Taking Project Management Overseas: Challenges and Lessons Learned
By Keith Willeford, Volunteer Content Writer
Project management can take on additional complexity when it involves clients or coworkers in other countries. Here are some lessons learned from recent projects that involved clients overseas.
Mind the (time) gap
During a project last year, the client was 14 hours ahead of Houston time. When they emailed me during their work day, I was asleep. After getting to work, finding the answers, and getting back to them, they were asleep. So under the best case scenario, the client was reading a response 24 hours after sending their question. While this seemed perfectly reasonable to me, it came to light that I was perceived as unresponsive and this unfavorably affected my relationship with the client. In retrospect, there was an easy solution. During that project, I should have promptly acknowledged emails received afterhours. This could have been done by checking for emails from this client first thing in the morning, and in the evening before bed. The client would have felt heard, and expectations for response time could have been managed. Here is an example response. “I just received your email. I will meet with the appropriate people tomorrow and have a response for you in 12-16 hours.” Too easy. Don’t work 24 hours a day just because your client is in a different time zone. But, buy yourself time by giving prompt acknowledgement. Conference calls with this client had to be conducted during times that were convenient for them. Thus, I would occasionally have to get on the phone at 8 or 9 pm. I felt this was appropriate, as long as it wasn’t happening multiple times per week. The occasional early or late conference call is perfectly reasonable. Waking up to check your email at 2 am, probably not.
Be aware of language barriers
On a recent conference call, a client overseas asked a question about something we had trouble understanding. Preparing yourself to graciously handle such encounters is paramount. Instead of asking the client to repeat the misunderstood word, perhaps we should have asked him to describe what he was talking about. At the same time, we could have allowed him to save face by saying our audio connection was poor. Is this a lie? I don’t think so. It would have been a false statement, but not made to deceive. It doesn’t matter what country you are from, everyone wants to “save face” (avoid humiliation). Brainstorm ahead of time for ways you can diplomatically work around language barriers.
Email is your frenemy
Sometimes a concise email is best for getting a point across. Stick to brief facts, only. Follow your email with a phone call to hash out any discussion items. Follow your phone call with a short email to document any decisions made. I know, it is an endless loop. Here is the point: ensure high-quality communication that keeps all parties on the same page. Do not hide behind email, when a phone conversation is more efficient. (And phone calls can give your client that “warm and fuzzy” human feeling.) But don’t neglect to document all communication – email is a great way to do that. Email and phone calls are yin and yang. They are interconnected and complimentary. Use common sense and employ them accordingly.
You will notice that these lessons learned have nothing to do with schedules, resources, or budgets. As with most things in life, the technical aspects of project management are the easy part. The difficult part is dealing with other humans. This can be especially pronounced when some of those humans happen to be in other countries.
How long have you been working in Project Management and what's your current professional position?
I have been involved in the Project Management profession for over 20 years. With my background in engineering, I have been fortunate enough to work in both the engineering and IT spaces. Currently, I am the Director of Project Management in the IT Department of an organization, where I lead a team of project managers and business analysts.
How long have you been involved with the Houston PMI Chapter and in what capacities?
My first encounter with the PMI Houston Chapter (PMIH) was in 2002 when I served as the Director of Programs, and subsequently as VP Programs for 2 years. In 2005, I moved to Seattle to work with Microsoft for a few years. Most of my volunteer work at that time was with IEEE which involved my role as the Chair of Membership, IEEE Computer Society, Puget Sound.
In 2012, I returned to Houston (I felt like coming back home!) and joined PMIH again as the VP Programs in 2014-2015. I was later elected as the SVP Internal Operations in 2016 and am currently serving as the SVP External Operations. I am also the Project Manager for the PMIH Conference and Expo, scheduled for June 5-6, 2017.
Describe the most interesting/challenging/exciting project you've ever been involved with.
The Programs Committee is responsible for organizing the monthly meetings for PMIH which, in a way, is a face of PMIH to the membership in the Greater Houston area. When I took over the role of VP Programs in 2014, I felt there was a need to revamp the Committee. Surveys, conducted to get membership feedback, allowed us to develop and implement a plan which helped improved the quality of speakers and attendance.
Per the plan, the Programs Committee was restructured, new venues were selected, improved logistical support was provided, and the quality of presentations was monitored. Each venue was provided with a lap top for presentations and/or PDU registration, which helped us provide an improved service to our stakeholders and increase our membership participation. In that effort, the Programs Committee enjoyed full support from other committees such as Marketing, Membership, Outreach, Professional Development and eBiz.
How does the Chapter’s Strategic Plan resonate with you and why?
In the fall of 2016, the PMIH Senior Leadership Team (SLT) embarked on a strategic plan for the Chapter’s five-year outlook, facilitated by Bob Frasier (SVP Internal Operations). Bob was heading the PMO for PMIH at the time and had extensive knowledge of the Hoshin Konri approach. He led the effort to use this approach to build a strategy and set goals for one year, 3 years and 5 years. The entire leadership team, including the President and all the VPs spent an enormous amount of time developing a solid strategy.
My focus is to achieve the deliverables for the External Operations team for this year. I strongly believe that a concerted effort by the VPs, Directors, and Volunteers to follow this strategy will help us make a significant improvement to PMIH. It will not only allow us be more proactive with our objectives but also enable us to serve our community better.
If you could change something about the Project Management profession, what would it be and why?
Project Management is a great profession that provides opportunities for gainful employment, personal growth and professional contributions. This discipline touches almost every aspect of our lives, from planning a vacation to delivering major projects. To some people (and to some extent), project management comes naturally, while others have to put in effort to develop these skills. Regardless, this skillset can be learned and/or improved by special education and training.
Our universities and colleges are beginning to offer Project Management courses. However, I believe more work needs to be done in this area. There is a need to promote this profession more aggressively to our younger generation. Additionally, our educational institutions, through collaboration with project management professionals and teachers, ought to create curricula using the latest teaching tools in order to attract students.
Our youth is our nation’s future. The more we invest in them today, the better professionals and citizens of this planet they will become for tomorrow!
Energy Corridor Update and Invite to Future Events
By Wendy Valot, Director of Energy Corridor Venue
Are you wondering what’s new in PMIH Venues and Monthly meetings? Plenty! As of September 2016, we’ve added another venue. Why? PMI Houston wanted to provide an opportunity for education, discussions and networking focused to those in the Energy Industry.
The meetings are hosted by Microsoft at the Microsoft Technology Center in City Center and are open to all. The typical format of the meetings include two 1-hour presentations: The Pre-Meeting presentation by Microsoft and the Dinner Meeting Speaker’s presentation focused on the Energy Industry. In between the presentations, attendees enjoy snacks and plenty of networking time.
To date we’ve had Microsoft present on topics ranging from “Tips and Tricks on Microsoft Project” to “Microsoft Project & Dynamics 365 for Complex Field Resource Management”. Our Energy Speakers have included a panel discussion featuring NOV Executives addressing “How are companies positioning themselves now for when things do turn around?” and project leaders discussing “Avoiding Project Train Wrecks…and Make Sure Your Energy Project Succeeds”.
Included below are photos of some of our key speakers since September 2016.
Our Microsoft host speaker – Jeff Spencer
And also: Julie Pearce and Robin Macmillan – NOV, Pete Luan – consultant and Eric Wensel - Wood Group.
Our meetings are bi-monthly, on the 3rd Thursday of every other month. The next two meetings are on March 16th and May 18th, respectively. We look forward to seeing you at our next Energy Corridor Venue meeting! You can find meeting information and register at: http://pmihouston.org/meetinginfo.php.