Almost all large organizations now have a global presence and it is common for a project leader to be responsible for leading projects and teams from different countries and cultures. In order to manage a geographically diverse project effectively, the communication and cultural barriers must be addressed at the beginning of a project in order to build a successful multicultural team with a common goal.
It is important to recognize that seemingly minor differences are sufficient to influence the outcome of the project. For example, if countries are close to each other and not very culturally different (as a British project with teams in Germany) or when teams are far apart, but have the same language and culture (as a US-based project with Australian Teams), one could assume that the differences in the teams will not unduly influence the project.
Such assumptions are almost always invalid and experience has shown that any of the following differences affect the project and these differences need to be adequately managed.
- Location difference
- Language difference
- Time difference
- Cultural difference
What I have learned to be the most important problem areas that are specific to global projects and need to be addressed to successfully manage a global project are outlined below.
ESTABLISHING CONCRETE LINES OF COMMUNICATION
- A first session should take place when all stakeholders meet in person, whenever possible. In the further course of the project, it will be much easier to deal with questions when the parties concerned know each other personally.
Selection of The Right Communication Methods
- While e-mail, telephone, or other tools are suitable for daily communication, weekly conference calls should also be planned and followed to allow a more open discussion of progress and problems.
Definition of Formal Reporting Expectations
- The format and frequency of the reports must be created at the beginning of the project. It is likely that different reports are needed at the local and global level.
ADDRESSES OF CULTURAL PROBLEMS
Understanding Cultural Differences
- This is a two-way process (or more) to ensure that all teams understand the expectations and attitudes of each other. If necessary, the study of different cultures should be carried out in order to estimate different attitudes to areas such as quality, cost and time. Different attitudes can also exist in a culture, but in different skills.
Detection of Time Zone Restrictions
- Certainly not new for the local teams to work in the same time frame as the global project manager, such a disregard of the personal commitments of team members is likely to be counterproductive in motivation. Instead, there should be a common time when all members are available and all scheduled communications such as conference calls or regular report notification are within that time window.
DEVELOPING THE GLOBAL PROJECT TEAM
Motivating Teams In Different Places And Cultures
- It is highly necessary for the global project manager to know what motivates diverse teams. Early communication and open discussions with the most important team members should create this. It should also determine at which level this responsibility is at the local level.
Obtaining Accurate Progress Information
- There are certain stages in a project when it is not possible to judge the progress. For example, if there are two dependent packages of work and the progress of the first package relies on the completion of the second. Building trust and loyalty between global and local teams will ensure that reporting is completely honest and provides an accurate picture of progress.
- It is necessary that global project manager should always make full comprehensive feedback available on each completed task package that clearly defines expectations. Failure to do so may lead to misunderstandings and unsatisfactory work, which will be aggravated by the fact that all team members are not based in the same location.
CONTROL OF WORK FLOW
- Wherever possible, use the teams with the most relevant experience for each task. Communicate with all teams to explain the reasoning for assigning tasks with a cost-benefit analysis to prevent a mismatch between teams.
- Where the available capabilities allow, dependent packages of work should be performed and managed in the same place. If this is not possible, the dependencies and associated deadlines and milestones require highly detailed plans and carefully documented goals and outcomes.
Manage global stakeholders
- The identification of stakeholders is relatively simple, but the analysis of the expectations of stakeholders in large, complex global projects is not. Rivalries and different agenda can exist between different groups and these relationships need to be managed in order to minimize their impact on the overall success of the global project.
Procedures for Managing Changes
- Any required change in requirements must be approved only at a global level once all stakeholders have been consulted. The impact on the timetable and the budget needs to be assessed and approved by all stakeholders at local and global levels before a change is approved.
CONTROL OF GLOBAL RISKS
Define goals and achievements acceptable to all teams
- While risks inherent in each project are inherent and mitigation should be present, a global project must understand the requirements and deadlines of all work packages and be accepted by all teams at all sites. Then the probability that a risk becomes a reality is diminished.
There are project management training courses that focus on the specific challenges of managing global projects. They provide project managers with all the skills they need to deal with the challenges and overcome the difficulties of global project management. Check out your local PMI chapter for details on those courses!