If I knew then, what I know now
“If I knew then, what I know now” is a phrase we hear often, and one that can really only be used following the analysis, understanding and assessment of past experiences. The important thing is our learning from these experiences, to mitigate the risk of reoccurrence by strategically planning for and adapting our practices.
In my 15 or so years as an IT Project Manager, working across a number of industries and managing multiple offshore teams, I have gained an appreciation of the complexities that working cross culturally inherently brings. Particularly memorable were the experiences working for one of the big 4 banks and with a global oil company. These deployments required management of the project over a number of culturally diverse teams across multiple global regions. I gained valuable insight into the varied approaches, work practices and views on solving challenges. On closer inspection none are necessarily wrong, just different from one another – and therein lies the learning!
Firstly, by acknowledging, and then understanding the cultural nuances between people, we can accommodate them into our workplace, and in my case into project deliveries. The most important thing is to set clear expectations and principles right from the start. A common understanding means we can operate as one team, to achieve the goals for our customers.
Secondly, undertaking some initial planning aimed at ensuring success will limit the number of roadblocks. Some further tips I’ve learned along the way:
- Clear Objectives: Always work to keep lines of communication clear and detailed to avoid any misunderstandings. Ensure all requirements are documented at a granular level in writing and request confirmation of understanding before proceeding with all tasks within the project. The objective here is to ensure the team members understand what is required versus their acknowledgement of the requirements.
- Consistent Communication: Keep communication consistent by starting and ending each day with a quick meeting to confirm the day’s work expectations and progress. Daily feedback on delivery status will also help to identify any issues/risks earlier and minimise the risk of deadline slippage.
- Simple Plans: Develop and communicate detailed and easy to follow project management plans for a shared understanding of project timelines and milestones.
- Work with cultural differences: Understand the team’s daily practices so they can be integrated into the project’s workflow. For example, request details of the service providers’ daily schedules to avoid scheduling meetings or calls during regionally allocated breaks. Offshore teams also may have different culturally accepted norms in their daily routines, which when understood will assist in achieving successful delivery outcomes.
- Build Relationships: Develop strong relationships with offshore senior team leaders to ensure requirements are communicated locally to their staff. Utilising your offshore senior leads can assist with translation misunderstandings and clarification of requirements.
- Team Bonding: Encourage smaller group meetings between team members without their superiors present to encourage innovation and participation.
- Encourage Responsibility: Build a strong sense of ownership within the project team to encourage shared responsibility for its successful delivery. For example, with post-deployment, request availability of contractors for a day or two to solve any unforeseen problems that may have arisen.
- Create Structure: Work within a delivery framework where everyone understands their role. For example, an Agile framework with Agile principles harnesses ceremonies for collaboration and communication. It also provides a good basis for project controls and contributes to establishing a strong working relationship within the team.
My experiences working with and managing offshore teams have been both rewarding, and a great opportunity to leverage many of my learnings into repeatable models, implementing the above practices from the project outset to ensure consistent and successful delivery.
I welcome feedback about how you have successfully managed the intricacies of working with and accommodating programs across complex and diverse cultures.