Managing Globally Distributed Project Teams

I started managing projects that included team members or customers outside the US in the mid-90’s. In the beginning, it was one other country. Then two, and so on. As I progressed in my career, working with globally distributed project teams became my norm. A typical project would include people spread across five to thirty countries, three to five continents, and from three to seven time zones. As you would expect, it’s very different from managing a few folks clustered together in a cube farm. Preparations must begin before the first team meeting.

Working Calendars

It is important to be cognizant of the non-working days for the people in your team. Set up the holidays for each country in your project planning system—here is a list of commonly observed national and religious holidays in several countries for 2020, and here are instructions for updating the working calendar in Microsoft Project. In addition, ask your team members to record their planned vacation dates in a shared location—I usually just use an Excel spreadsheet, to keep the technical overhead down. Also, find a culturally sensitive way to inquire about maternity leave!

Time Zones

One of the biggest problems with working across oceans is the impact of time zones and the international date line on available windows for team meetings. Even if the organization adjusts working hours to get some alignment, it can be a burden for those who are always either getting up early or staying up late. Try to schedule meetings in a way that shares the burden.

Also recognize that not everyone observes daylight savings time, and those that do, don’t all change their clocks on the same day—Europe and North America are a week apart. And the Northern and Southern hemispheres are on completely different schedules. Here is an excellent resource for finding the current time and time zones of most of the large cities in the world, and here is their daylight savings time page.

Visibility into Workload Conflicts

Most globally distributed, cross-functional project teams include some number of people who have additional work responsibilities. The project will always be in competition with that other work, and you won’t necessarily know when priorities change. To avoid delays, maintain contact with your team member’s manager, or a proxy—someone who can act as a remote source of information and as a person of influence, should that be necessary. Not all cultures will openly discuss doubts and conflicts, especially with a distant colleague. It is vital to have a way to identify and resolve conflicts, and getting a periodic pulse check from someone on site can make a huge difference.

A Common, Bland English

For most global organizations, English is the common language. That doesn’t mean everyone speaks or understands it fluently, and it certainly doesn’t mean that everyone is familiar with all the local idioms, slang, and cultural references. When on the phone, speak deliberately (but not too slowly), as it can be difficult to parse out similar-sounding words. Work to avoid misunderstanding by keeping your spoken communications as jargon-free and non-colloquial as possible. And try to take the edge off your regional accent – I work at sounding as much as possible like a “generic American,” without the drawl. I tried to raise this with a colleague from Houston a few years ago, who replied, “What accent?” Note that British, Australian, Canadian, Scottish, Irish, and New Zealand accents and idioms are just as real and just as hard on the ears as Indian or Texas English. Speak to be understood by your audience.

There are many resources available online that can help you build your Cultural Intelligence, and even if you aren’t managing global teams right now, you almost certainly will be before long. I learn more about how cultural differences impact work and communication with every project, but I generally find that if I assume people are doing their best until I have reason to doubt it, my life is a lot happier.

New PM Articles for the Week of March 2 – 8

New project management articles published on the web during the week of March 2 – 8. And this week’s video: Mike Clayton introduces a new concept: aintegration, a measure of how well one copes with uncertainty and contradictions. Successful project managers must be able to deal with volatility, uncertainty, and ambiguity as a necessary part of the job, and developing that skill should be part of your professional development plan. 4 minutes, safe for work.

Ethics, Business Acumen and Strategy

  • Tom Linton and Bindiya Vakil consider what COVID-19 means for supply chain risk as a matter of business continuity. 6 minutes to read. And Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak opines on the potential for a global recession. 8 minutes to read.
  • Francesco Pecoraro identifies the three components of corporate strategy. 3 minutes to read.
  • Beck Bamberger collects insights from seven CEO’s on what it means to develop a transparent organization. 4 minutes to read.

Managing Projects

  • Mike Griffiths compares the WBS and product backlog, beginning with a brief history lesson. 5 minutes to read.
  • Payson Hall objects to the answer, “We have done all we can to mitigate the risk. We can’t think of anything more to do, so we closed it.” 2 minutes to read.
  • Elizabeth Harrin looks back, twenty years after deciding to become a project manager, and sees a few things she didn’t realize at the time. 4 minutes to read.
  • Cornelius Fichtner interviews Kim Wasson on social intelligence as a soft skill for project managers. Podcast, 28 minutes, safe for work.
  • Andy Jordan considers two of the statistics from the PMI Pulse of the Profession 2020 survey and sees a lack of corporate investment in project management professionals. 7 minutes to read.
  • The nice folks at Explority have identified the top 30 IT consulting firms in the world, in anticipation of your next solutions project. 10 minutes to read.

