This is the question I asked myself when I was assigned to manage an 18 month project with Client and Supplier stakeholders in Asia, Australia, North and South America and with a project team based in Europe. My first thought was can I survive with less sleep for 18 months? A quick memory check recalled that I had done this before with new born infants but in a fog of brain tired weariness. That clearly was not going to provide a good service to my Client, my organisation or myself. Then my brain kicks in and the light bub moment occurs. Apply the basic principles of project management and it's best practices and use them to solution's the problem. So I listed each of my top 5 timezone challenges and identified how best practice would solve each of them, you may find some helpful if you find yourself in a similar situation.
1. How do I get to know and build a positive working relationship with Stakeholders in different time zones?
I'm sure most project managers will agree that an essential component of every service project is keeping stakeholders happy and informed on progress and this is best achieved by establishing a positive working relationship. So how to do this when your stakeholders are based on another continent and in another time zone?
Set-up regular check-in calls with your stakeholders at the most pragmatic time. Use a free online international meeting scheduler to calculate the best time for calls across cities and timezones and use video conferencing whenever possible. Agree a time period when you will join calls, I chose 7am to 10pm. Balance the week so you don't have early morning or evening calls on consecutive days.
2. I can't join every early or late call?
Empower your project team to manage packages or components of your project. This shares the effort of attending calls outside of your working day and enables your team to demonstrate their project management and leadership capabilities. Hold regular project review meetings with your team.
Select trusted suppliers in each region. For my project this meant consultants. Write a selection criteria, conduct web-based interviews and establish their understanding of local culture and legislation. Spend some time evaluating which Consultants to select and completing due diligence on their qualifications and capabilities. Where possible have your Client speak with the Consultant in their local region to qualify their language capability and cultural alignment.
3. How do I manage a 24 x 7 communication flow?
Relying on information sharing by email on a 24 x 5 or 7 project quickly results in information being buried in high volumes of email traffic and the runs the risk of you being on the back foot.
To avoid information buried in a continuous flow of email strings I created a web-based project information sharing site to share information and documents with the Client and Suppliers. I found SharePoint to be an excellent tool with the options to customise the site and set-up access privileges per user. Agree a naming and version control convention for each document avoids the risk of out of date information or update error. Set-up a service level that all document updates are made online on the information sharing site.
4. How can I keep track of activity, progress and quality in other timezones?
This is the challenge of who said what to whom and when and what was agreed whilst I was sleeping. To tackle this one we agreed that each online meeting, call or local meeting between consultant, supplier and/or client had an agenda published in advance and the meeting was minuted with minutes being published to the Project Management Team. I also recommend:
- Building into your consultant/supplier agreements that they independently provide you with feedback straight after each call or meeting where they can share any challenges or concerns.
- Set-up online control templates and ensure they are updated immediately after each update. Ensure each update is recorded with who made the update, when and in which timezone, e.g. AB, 16.50, GMT, 16/01/18.
- Create a shared project plan with the Client and Suppliers to each can see activity and report progress.
- Maintain an online Risk Log with your project team.
- Maintain an online Change Log with your Client
- Maintain an online Request Log with your Client to formalise requests for information or clarification and status of each.
- Create a Project Communication Plan, include your project ground rules and post to your online project site.
The quality of our service and products was less impacted by the timezone challenge. Maintaining our standard quality metrics and development cycle of build, review, refine and client approval proved as effective with the time zones actually speeding up the process with effectively a 24 hour development and review cycle.
5. How am I going to keep track of the cost of activity in different time zones?
This is the one that really matters for ensuring the project is delivered on budget. To tackle this establishing a threshold of decision making authority your supplier or consultants have with your client is essential. Be clear that you are the change authority for sanctioning additional spend. Their role is to be pro-active reporting cost estimates to you for approval in advance of work being completed. Always maintain a change log and produce addendums to supplier agreements to cover any additional work to avoid disputes or over spend. It is essentially the same challenges and solutions as a local project but with stringent guidelines to avoid your supplier and Client working in a different time zone and investing in consultant work that may prove unbillable.
Project Management Training