Global project management comes with its own unique challenges. Bluefin’s Project Manager, Wei Ling Wong, provides us insight into a recent international project and reminds us of some of the finer points in project management, that are occassionally overlooked.
Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a very interesting project. For confidentiality, I've used fictional names. Anon Limited acquired the T business unit of X Limited. After the acquisition, the T business unit continued to receive services from the shared services centre of X Limited under a Transition Services Agreement (TSA).
Based on the TSA, Anon Limited paid a fee to X Limited for a fixed term. X Limited would stop providing services to the T business unit after the fixed term. Therefore, it was critical that the T business unit was fully operational on Anon Limited’s business systems before the deadline.
This was when I came into the picture, tasked with the responsibility to project manage the roll-out of Anon Limited’s business systems to the East Asia operations (six legal entities across five different countries) of the T business unit. There were a number of key players involved based around the globe, including:
- A business systems team based in the UK.
- Process owners, local IT team and a project manager working from different cities across Asia.
- A level 1 support team operating from Eastern Europe.
Collectively, we were working across a total of eight different countries. Let the fun begin!
What is in a name?
In an extended organisation of thousands of people, the chances of coming across more than two people with the same name are high. So in emails, meeting requests or any form of communications, double check you have the right individual! Otherwise, action items may be ignored or confidential details revealed before they are made public.
Additionally, an unusual name may make it difficult to identify the person as a male or female. Therefore, while it may seem overly formal to address someone as Mr Smith or Ms Smith, it does help to reduce confusion.
Where is everyone?
As with anyone who has worked in a geographically dispersed team can testify, planning conference calls to accommodate different time zones is a challenge. Even more so, as I discovered, with my computer based on a time zone with no daylight saving.
For several months, everyone showed up to the weekly conference calls punctually. One fine day in November, I dialled into the conference call as usual, but no one from the UK team was online. After waiting fruitlessly for 15 minutes, I finally figured out that while my clock had not changed,
the clock for the UK people had moved back by one hour.
When the project manager becomes the pseudo travel agent
A fundamental issue needed to be addressed: where should the user acceptance testing (UAT) be held? The participants were going to be travelling from multiple countries, so we had to consider:
- Did the participant need a travel visa?
- What was the lead time for visa application?
In addition to an aggressive timeline, holidays like the Golden Week in China, Christmas and the Lunar New Year had to be planned for. Therefore, the window for UAT was very small. The timing of the UAT also had an impact on the project budget as flights and hotels were more expensive during certain periods.
During a conference call, I noticed something unusual. I was able to understand what people from two different countries were saying, but many people were lost in the discussion. The strength of the foreign accent and familiarity with the accent played a big part. You say po-tay-to; I say po-tah-to. As time went by, conference calls became smoother as people got used to each other’s accents.
Just as different organisations have different terminologies for the same thing, this is also true for cross-border teams within the same organisation. And it is not just the words and pronunciation but also in the sentence structure and writing style.
My two cents
There are many other aspects to project managing a global team that I have omitted. It’s important to note, however, that global teams are becoming increasingly common and we should be conscious of the importance of being culturally sensitive and the pitfalls in communication. Despite the age of short messaging, e-mails should be clear, precise and detailed. Otherwise, you may end up wasting a lot of time waiting for clarification from someone who is working in a different time zone.