Why is multi-cultural experience highly desirable for world-wide project managers.

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In those three stories below, I’d like to demonstrate how multi-cultural experience (or the lack of) can affect large WW projects regardless of industry. As I hope you will agree, cultural, religion-related and ethnological patterns should be taken into accounts with any large scale projects.

 

 

 Story nr. 1 – WW based IT giant IT corporation, team based in EMEA, US and India. I was in charge of a team supporting an sales-supporting software tool that was deployed in EMEA, the technical infrastructure was located in US and the IT support team was based in India. During one morning (GMT+1 time) things went really bad, the tool was not accessible and it was the wrong part of the month for an outage. Knowing the stake, I approached the India based IT support team and asked for the problem to be fixed. After a moment of hesitation … the answer or my Indian liaison was : “Sure, we’re right on it, my friend”. Hours passed and the tool was still off-line. I called my liaison again and got a similar answer: “yes, we’re working hard on it”. Satisfied, I waited patiently for the problem to be fixed. As the noon time approached, I called to India again. This time an another person answered the phone … as the shifts changed in Hydrabad and my liaison was already home. The new guy seemed a bit confused and strangely not talkative but none-the-less he assured me again that the problem will soon be fixed. As the afternoon came to be, I contacted my US based superiors (as it was already morning in the certain US time zone) and asked to escalate the IT fixing process. The answer from US was astonishing … there was a problem with the connection to the data center in US and our India based IT teams were off-line for the who day. “What?” I thought. Conclusion … as it is very impolite to say: “No, we can not fix that” in certain situation in India, my Indian liaison rather considered a not-the-truth answer as a better choice rather to admit that there is a problem with the connection to US. Would I be more experienced with Indian culture, I would read the hesitation and vague answers right … instead of forcing my Indian co-workers to choose the less offending answer. 

 

Story nr. 2 – multi-national based large construction company, HQ based in Germany, building a water dam somewhere in China, average daily count of workers on the site – 1000+. The PM responsible for the project was waked one morning and told: “Well, you see, our works stopped working”. “Why?” was the surprised answer of the PM. “Well, apparently, there are bad ghosts on the construction site” was the answer. “What?!” was the PM gasping. A rumor among the local workers said that the site was occupied by bad ghosts and workers would not resume work until they will be banned by a feng-shui master. One day of work was lost till a feng-shui master was found and persuaded to visit the site. After his examination was finished, he made the ruling … “there must be a hole in the dam so that the bad chi energy can flow away”. “What?!” gasped the PM, “a HOLE in a dam?”. Another 2 days of work were lost until a work-around has been found and local worked resumed their work. Conclusion … local beliefs and folklore must be taken into account. Would the PM be more experienced with China culture, a cooperation with a feng-shui master would be considered from the start. Bonus … let’s imagine you have to explain your German superiors that you have lost 3 days of work of 1000+ workers because the construction site was occupied by bad ghosts.

 

Story nr. 3 – multi-national based large construction company, HQ based in US, building a sky scrapper somewhere in India, average daily count of workers on the site – 500+. The PM responsible for the project was waked one morning and told: “Well, you see, our works stopped working”. “Why?” was the surprised answer of the PM. “Well, there is apparently a couple of holy cows on the construction site and none of local workers will touch them or drive them away. Our vehicles can not enter the construction site”. “What?!” was the PM gasping. This time, there was no work-around, there were holy cows on the site and none that would even think about driving them away. As the solution is not the key element of this story, eventually a solution was found in 4 days. Conclusion … local faith can have an immense impact on things. A PM with enough local experience would ask a local monastery to help with the problem. Bonus … let’s imagine you have to explain your US superiors (based in Texas) that you have lost 4 days of work of 500+ workers because of a couple of cows.

 

Speaking in general, a PM with multi-cultural experience can provide a huge benefit to projects that are stretched across continents and as outsourcing and globalization are now-a-day’s trends, count of projects that could be considered as WW is rising rapidly. Smooth cooperation with local employees where cultural patterns differ from those of the project owner can be assured only with the help of an PM with the proper experience in both technical aspects of the project as well as local environment where the project is about to be executed.


Hiring manager’s expectation

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First let me state that this article is targeting fresh grads and young professionals. It is not aimed at the 5% of top talents (as there are tons of advices for this group) but at the 95% that do not qualify as top talents and instead of being hunted by companies to be hired … have to hunt companies to land a job.

