Join Bob McGannon for an in-depth discussion in this video International projects 101, part of Managing International Projects (2015).
- Have you ever heard the song, "It's a Small World After All"? The world is definitely getting smaller, not physically, of course, but in terms of communication, access to information, and the relationship between projects and services. When you think of international projects, you might think of projects where you have international users of your project's product. That is true, but real interesting international projects involve decision-making and the implementation of decisions across country borders.
This implementation may be different, depending on the country where the product operates. For example, I once worked for a large, multinational corporation on a project that involved creating an application that would interface with customs agencies around the world. There were major distribution centers in the USA, Europe, Asia, and South America. The base functionality of the application was the same, but there were different considerations in each country as a result of different customs practices.
International projects need to be considered and evaluated from a business perspective, as well as a technical perspective. Typically, for successful projects, a lot of time is spent determining roles, signing off on governance matters, and dealing with some unique challenges. In order to overcome these challenges, it is vital to understand the characteristics of international projects. An international project is one that involves physical distance.
Project team members and stakeholders will be located away from each other, across country borders, making face-to-face communication opportunities expensive and rare. Using communication technology and cloud-based applications can help. Leveraging tools to facilitate richer communication, interactive discussions, or best yet, the ability to see and talk to each other is very helpful here. The second element of international projects are time zones.
Being spread across different time zones will mean that project tasks will be done at different times, making scheduling difficult. It can also be difficult to bring the key stakeholders together for meetings at a time that suits everybody. Having access to shared clocks and calendars can help. Another time zone-related challenge can be reaching somebody in charge for urgent and important decision-making. Distributing leadership can help. Third is language differences.
It is very likely that your project team members and stakeholders will speak more than one language, and sometimes, several languages. Having a default language is critical. Find out who is comfortable with the default language, and conduct follow-ups with those who may not be as adept. Allowing additional time for tasks, using translators, trying to stick to simple words that have one, unambiguous meaning, and avoiding words that can confuse others are all useful techniques.
Next international project characteristic is a need to deal with cultural differences. There may be people from different cultural backgrounds on your project team. While this diversity is great for the generation of ideas and wealth of experience, it is important to be aware of some of the issues you may encounter. This involves identifying culturally significant and religious holidays, and communications customs. Ask your team members about their specific cultural requirements to better understand them.
Last is a greater potential for buy-in or ownership issues. If the project started some place else or is owned some place else, team members can become disengaged. Understanding particular needs and expectations will help to avoid this situation. Build trust by being open and approachable, and be ready to change things that are not working. The challenges of international projects are not insurmountable. By understanding the challenges and using these techniques, your international project team could be gleefully singing from the same song sheet, making it, indeed, a small world, after all.
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- Communicating across borders
- Bridging time zones and language gaps
- Finding and nurturing management "champions"
- Evaluating your communication style
- Keeping international projects on track