Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ten Best Practices For Managing Global Projects

In an increasingly global economy, projects are also becoming more global.

Your project team, sponsor and key stakeholders can be spread across many continents, time zones, organizations, languages and cultures.

But while there are challenges imposed on global projects, due to all the factors noted above, these challenges often exist at least to some degree on any project, global or not.

For example, you might well have team members several time zones away, or living in your city but recently from different cultures and with English not their native language.

So here are some practices I recommend, that are especially important on a global project, but could be applied to any project.  At the beginning of your project, go through this list and pick out and apply the best practices in each area that you feel would most benefit your project.

 I hesitate to say that any area is more important than the others, but can make an exception with this one, both because I think it is the most important, and also because the issue of communications is inter-twined with most of the other areas.  How you communicate, how often and to whom and with what media will all have a significant impact on the success of your project.

1.  At the beginning of your project, establish a Communications Management Plan.  This can be a simple one pager listing all the key stakeholders and methods and frequency of planned communications.
2.  Establish a Project Repository, using a tool such as SharePoint, to make all project deliverables, tools, templates and communications readily accessible.
3.  Subscribe to a web conferencing facility, if your company does not already have one.  These can be  relatively inexpensive, with high payback and benefit, making it easier to identify and show the person talking, and facilitate the sharing of documents and presentations.  Meetings can be recorded for those who miss a meeting, or would like to replay them to ensure they understand key points made in the meeting.
4.  Early in your project hold a Project Kickoff Meeting, outlining project objectives, roles and responsibilities, project methodology and the team operating agreement.  Give all team members a chance to present a one page slide about themselves (picture, roles, hobbies, "What is the most interesting thing you have done").  Team building and ice breaker exercises will be particularly beneficial.

5.  Accept (and embrace) the diversity of cultures on your team, but avoid any stereotyping. The best way to address this area, is to let the people on your team in each location identify what they think is different and special about their culture, and how they would like to see the team operate.  This feedback can be incorporated into the Team Operating Agreement presented at the Project Kickoff Meeting.

6.  If English is the common language to be used on your project, as is most likely, then assess the fluency of your team members in all team locations.  A good solution, to address issues of both fluency as well as the challenges of managing remote team members, is to have one senior person fluent in English act as the "lead" for each location, with the overall responsibility of coordinating all activities assigned to people in that location.

Time Zones
7.  It will be close to impossible to find a time that is convenient for all, so do not make the mistake of picking a time that is only convenient for you, the project manager.  Better to try and find a few times where no-one has to attend before 7 am or after 7 pm their time, and rotate meeting times so that everyone "shares the pain" about equally.  Again, the use of a "lead" in each location, and the availability of the project repository and recorded meetings will alleviate some of the communications problems caused by different time zones.

8.  The Project Manager should travel at least once to each location that will be providing a significant contribution to the project, and to the extent your project budget permits, each lead should also travel to be physically present for key activities and meetings. 

9.  Where possible, give each location an important deliverable, capitalizing on the particular skills and capabilities of that location and team.
10. Recognize the contributions from each location as they are made, and ensure they are well publicized in newsletters, Steering Committees etc.

While managing global projects can certainly be a challenge in many respects, it can also be an opportunity to learn and benefit from the diversity of cultures and the creativity and innovation that can result from global collaboration.

What has been your experience and insights on your global projects, and are there any best practices you can add?

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