Based on my experience as hiring manager, I can suggest that there are four expectations a hiring manager has when hiring fresh grads or young professionals for a junior position – enthusiasm, knowing one’s road, willingness to learn and modesty.

Enthusiasm is one of essentials to be successful is any position. It is a state of mind that turns threats to opportunities, problems to challenges. Judging on the level of enthusiasm a hiring manager can make a good guess if the applicant in question will respond to difficult situations with “let’s do it” instead of “it can’t be done”. There are many out there that can tell me that something can not be done and far less of those telling me how it can be done.

Knowing one’s road can show a hiring manager that the applicant thought about his own future, compared his/her strengths and weaknesses and decided about a professional path. Especially with fresh grads and young professionals a hiring manager enters a possible risk that after a while the young man/woman finds out that the actual position is not what he/she thought it would be and decides to change company/industry/profession.

Willingness to learn is another essential. There are many things in the corporate world that a young grad has never heard of before, many skills to learn and master, much experience to gather. Is the applicant willing to invest the time and energy to learn or does he/she think that the university and a few months/years of side jobs made him/her already a senior professional?

Modesty is simple an attitude I am expecting from someone applying for his/her first job. While I agree that today’s fresh grads and young professionals can bring out-of-the-box thinking and ideas into any company and profession, there are many skills that they are missing. In many cases applicant are missing the knowledge and experience connected directly with the company, it’s culture, ways of working and even politics. Asking for a sky high pay because one was best in his class is just not enough. Explaining how one can change the whole company without spending a single day actually working for the company is not modest at all.


Are you successful in your job?

ImageNot so long ago, during an CIO related event, I asked some of present CIOs a bit of a provoking question: “Are you successful in your job? If yes, how do you measure your success?” After a moment of silence, the answer came: “Sure I am successful, I am still keeping my job”. This KISS answer made me think about how could we measure one’s success. Due to my background I will focus on information technology leaders, but this question could be asked to any individual – manager, leader or contributor.

An CIO’s success could be measured in countless ways, but I believe the following areas count among most vital:

Functionality and stability of IT environment in one’s company
CIO’s ability to influence stakeholders outside of IT
CIO’s perception by his/her team

Functionality and stability of IT environment in one’s company sounds most easy, as both conditions could be measures and quantified – using appropriate KPIs. Unfortunately, there is no common standard for IT related KPIs, there are many different KPIs used across industries and areas. Historically given, many of used KPIs were of technical nature, perfectly readable and understandable by IT … but far less so by the business.  Just to name a few: average uptime (of whatever system), Incident resolution within Service level agreement, Number of incidents / escalations. The CIO needs to choose a set of performance indicators that will both reflect the state of IT infrastructure and services AND be readable by non-IT individuals.

 CIO’s ability to influence stakeholders outside of IT depends in the long run on one’s ability to deliver results and real value to one’s company. This will earn the CIO much needed respect across the management level and a firm starting point for discussions with CIO’s peers. Consistently delivering a functional and stable IT environment as well as projects on time and budget is the key for acceptance within the C-level suite. The ability to influence then depends heavily on the actual personality of the CIO, his/her experience and personal skills. Another strong point is CIO’s ability to build a bridge between IT and business – speaking language of both worlds. A distinct advantage would be for the CIO to have a seat in the board of directors, but it is not the seat that matters most, but the ability to catch the Board’s Ear.

CIO’s perception by his/her team might not be among a CIO’s priorities, but is more than vital. One cannot expect to continuously deliver results and value to the company without a strong and engaged team standing behind the CIO.  Personal, even psychology skills are needed to find and maintain a balance between the needs and expectations of IT guys (what is often a mixture of geeks, introverts, nerds and sworn fans of fantasy and sci-fi genres) and stakeholder’s expectations on a neatly running IT organization. Keeping team members motivated and keeping top talents is more difficult than it sounds,  different groups of IT employees require different approach. One example for many – an 2500 USD worth CISCO related training might be a great motivator for young tech oriented admins, but far less appealing for senior IT project professionals. Getting visibility in front of LOB senior managers might inspire that that senior IT project professional, but your senior information security officer would rather take a 20 miles long marathon then speak in front of (senior) public.

Are you successful in your job? Well, take your pick.


Blinded by success.

