Project Management of Complex Global Projects
By: Michelle Symonds
Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager with over 10 years experience of IT project management for blue-chip corporations. She believes that the right training is essential for a project manager to deliver successful projects of any kind.
There are project management courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses. So with such a wide range of formal and informal training available to project managers, there is a course to suit everyone.
a global project presents a unique set of challenges apart from the obvious
ones of different physical locations and time zones. There are also likely to
be cultural issues that extend beyond simple language and time-zone differences;
as well as issues of efficiency, administration and reporting.
Almost all major organisations now have a
global presence and it is common for a project manager to have the
responsibility of leading projects and teams from different countries and
cultures. In order to effectively manage a geographically diverse project the
communication and cultural barriers must be addressed at the outset of a
project in order to build a successful multi-cultural team with a united common
It is important to recognise that seemingly
minor differences are sufficient to affect the outcome of the project. For
example, if countries are near to each other and not very culturally different (such
as a UK-based project with teams in Spain) or if teams are based far away from
each other but have the same language and culture (such as a US-based project with
Australian teams), it might be assumed that the differences in the teams will
not unduly affect the project.
Such assumptions are almost always invalid
and experience has shown that any one of the following differences will affect
the project and these differences do have to be managed appropriately.
- Location difference
- Language difference
- Time difference
- Cultural difference
The major problem areas that are specific
to global projects and must be dealt with in order to manage a global project
successfully are outlined below.
ESTABLISHING THE LINES OF
An initial meeting should be held with
all stakeholders coming together in person, whenever possible. Further along in
the project it will be much easier to deal with issues if the parties concerned
have met and communicated face-to-face.
- Selecting the right methods of communication
Whilst email, telephone or other tools
are appropriate for day-to-day communication, weekly conference calls should
also be scheduled, and adhered to, to enable a more open discussion about
progress and issues.
- Defining formal reporting expectations
The format and frequency of reports must
be established at the beginning of the project. It is likely that different
reporting will be required at local and global levels.
ADDRESSING CULTURAL ISSUES
- Understanding cultural
This is a two-way process (or more) to
ensure all teams understand the expectations and attitudes of each other. If
necessary, investigation into the different cultures should be conducted to
appreciate different attitudes to areas such as quality, cost and time. Different
attitudes can also exist within a culture but in differing skill sets.
- Recognising time zone constraints
Although it is not unheard of for local
teams to work on the same time-zone as the global project manager, such
disregard for the personal commitments of the team members is very likely to be
counter-productive in motivating them. Instead there should be a common time of
day when all members are available and any scheduled communications, such as
conference calls or regular reporting updates, fall within that time window.
THE GLOBAL PROJECT TEAM
- Motivating teams in
diverse locations and cultures
It is vital for the global project
manager to understand what motivates diverse teams. Early communication and
frank discussions with the key team members should establish this. It should
also determine to what level this responsibility lies at a local level.
- Obtaining accurate progress information
There are certain stages in a project
when it is not possible to assess progress. For example, when there are two dependent
packages of work and the progress of the first package relies on the completion
of the second. Building up trust and loyalty between the global and local teams
will ensure that reporting is fully honest and gives an accurate picture of
The global project manager should always
provide detailed feedback on every completed work package that clearly defines
expectations. Failure to do so can lead to misunderstandings and unsatisfactory
work that will be exacerbated due to the fact that all team members are not
based in the same location.
THE WORK FLOW
Wherever possible, use the teams with the
most relevant experience for each task. Communicate with all teams to explain
the reasoning for assigning tasks using cost-benefit analysis, if appropriate, to
prevent ill-feeling between teams.
Where the available skills allow,
dependent packages of work should be performed and managed at the same
location. When this is not possible, the dependencies and their associated
deadlines and milestones will require highly detailed plans and thoroughly
documented objectives and deliverables.
- Managing global
Identifying stakeholders is relatively
straightforward but analysing the expectations of stakeholders in large,
complex global projects is not. Rivalries and different agendas may exist
between different groups and these relationships must be managed to minimise
their impact on the overall success of the global project.
- Procedures for managing change
Any requested change to requirements must
only be approved at a global level once all stakeholders have been consulted. The
impact on the schedule and budget must be assessed and authorised by all
stakeholders at local and global levels before any change is approved.
- Defining objectives
and deliverables acceptable to all teams
Whilst risks are inherent in every
project, and mitigation should be in place, in a global project the requirements
and deadlines of all work packages must be understood and, most importantly,
accepted by all teams in all locations. Then the likelihood of any risk
becoming a reality is lessened.
There are a variety of project management
training 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, of global project