Major corporations regularly embark on global projects that involve teams in diverse geographical locations. There are many reasons for this but the main ones are to utilise the best skills available in different parts of the organisation, or via outsource agreements with other companies, in different countries. And, of course, probably the over-riding factor – cost. If the same work can be provided for a lower cost because it is done in a region of lower salaries and overheads then the whole project budget can be kept down.
But can low costs derived by having the work done in different countries by people with different languages and cultures ever equate to high quality of work? Is it even possible to accurately measure the success of such projects? These are issues for a much wider debate but if you are considering embarking on a global project, or are already involved in one, then consider these 5 factors that will have a huge impact on the success or failure of your project.
1. Diverse Geographical Location
When a team, or representatives from each team, where the teams are large, cannot regularly come together for face-to-face meetings, communication difficulties will arise. Small issues can become big problems because they will not be resolved during the course of regular conversations. Email becomes relied upon too heavily, with all the consequent opportunities for misunderstandings to arise.
2. Time Zone Constraints
Diverse teams should adjust their typical working day, wherever feasible, to ensure that there is a reasonable period of overlap between all the teams involved in the project so that there will be a response to phone calls and emails within the same working day. Even on days when there are no scheduled conference calls or reports due, every member of the team should be available for impromptu discussions at a certain time of day, every day. By ensuring this there will be no unnecessary delays whilst information is unavailable or whilst decisions are awaited.
3. Cultural Differences
Attitudes in the workplace vary greatly from culture to culture. In some environments problems will not be reported soon enough in the belief that extra hours and manpower can overcome any potential issues. This can often result in the problem becoming worse than it need have been, but entrenched attitudes to admitting there is a problem are difficult to change in some cultures.
4. Language Barriers
Whilst teams and co-workers will have a language in common, where that language is not a first language for some individuals, misunderstandings can arise if someone does not grasp a point of detail. The fact that communication is not face-to-face exacerbates this problem as a face to face discussion would often reveal a lack of understanding in a person's expression.
5. Lack of Team Spirit
It is difficult, but not impossible, to instil team spirit into a diverse group of teams with different first languages and cultures. There can often be rivalries and resentments between the teams yet it is vital for genuine project success that all the teams work towards a united common goal.
The global project manager should aim to understand what motivates the diverse teams at the outset of the project through frank discussions with the key team members. Building good working relationships with the local project managers will help enormously in understanding and motivating the project teams and in building up an environment of trust and loyalty between the global and local teams.
Another way of building team spirit is to always clearly define expectations, to always provide detailed feedback on all work packages and to praise individuals or teams for delivering quality work. Concentrating on the simple human element goes a long way to building and maintaining good working relationships throughout the project.
There are project management 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, specific to global project management. They also cover all the techniques associated with project management success in all types of projects.