4622851966_Blinded_By_Money_xlargeSome of you might know the story. Revenue is stable or rising, market share good as never before, your company is the leader of your respective segment. Shareholders are content and the board pleased with quarterly results. Some middle class managers or even one or two C – level execs suggest changes in the business model and point out facts and processes that are obsolete, but the general consensus is that there is no need to change anything as all is working well. Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Sometime later (might be a mere few years) the situation is very different. Sales figures are dropping, market share declining and new competition attained the rank of market leader. Suddenly, there is high demand for innovations and growth initiatives, but the whole process till final execution takes too long to make a difference.

Result is very well written by Scott Anthony: “One of the most frequent challenges we observe in the field is that companies tend to radically underestimate the threat that disruptive change poses to their business.”

Now it is easy to say that the board should have listen to voices calling for action when there was time, but true is that at the time of success’s peak it is difficult to recognize patterns that can lead to disruptive change and decline of one’s business.

There are many ways how to avoid this kind of situation but work only when the company realizes that disruptive change is threatening its future. This is a crucial point as a disruptive change is rarely visible until it’s already there, what is often quite late to respond. Part of the problem is that some executives rather deny even the possibility that the company’s golden age could come to an end.

One way that has the potential to counter effects of disruptive changes is thinking and acting like the “golden age” is already over. Simple but effective, this way you will have the time and even resources to fund and develop initiatives and changes that will innovate your products / services and continuously increase your competitive potential.

Here are some simple steps to start such a process:

First and above all you need to allocate resources for this kind of initiative. Creating a distinct group for innovations, reserving some time in your existing organisation, creating a competence centre … the choice is up to you, but you need to make sure that there is time and money to fund it.

Create a spirit driving new ideas. Innovations or ideas for improvement will not emerge out of nowhere, but have to be created by people. People will not usually start to be creative just because the company announced a rally for innovations. This kind of spirit needs to be strongly announced and continuously supported by all levels of management. Reviews, boards of fame, financial awards, promotions … all this are tool to boost and promote the spirit of innovation.

Do not dismiss new concepts or ideas that are not “conform” with your company’s current strategy. Rather do the opposite, support all kind of weird and strange thoughts (think about it as out-of-the-box ideas) … as this is exactly what you are looking for – ideas and things that will flame customer’s interest, bring new (and high margin) products on the market and shoot you sky high on the market’s share.

Thinking ahead and improving your company’s competitive potential is the key to avoid or reduce damage taken by disruptive changes. To be blinded by the now-a-day’s success could prove to be a fatal mistake.


Team engagement.

As mentioned in one of my previous articles – it the team that counts for one’s greatest assets.   In now-a-day’s fast and complex world, there are almost no tasks that could be performed completely by a single individual, no matter how educated or experienced. It is the combined effort of a team that gets things done. For many team leaders and managers there is a single question that keeps them occupied night and day: “How can I make my team engaged to what we are doing?”. Those who are there longer and lead successful teams the question is: “How do I keep my engaged to what we are doing?” Let’s explore things further.

Engagement can be developed when there is an important common goal. A ‘goal’ is an distinctive target that can be measured and objectively reached. ‘Common’ in this sense means that in way or another the whole team contributes to reaching the goal and ‘important’ highlights the fact that reaching the goal requires a lot of time, resources, skills and cooperation. Best targets to created team engagement are those that have a set time for achieving and achievement can be clearly measured like 1 = target attained, 0 = target not attained. Individual team members know this way exactly what is expected and how the success/failure will be measured.

Engagement is dependent on motivation. To be engaged to a project/task requires focus, skills and hard work often going beyond standard expectations. As there is nothing for free in this world, neither is engagement and this is where motivation comes into play. Negative motivation (“If you do not do it, we will fire you!”, “Make no mistakes, we do not pay you for mistakes”) is not working here as you need to persuade the individual that his / her extra effort (leading to engagement) will be noticed and rewarded. Positive motivation is the key here as rewarding achievements encourages people to do the extra work needed without fearing reprimands when things do not go all as expected. Occasional failure is acceptable as it removes one’s fear for punishment.

Leading by example is one of the most powerful tools a team leader / manager can employ. Only too often there is a vast gap between what the management is saying and what the management is doing. This gap is definitely perceived by the audience of employees and almost automatically lowering trust in management / leadership of the respective company. On another side,  showing constant coherence between what a team leader / manager is saying and actually doing increases the trust between the management and the team.