Managing Software Development

  • Chapel in the SkyStefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from rumors of the demise of Agile to the perils of being too data-driven to driving innovation. 7 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • Gábor Zöld curates his monthly engineering management resource roundup, from recruiting engineers to hiring remotely to cultural debt. 10 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • Johanna Rothman began a series on building team resilience. 3 minutes to read. Here are links to Part 2 (4 minutes) and Part 3 (5 minutes). Part 4 will be a summary.
  • Mike Cohn explains how to estimate story points with multiple teams by developing a common baseline. 5 minutes to read.
  • Doc Norton does the math on why we need to manage WIP. 3 minutes to read.
  • Stephen Younge does a deep dive into technical debt, from sources to productive ways to reduce the debt. 7 minutes to read.
  • Janna Loeffler answers our questions about integrating AI into our software testing routines. 6 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • Kerry Goyette tells us how to work on our emotional intelligence. “American workplaces have five generations working side by side.” 4 minutes to read.
  • Raj Vardhman shares some tips for Gen X project leaders on how to better manage Millennials. 4 minutes to read.
  • Nancy Settle-Murphy coaches us on building consensus with eight actionable tips. 6 minutes to read.
  • Suzanne Lucas shares her Evil HR Lady insights into employee retention. “Replacing workers cost employers $617 billion in 2018, compared with $331 billion in 2010.” 2 minutes to read.

Cybersecurity and Data Protection

  • Curtis Franklin interviews James Stavridis, former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, on the current cybersecurity threat level. 10 minutes to read.
  • Naineesh Gaur and Chris Morris shock us with statistics and data, and then make the business case for cyber resiliency. 5 minutes to read.
  • Judhajeet Das examines current trends in how distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are perpetrated and defended against. 5 minutes to read.

Pot Pourri

  • Lila MacLellan coaches us on how to politely decline a handshake in the Age of COVID-19. 3 minutes to read.
  • Arianne Cohen reports that caffeine won’t make you more creative, but it may help you solve problems. Time for another cuppa joe … 1 minute to read.

Enjoy!

New PM Articles for the Week of February 17 – 23

New project management articles published on the web during the week of February 17 – 23. And this week’s video: Harry Hall shares his list of inputs for your project risk management plans. 2 minutes, safe for work.

Ethics, Business Acumen and Strategy

  • Greg Satell reflects on the growing need for us to consider the ethical dimensions of the technologies we develop and field. 5 minutes to read.
  • Richard Smith-Bingham and Kavitha Hariharan explain why the coronavirus epidemic is a global business risk and make the case for business investment in pandemic resilience. 6 minutes to read.
  • Azeem Azhar interviews Ian Bremmer on geopolitics, technology, and the top risks for the decade ahead. Podcast, 43 minutes, safe for work.

Managing Projects

  • Henny Portman examines the International PMO standard under development by the AIPMO. 7 minutes to read.
  • Elise Stevens interviews Anita Phagura of Fierce Project Management, a networking group for women and underrepresented groups in project management. Podcast, 29 minutes, safe for work.
  • Deb Schaffer tutors us on the basics of scope management. 3 minutes to read.
  • John Goodpasture ruminates on projects as transactions. Or possibly relationships. Or maybe both. 2 minutes to read.
  • Mike Clayton explains the difference between a milestone and a deadline. Video, 3 minutes, safe for work.
  • Pat Weaver has compiled a map of philosophies and principles that shape planning approaches. Culture dominates our decision-making! 7 minutes to read.

Managing Software Development

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from an interview with Kent Beck to Agile leadership to organizing your backlog. 7 outbound links, 4 minutes to read.
  • Gábor Zöld curates his monthly engineering management resource roundup, from Two Sigma to feedback to celebrating achievement. 10 outbound links, 4 minutes to read.
  • Doc Norton identifies the metrics he recommends for measuring agile efficiency, despite a preference for effectiveness. 3 minutes to read.
  • Ayush Jain explains the product manager role and responsibilities in the modern product lifecycle framework. 5 minutes to read.
  • Marcus Blankenship interviews Ellen Gottesdiener on improving the product management lifecycle with better collaborative decision-making. Podcast, 49 minutes, safe for work.
  • Michel van der Meulen maps out the transition from a business analyst role to a product owner role. 4 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • Cory Foy lists ten questions you should ask before introducing change to your team. 4 minutes to read.
  • Jennifer Jordan and colleagues explore seven tensions between traditional and emerging leadership approaches. 7 minutes to read.
  • Adriana Girdler explains the Tuckman model of team development stages. Video, 7 minutes, safe for work.

Cybersecurity and Data Protection

  • William Turton reports on an incredibly sophisticated social engineering and corporate Email fraud ring that investigators have dubbed Exaggerated Lion. 6 minutes to read.
  • Michael Kan reports that the US Defense Information Systems Agency, charged with securing US military communications, may have been breached. 2 minutes to read.
  • Thomas Fillaud makes six cybersecurity predictions for 2020. Keep an eye on machine identity security and global supply chain security. 3 minutes to read.
  • Suzanne Lucas provides an HR practitioner’s view of what compliance with the California Consumer Privacy Act means for HR data. 3 minutes to read.

Pot Pourri

  • John Schwarz reports on how on-the-job training is replacing the graduate degree. 6 minutes to read.
  • Elizabeth Harrin notes that, from robotics and automation to artificial intelligence, the future of work is already here. The challenge is to harness the benefits. 5 minutes to read.
  • Leigh Espy does a deep dive into Tim Hurson’s new book, Think Better. 10 minutes to read.

Enjoy!