Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Incorporating Diversity Into Project Strategy

I was thinking recently about project strategy as it relates to delivering successful projects with increasingly diverse, global teams, stakeholders and end-users.

A clear project strategy, one that acknowledges and plans for the complexities of the project management process, is certainly a critical factor in achieving a successful project outcome. But a clear strategy is often challenging to achieve. One factor increasing the complexity of a growing number of project activities is geographic and cultural diversity.

Today, it is not unusual to have a project initiated by a team in one country, designed by another team in another country, with prototypes and production occurring in another country, and ultimately delivered to end-users globally. It is similarly not unusual for projects to be unfolded across many business units around the world.

It can be argued that all projects are basically the same regardless of where in the world they take place. After all, they proceed through the same stages from initiation to closing. And the management and control processes within these stages are more similar than they are different.

But the evidence – including my own experience with clients and projects – points to some very significant differences once you cross borders and interact with different cultures. Work processes are different, communications are different, negotiations are different, stakeholder involvement is different and organizational cultures are different. And this doesn't just hold true across borders - many of these same differences can be found by simply walking across the street.

A recent example was a project with international suppliers who had national holidays (and corresponding time off from their organizations) that differed significantly from their western teammates. A seemingly insignificant detail – but a detail that undetected – could have seriously impacted costs, delivery and ultimately stakeholder satisfaction with the project.

To be clear, the implication here is not that diversity is a limitation – quite the contrary. Culturally and geographically diverse teams bring a more global perspective and open some amazing opportunities for creativity and collaboration. But there are challenges.

If we go into new projects expecting our own cultural mores to be the baseline, we are starting out with a half-closed mind and may create unnecessary and costly roadblocks. However, if we go in understanding there will be challenges to working across borders and cultures, we can address them and incorporate them into the project plan. Not only will this  immediately begin building trust within the team, it will help us facilitate a more productive kickoff – and most importantly – a successful delivery.

It's up to all of us to create an environment of inclusion, respect and collaboration.