Five unusual tips to kick-start your international project effectively

Sunday 3 February 2013

by Bob Dignen

Hi I’m Bob Dignen, author of Managing Projects, jointly published by York Associates and Delta Publishing. Myself and my colleague Steve Flinders will be blogging here over the next two months on issues covered in our titles in the International Management English series.

I usually dislike reading articles which serve up an all-too familiar menu of bland tips and tricks on how to achieve success at work.   So here’s something a little more counter-intuitive to produce a little bit more food for thought.

1.    Remember, your project is not a project.

Yes, I mean what I wrote. I’m not crazy. A project is not simply a project. In fact, it’s much more than that. Major international projects are often strategic change process. And change processes are usually highly charged and conflict-ridden emotional entities not simply a list of project tasks and milestones pointing towards a deadline.  Too few project managers understand the emotional landscapes of their projects; too few project managers have the emotional intelligence to manage the feelings side of projects; which is why so many projects fail. If you are running a major project, consult an internal change expert about the emotional obstacles to success which the project may generate.

2.    Distrust the people in your team

Let me explain. Those leading large projects often have little control over who comes to participate in their project team. Sometimes, the people populating international project teams are there simply because they’re the only individuals with enough English to participate. Sometimes the people don’t even want to participate; they have to because they occupy a certain role which demands that they take part.  And then there are the people really motivated to take part but whose bosses in their day jobs load them with so much work that their contribution is severely weakened.  So don’t simply trust that the people you have can do the job. As far as possible, hand pick people you know have the right talents and motivations to participate. If necessary, involve line managers in the process and work with them through the project to ensure team members can perform.

3.    Fear culture

Everyone knows that working across culture presents unique challenges – different mindsets, different assumptions, different ways of working etc. But few do anything about it. Simple solution –involve an intercultural trainer for a couple of hours during the kick-off meeting with the mission to teambuild and foster a spirit of curiosity and respect for diversity. If you can’t find anyone, call me.

4.    Forget long term objectives

International projects can be quite complex and challenging affairs which last years. Team members can become disillusioned as they work from milestone to milestone with no obvious and tangible success to show for their efforts. Solution? Plan a few high profile so-called quick wins into your schedule – the launch of a simple new service, something which makes everyone’s life in the organisation easier. Create a sense of momentum and pride, a piece of good news, to get spirits high and look to repeat the exercise periodically to maintain a sense of progress. People who are proud of what they doing tend to do a better job. The longer term objectives will come in the longer term.

5.    Shout about bad news

We all know the scenario. Team member flags a project task at red – real risk of failure. Project lead reports the problem to sponsor at amber – not wanting things to sound too serious. Sponsor reports project status as green – all is well, no issues on the horizon. Result? Frustration in the team. Lack of resources and effort focused on areas of real project risk. Overall project portfolio management compromised leading to huge costs impacts. OK, it’s a dramatic picture being painted. But those leading projects need to practice ‘intelligent disobedience’ far more often than they do – shouting against superiors who seek to cover issues and massage realities.

There is more about these issues, and an article about intelligent disobedience, in Managing Projects providing even more food for thought for those working in international projects.

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