When project teams have to work together across different continents, languages and cultures then problems are almost inevitable. Whether the teams are within the same international corporation or from two or more separate companies, the issues that arise are typically the same.
I have worked on many successful global projects and ultimately they are successful because they utilise the very best skills available in the most cost-effective way. But if you are considering embarking on a global project, or are already involved in one, watch out for these 7 problem areas. If they are not actively managed, they are likely to knock your project off course.
1. Diverse Geographical Location
Small issues can become big problems because those involved do not have regular and impromptu discussions. Avoid relying too heavily on email and try and pick up the phone more often.
2. Time Zone Constraints
Ideally there should be a minimum two hour overlap between all the teams involved in a global project, every single working day. In practise this is not always possible unless one team adjusts their typical working day to allow for the overlap. I have known this to happen on several projects and it was a key factor in avoiding unnecessary delays to many aspects of the project.
3. Cultural Differences
Issues can become exacerbated when entrenched cultural attitudes to work schedules, to quality of work and to senior management are not addressed. This is a two-way problem that can be alleviated by both sides voicing, documenting and managing expectations of each other.
4. Language Barriers
Misunderstandings can arise when the common language of communication on the project is not the first language of every team or team member. Both verbal and written communications are potential areas of misunderstanding but the issue is compounded by the teams being based in different locations. Native speakers of the common language should take care to avoid overly-complex language.
Because of the very nature of diverse teams working on a global project, the reporting requirements will vary from local to global level. This added effort to the reporting workload, if not to it’s complexity, also tends make it more difficult to remain focussed on the Business Case and the reporting requirements of the Business sponsors.
A global project manager should always provide detailed feedback on every completed work package. This is necessary not only as a measure of how satisfactory a particular piece of work has been, but in order to clearly define future expectations. Failure to do this can lead cumulatively to unsatisfactory work.
7. Lack of Motivation
It is vital for the global project manager to understand what motivates each diverse team and its members. Talking frankly and openly with the key team members as early in the project as possible should clarify different areas of motivation and it is rarely as simple as money. Remember that one of the best ways of motivating people, that is often neglected by managers, is to show appreciation for work that has been done.
Many project management training courses focus in detail on the specific challenges of managing global projects. They can equip project managers with all the skills they need to deal with the challenges, and overcome the difficulties, of global project management.