Getting hands dirty. A team leader / manager should not be afraid of getting hands dirty and actually doing some of the work he / she is expecting from his team. By doing this, team members … will see that the team leader / manager actually can DO things (and not only talk about it),  … will be thankful for the extra hand when there is a lot of work ahead, … will eventually form a closer relation with the team leader / manager.

Taking care of the team is a must. Since the team is there to take care about the work that needs to be done, team leader / manager is there to take care of the team. Taking care isn’t a one time job, or an occasional task, but a continuous effort that should take a considerable portion of team leader / manager’s daily work. There are many things that should be considered like:  needed equipment, communication within the team, allocation of resources, work-life balance, relations within the team …

Motivated and engaged team is the key element for every team leader / manager’s success and ability to deliver results and to earn one’s place within the company. In short terms there are other ways how to be successful even without a team backing and supporting the team leader / manager, but in long terms an engaged team is vital.


Engaging IT to business.

One of the most discussed area now-a-days is how to engage (align) IT with business. The root point here is that IT would like to become a partner to business, rather than staying a service provider. Getting there is not easy, but I’d like to share a few ideas how to start the  road with you:

The ball in on IT’s side. It is important to realise that it is IT that “would like to” be recognized as partner to business, so it is IT that needs to do the first (and several next) step. Business will not change its opinion about IT out of the blue or because IT wishes so, this paradigm shift needs to come from IT.

Proactivity is the key. Opportunities to show business that IT can a partner and actually get things done will rarely present without IT taking proactive approach. When there is an request for IT to aid / support a business initiative, IT should not tell business how it cannot be done … rather find (even less traditional) ways how to solve businesses’ issue.

Take the extra mile. There are always requests from business that can be fulfilled well enough … or excellent. IT should strive to take the extra mile as often as possible … not only fulfilling requests from business but rather exceed their expectations. When asked to provide an analysis, add some extra statistical charts or add date for a larger period of time than requested. When there is a planned system downtime, makes sure that after it will be back online to check with key users if the system is running correctly.

Listen to business. This is the key to any IT initiative to engage with business. Only rarely business managers will come to IT and tell them what they need. Its IT, impersonalised in the position of IT manager / CIO that has to engage business peers in conversation trying to figure out what is that bothers them. Taking the issue as a starting point, IT should be able to mitigate the issue and prepare a plan how to solve it.

Share with business. There are many decision made by IT that are effecting the entire company – main technology framework, BYOD, outsourcing … .Inviting business managers to join the decision making for such points can bring valuable opinions based on ‘real business’ experience as well as a certain feeling of engagement by those business managers towards tool / technologies they’ve helped to decide about.

 


Manager’s greatest asset.

Would you guess what is manager’s greatest asset? Is it experience, skills, respect or deep understanding of respective company? I believe that the greatest asset of every manager is his / her team. It is the team that earns the good (and bad) points for the manager and it is the source of his / her greatest strength (and simultaneously weakness).

It is the team that makes most of the work. Whether a project or daily business ops, it is your team that does most of the work. Your work as a manager is not to actually “do” things, but to enable your team to do what is required.  Establishing firewall rules is the work of your network specialist, reports are created by your analysts, users are contacting your help desk. You as a manager are there to find and deploy resources for your team to help them to perform their work.

Most of the communication is done by the team. As senior manager, it is you who sits with the C-level big guys, give reports and answer their questions, but it is your Project manager who is dealing daily with communication and coordination with other departments and key users. It is your testers that spend hours with guys from business on your newest app and hear their suggestions and ideas. You as a manager are there clear pathways and forge contacts for a smooth and direct communication.

It is the team that is putting out the fires. When there is an outage of a critical system, it is again your various specialists that take care of the problem. It is your DBA who will sit all night in the office to find the primary key inconsistency or your storage specialist to check your Netapp issues with MACs. You as a manager are there to set priorities and to free s resources to be used for the fire fighting.

The biggest sum of knowledge and experience is not hidden in your knowledge base, but in the brains of your team mates. While you can write down fact and procedures, you will always need your team to execute tasks and daily work. Servers will not work all alone (granted not for long), maintenance of your apps will not be done by automatic tasks – it is again your team with the sum of its experience and  knowledge that makes things happen. You as a manager are there to enable increasing of the knowledge and to define a way how to keep and distribute it.

To make a conclusion, it is your greatest privilege as a manager to use your greatest asset for the benefit of your company. A good and motivated team can benefit the company many times better then  a mediocre or even a demotivated and low performing one … no matter how excellent or mediocre are you as the manager.