Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Projects, project management and careers – 8: international and trans-national projects 1

This is my eighth installment in a series on projects and project management as a career path (see my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2, postings 250-256 for Parts 1-7.) And I turn with this installment to consider international and trans-national projects, and all of the issues and challenges, and positive opportunity that they bring with them. In this,

• International projects include any project where resources crucial to completion have to be brought in or shared across international borders, though for purposes of this posting at least primary emphasis is placed on employee skills and participation effort as border-crossing resources.
• And trans-national projects involve participation and resource sharing between geographically separate offices and business locations within a single country – where for larger countries this can mean working across significant numbers of time zones as well as across large spans of separating distance. And once again, at least for purposes of this discussion, focus is on human resources and the alignment and participation of skills and experience, and applied effort.

International and trans-national are becoming more and more important in our globally interconnected and globally spanning businesses, and for both ongoing operational functionality and for projects-oriented processes and practices. And focusing on projects here, that means project management has to effectively work in a much more complex environment and with more demanding constraints than would more traditionally pertain where all involved parties were for the most part working together under one roof.

• When members of a team tasked with working together on a project are distantly located from each other and from the project’s manager, communications and coordination of effort can and does become an issue. And managing those aspects of the project can and does become much more technology-dependent. So access to and use of intranet and other online systems and telephony systems become the defining glue that holds these teams together. That is in and of itself, a separate topic of discussion which I will cover in more detail in a separate installment.
• Tracking progress and benchmarking it become more complex too, and certainly as language and other barriers intervene and even when time zone differences are not limiting real-time communications.
• Distant offices can function in contexts of local and national cultural differences and even corporate culture differences within the overall business can be important too, and for a variety of reasons. An awareness of differences in community-based cultures and of the way expectations and behavioral norms can vary from them, can be crucial for the smooth completion of a project.
• When national boundaries are crossed in assembling a project team and for working on and completing that project, legally mandated regulatory and other due diligence issues can and do arise and intervene.
• All of these points and more have both individually and collectively changed what effective project management means, in our increasingly interconnected global workplace and marketplace. And my goal in this posting, and the subseries installments to follow it that continue directly from this, is to more or less systematically cover a number of them.

I am going to begin that more comprehensive discussion here and with a set of issues that I did not include on the above list: bringing project team members into a team and working with them there, in such a way that helps all participants to clearly know their role in this endeavor, and what others are doing too.

• From a tools and methods perspective, this can primarily be viewed as an example of where effective online and telecommunications systems – technology per se would be needed and applied. And I will discuss that side of this in my next series installment.
• But this is fundamentally a supervisory issue and one of interpersonal and management skills. I will focus on this side of team member involvement and team coordination here. And I will add that simply throwing technology at this set of potential problems cannot solve anything if the management and interpersonal coordination challenges are not addressed first.
• In a fundamental sense, getting this right is prerequisite for effectively dealing with and managing any of the other issues sets that could be discussed here.

There are a number of ways that I could present on this topic, but perhaps one of the easiest is to list some of the core issues that go into it.

• As you determine who is to work on a project you are managing, and as you obtain buy-in for their participating from their direct supervisors, meet with them separately – face to face if possible, and via audio-video link such as sight and sound Skype if necessary. And make it clear that you are going to be available if members of your project team have to meet with you separately to discuss issues or concerns. Follow-up on that too and be available.
• Discuss with your team members what you are going to require of them, with a caveat that this is an initial tasks requirements discussion and that schedules and responsibilities may need to be revised and that they are still fluid. Work with your team members to make sure that you do not creating scheduling and responsibility conflicts for them, and from their perspective, so they do not find themselves having to slight one set of responsibilities to meet and fulfill another – or what might be more likely slight two sets of responsibilities from having to bounce between them. This is where rush priority tasks, for example, can derail anyone’s work schedule and these by definition cannot be anticipated. Convey an awareness that you are working with your team members and that you will accommodate their needs where possible to make their completing their work effectively, easier.
• And this is in fact particularly important for building a working relationship for contributing to a project, with distantly located team members who you do not already know and who would otherwise not be able to meet with you. It is the conversations that you do not have and never get around to that will come back to haunt you, for the disconnects and misunderstandings their absence creates.
• And as for time zone differences – I have been actively involved in groups where I have had to meet with people via teleconference or similar, at odd hours (e.g.1 AM, every Thursday.) Try to schedule at as close to a mutually comfortable time as possible where synchronous communications are needed. Use asynchronous communications such as email where that would suffice. And I recommend that if you are the team leader and project manager, be willing to accept the less personally desirable side of the scheduling for synchronous communications if needed, and not push that burden off on the people who report to you. Set a positive example of being flexible and willing to accommodate the needs of others; this is a message that will get picked up on by the people you work with and they will be more accommodating where needed, in return.

Meet with the team as a whole, and with functionally connected subgroups of it as appropriate to get everyone started on the same page and with the same basic shared understanding as to what is to be done and how. But remember:

• The larger the group you are working with, the more one way your presentations are going to be as even the best teleconferencing gets confusing with too many participants speaking at once and to the group as a whole.
• I will discuss some options for maximizing group participation in my next series installment, but start out assuming that you are going to have to rely on one way and smaller group and individual conversations and exchanges, and certainly for real-time interactions. Then increased capabilities to communication within and across groups that effective use of technology can provide, simply makes everything easier from a baseline you have prepared for.

This is enough for this installment and I will pick up on this general discussion again in my next, where I will turn to consider technology aides to connecting a team together long-distance. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 2. I have also posted extensively on jobs and careers-related topics in my first Guide directory page on Job Search and Career Development. I am also including this subseries on international and trans-national projects in Outsourcing and Globalization.

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