Almost all major organisations now have a global presence and it is common for a project manager to have the responsibility of leading projects and teams from different countries and cultures. In order to effectively manage a geographically diverse project the communication and cultural barriers must be addressed at the outset of a project in order to build a successful multi-cultural team with a united common goal.
It is important to recognise that seemingly minor differences are sufficient to affect the outcome of the project. For example, if countries are near to each other and not very culturally different (such as a UK-based project with teams in Spain) or if teams are based far away from each other but have the same language and culture (such as a US-based project with Australian teams), it might be assumed that the differences in the teams will not unduly affect the project.
Such assumptions are almost always invalid and experience has shown that any one of the following differences will affect the project and these differences do have to be managed appropriately.
The major problem areas that are specific to global projects and must be dealt with in order to manage a global project successfully are outlined below.
ESTABLISHING THE LINES OF COMMUNICATION
An initial meeting should be held with all stakeholders coming together in person, whenever possible. Further along in the project it will be much easier to deal with issues if the parties concerned have met and communicated face-to-face.
Selecting the right methods of communication
Whilst email, telephone or other tools are appropriate for day-to-day communication, weekly conference calls should also be scheduled, and adhered to, to enable a more open discussion about progress and issues.
Defining formal reporting expectations
The format and frequency of reports must be established at the beginning of the project. It is likely that different reporting will be required at local and global levels.
ADDRESSING CULTURAL ISSUES
Understanding cultural differences
This is a two-way process (or more) to ensure all teams understand the expectations and attitudes of each other. If necessary, investigation into the different cultures should be conducted to appreciate different attitudes to areas such as quality, cost and time. Different attitudes can also exist within a culture but in differing skill sets.
Recognising time zone constraints
Although it is not unheard of for local teams to work on the same time-zone as the global project manager, such disregard for the personal commitments of the team members is very likely to be counter-productive in motivating them. Instead there should be a common time of day when all members are available and any scheduled communications, such as conference calls or regular reporting updates, fall within that time window.
DEVELOPING THE GLOBAL PROJECT TEAM
Motivating teams in diverse locations and cultures
It is vital for the global project manager to understand what motivates diverse teams. Early communication and frank discussions with the key team members should establish this. It should also determine to what level this responsibility lies at a local level.
Obtaining accurate progress information
There are certain stages in a project when it is not possible to assess progress. For example, when there are two dependent packages of work and the progress of the first package relies on the completion of the second. Building up trust and loyalty between the global and local teams will ensure that reporting is fully honest and gives an accurate picture of progress.
The global project manager should always provide detailed feedback on every completed work package that clearly defines expectations. Failure to do so can lead to misunderstandings and unsatisfactory work that will be exacerbated due to the fact that all team members are not based in the same location.
CONTROLLING THE 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 using cost-benefit analysis, if appropriate, to prevent ill-feeling between teams.
Where the available skills allow, dependent packages of work should be performed and managed at the same location. When this is not possible, the dependencies and their associated deadlines and milestones will require highly detailed plans and thoroughly documented objectives and deliverables.
Managing global stakeholders
Identifying stakeholders is relatively straightforward but analysing the expectations of stakeholders in large, complex global projects is not. Rivalries and different agendas may exist between different groups and these relationships must be managed to minimise their impact on the overall success of the global project.
Procedures for managing change
Any requested change to requirements must only be approved at a global level once all stakeholders have been consulted. The impact on the schedule and budget must be assessed and authorised by all stakeholders at local and global levels before any change is approved.
CONTROLLING GLOBAL RISKS
Defining objectives and deliverables acceptable to all teams
Whilst risks are inherent in every project, and mitigation should be in place, in a global project the requirements and deadlines of all work packages must be understood and, most importantly, accepted by all teams in all locations. Then the likelihood of any risk becoming a reality is lessened.
There are project management training courses available that focus on the specific challenges of managing global projects. They equip project managers with all the skills they need to deal with the challenges, and overcome the difficulties, of global project management.