What Not to Do When Managing a Global Project

Managing an international project may seem like a breeze. Exotic work locations and the potential for high-impact results? Who wouldn't want to sign up? But, if you're a seasoned PM, the words "high-impact" and "exotic" likely conjure up another dreaded project phrase...and that's "high risk." How do you mitigate those risks to have a successful international engagement? Below are some lessons I've learned about what not to do when managing a global project.

  • Underestimate how long something takes. A cardinal rule of project management is to add some cushion to your time and cost estimates for project activities. Humans are notoriously bad at estimating how long it takes to get something done, so it's always a good idea to pad your estimates by 10% to account for unexpected snags. Working on a global scale only magnifies project complexity. For example, if you're trying to onboard an international candidate and/or a candidate that needs to travel abroad, there are human resources, procurement, immigration, compliance, and security concerns to consider, to name a few. Suddenly, the onboarding process (which is never perfect to begin with) may take weeks or months instead of days. Ask questions about the process so that you can budget sufficient time for these activities, communicate the complexities to your stakeholders, and stay on top of the process to keep things moving.

  • Neglect the "little" things. This probably sounds cheesy, but it's truly critical. Not to mention differences in time zone and language, cultural differences, if left ignored, can have the ability to make or break your project. To cite just a few examples, written deliverables and oral presentations need to be tailored to the local context. If you're presenting in a country that uses British English, you shouldn't use American English in all your materials. Ouch. If you're setting up a conference call, make sure that attendees have access to the toll-free number and have a backup plan in case of connectivity issues. At the beginning of the project, validate expected working hours for your team and be sure your meeting and delivery schedule is inclusive of all pertinent international holidays.

  • Take anything for granted. PMs should already be communicating constantly. A good rule of thumb is to communicate 10 times more often than you think you should be. That way, it'll be almost enough. This is even more critical for an international project. Cultural differences may prompt some stakeholders to keep quiet about impending issues until they explode. Obviously, "explode" is not a good word when it comes to project management. Avoid the explosion. Ask probing questions. Anticipate any issues and ask direct questions about the action plan for dealing with them. Then, keep asking. At some point, since you're not always in the same location as your team members or the project, you'll have to trust that the team is humming along, and things are moving steadily. But, a healthy amount of what I'll call curiosity is essential to make sure that nothing slips through the cracks. The goal is for your team to hum so that you have time to imagine the worst and course correct before it comes to pass.