.
  • Service and development sites are spread out across many time zones, allowing work to be passed from location to location.
  • Employees hand off work at the end of each shift to the next site that is beginning a new shift several time zones to the west.
  • Because of the hand-offs, work is owned by and worked on by one site at a time.

Benefits and advantages of the follow the sun model

When a follow the sun method is implemented correctly, it will reap the following advantages for you and your business.

Faster problem-solving

Rather than making the customer wait several hours until you can get back to working on a solution, follow the sun allows you to pass on the work to the next site. This way, the problem remains a priority and is worked on until the customer is satisfied. In addition, passing the work to a new group lets people see the problem from a new perspective. Document what has been accomplished so each site can avoid repeating work.

Faster product development and time-to-market

Businesses can reduce the amount of time it takes to progress from ideation to planning and development when a team is working on the project on a 24-hour schedule. For this model to work, all sites must be using the same tools and development methodologies (planning, bug tracking, version control, reporting, and so on).

Consistent levels of service

Handing off work from site to site balances the workload and makes it easier for you to offer consistent levels of service at all times. This model ensures that none of your service locations are neglected or receive preferential treatment, especially if you work at a global company.

Reasonable work hours

Most employees do not want to be at work 12 or 16 hours a day. The follow the sun model gives your employees their lives back to spend more time with family and recreation. It’s hard to fill swing or overnight shifts. Working normal daylight hours keeps employees happy, healthy, and motivated to work while your company is still able to offer round-the-clock service.

Get new leads and branch into new markets

Positive messages from current users make selling to new customers much easier, and if you can deliver consistent service around the clock and delight your customers, positive feedback is sure to come your company’s way. Plus, with a follow the sun model established, your company will be better prepared to support customers around the world, allowing your business to branch into new markets.

Let your superior service and personalized support work as a marketing advantage to find new leads and sales.

Disadvantages of the follow the sun model

Although the advantages presented above could take your business to the next level, adopting a follow the sun model comes with its own set of challenges and disadvantages.

Difficulty with communication and collaboration

Most agile practices emphasize face-to-face communication. Because they have sites spread across the world, companies using the follow the sun model will find it difficult for everybody to be in the same room at the same time. If your teams are separated by 12 hours, no time is perfect to schedule regular meetings—no matter when the meetings are scheduled, one of the sites will be outside of regular business hours.

And due to these restraints, teams may have a tough time truly collaborating. It may take more time than anticipated to ask questions and receive answers. Some sites could feel isolated and out of the loop.

If your business proceeds with follow the sun, managers should do their best to schedule meetings when it’s most convenient for both locations, and IT should adopt video conferencing and cloud-based solutions for everyone to work together.

Lack of coordination

With many sites all working on the same project, the daily handoff can become a bottleneck—especially if the other team doesn’t understand the problem or if their work introduces a new problem.

Best practices for implementing a follow the sun model

Consider these basic steps and questions you need to ask before diving into a follow the sun methodology.

Establish goals

Do you want to provide complete 24-hour service? Are you able to provide 24-hour service at this time? If not, determine what you are able to provide customers right now as you work toward your long-term 24-hour service. Determine when your customers need you the most so you can define your goals around their needs.

Make a plan

Determine which services will be provided, when they will be provided, and what skill set will be needed to provide those services. For example, you may need skilled bilingual managers and associates to help with international communications.

Start small so that you don’t overpromise what you can actually deliver. Your plan needs to include specific roles, processes, and training necessary to meet customer expectations.

If you don’t have international offices, create a plan that uses staggered start times to cover the time zones you are focusing on. For example, in the United States, some of your employees could start the day at 6:00 a.m. to support the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Another group could start at 8:00 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. to support the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones.

Test the plan before implementation to ensure that hand-offs between sites will run smoothly and make tweaks to the processes as needed.

Standardize processes and tools

Agile methodologies fit well with follow the sun models because all work is completed within set iteration cycles. You will need to determine which agile methodologies are best for the various global teams that help you to track work, allows for continuous integration, keeps team members accountable, and facilitates work hand-offs. 

It’s also important to have daily stand-up meetings. If possible, these meetings could be conducted during the hand-off so that the team can better communicate and share knowledge with each other. While you won’t all be in the same room for these meetings, video conferences are fairly easy to set up and schedule.

You will want to standardize on the technology and tools you use to support your agile methodologies and implement, monitor, revise, and manage your follow the sun model. The tools you use should emphasize team collaboration and the automation of reporting, scheduling, planning, and progress tracking.

Finally, communication is a key component for successful follow the sun implementation. Teams must be able to define what work has been done and what work is expected next in the process. In addition to verbal communication, teams can also use visual documentation, such as flowcharts, kanban boards, and Gantt charts as part of their daily hand-offs.

Implementing follow the sun methods in your global organization can be challenging. If you plan well and start slowly to see what works and what doesn’t, you can more easily scale your efforts and ramp up services until you meet your goals and satisfy customer expectations.

Learn how to use a follow the sun model for your IT and cloud teams./p>

Learn more