In today’s small world where the IT industry thrives on Global Delivery Model, working with a client in different time zone is a well-rehearsed script for consulting firms worldwide. Having said that, the same script may not deliver when the client organization spans across time zones. In order to manage the diversity that global clients bring along with them, we believe there are six key aspects that one must take care of.
Abridge Time Zone Gaps
One of the biggest factors that impacts an engagement with a global client is the disparity in the time zones that their own teams work in. Such an engagement can easily become a nightmare for a project manager unless he pays heed to the following.
• First and foremost, be aware of the time zone differences – not roughly but absolutely
• Identify which teams need to communicate the most and make sure that their time zones get to overlap
• Prioritize your work based on time zones, for example, a US team member should try to get his communication done with Indian team in his morning and then focus on European teams, eventually working with US team in the second half
• When multiple teams across the globe need to work at the same time, like for production deployments, make sure that events are scheduled in accordance with time zones
Honor Cultural Differences
Majority of communication in the IT industry is done in English especially when people from multiple countries work together. However, a common language does not hide the differences between the various cultures that people are brought up in. Cultural differences, or rather lack of their cognizance, can impact communication between global teams which in turn can sabotage the engagement overall. Not surprisingly, the differences appear stronger when the communication happens orally. People can be misunderstood as rude or even sarcastic if one does not understand the different cultures they represent. Having dealt with a collage of cultures we learned the following.
• Never assume anything when communicating with someone sitting miles away
• Read about how people from different cultures work and interact
• Certainly read about what you should not say or write to someone in the cultures you are dealing with – a joke for you can be an offence for someone else
• Be aware that teams around the world cannot be expected to stretch to similar extents – working extra hours may be okay in some countries but not in all
Broaden Vision When Planning
More the teams, more are the dependencies and when teams are located geographically apart the dependencies take a bigger shape. One should broaden his or her vision upfront. Here are a few tips that can help.
• Keep your project plan up-to-date with holiday calendars of all participating countries
• Accommodate for the fact that members of some teams will have more leaves to avail from when compared to others
• Identify all dependencies and make sure that they are tracked on a regular basis
• Agree upon a common plan with all teams much before any collective event like a production deployment is scheduled to take place
Identify Team Structures
When working with large and remotely connected teams, there are times when finding the right person to contact becomes a challenge. In order to ensure efficient communication between the teams it is very crucial that definite team structures are identified, documented and shared with all. This helps in facilitating a collaborative environment and creates well-defined channels for escalation of issues that are a part and parcel of any project.
In projects with global teams it’s not only important for the communication to happen vertically but horizontally as well. The following is what we ensured when working with our client.
• Define a primary and a secondary point of contact for each team, sometimes it can be a managerial and a technical contact
• Appoint a senior team member of each team to whom issues can be escalated, define the points of escalation in a hierarchical manner
• Agree upon and share team structures with all teams at the time of project kickoff, keep the document updated
• Schedule meetings between parallel points of contact to synchronize on a regular basis
Document Every Detail, Even the Obvious
The smooth functioning of an international engagement largely depends on proper communication between teams. Due to the different time zones that members work in the scope of verbal communication between them becomes very narrow. For example, in our project, team members from US could only talk to those in Malaysia once a week and that too for 30 minutes. This drives the need of documenting every discussion in detail so that the information can be referred to by all the teams even outside time zone overlaps. Documentation is recommended in any type of project but it becomes mandatory when the project spans across time zones.
• Designate a SharePoint portal where all important documents are shared with teams
• Take and share notes of every important discussion especially the one where key decisions are taken
• Utilize email to its best even if it means sending an email about something that was discussed over a meeting
• Include all possible details when expecting something from other team members, what is obvious for you may be unknown for others
Make Small Talks
While taking care of the above points will keep the engine running but there is another often-untold aspect that acts as oil between the engine parts. Based on our experience it’s not a lot of effort, just a few small talks can do wonders. The following cues can get you started.
• Utilize the first few minutes of a meeting when all attendees have not joined yet for your casual talks
• Remain updated with current affairs of other nations to help you in finding topics to discuss
• Talk about common sports, make light jokes or just ask about weather
• Do not get personal, it’s very easy to get carried away
A lot has been written and proved when it comes to project management and all of that still holds true for a global project just like any other. However, keeping control over the six elements ensures that all your boats sail together towards the same destination that is a successful project. So, tighten the ropes before your boats drift away.