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

MC

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.

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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.


Making a business case for Contactless / NFC payments

ImageSince the time I posted an article regarding NFC payments  back in October 2013, I had a dozen of interesting discussions featuring the future of Contactless / NFC payments. Oddly enough, the most reoccurring question touched the point on when NFC payments will finally take off and do the magic. Well, the good news is – Contactless / NFC payments already took off, bad news is – Contactless / NFC payments are not suitable for every business.

Like every other initiative or project, introducing Contactless / NFC payments need a strong business case. Creating a business case is always a bit tricky and involves some magic, but luckily for NFC, we can use facts and figures to see whether Contactless / NFC payments will work for one’s business or not.

The basic fact is that Contactless / NFC payments do have quantitative limits. Those limits are put in place by card issuers like VISA or MASTERCARD and are quite simple:

Rule one: a single NFC purchase may not exceed 20 EUR

Rule two: a cumulative of all NFC purchases may not exceed 60 EUR

Any purchase failing rule one or rule two will be forced to be processed on-line (connection between the POS and the bank will be established) and will require card holder authorization (PIN or signature).

So back to the business case. Let’s go through simple steps.

ImageStep one: Can you sell your goods for a price under 20 EUR? If you can’t, then you can happily forget about Contactless / NFC as your purchases will violate rule number one. Here you need to determine the average value of purchases in your stores or the value of articles most commonly sold. If, for example, the average purchase from your business is around 15 EUR, you’re safe and can proceed to step two.

ImageStep two: Doing local research. For any Contactless / NFC payments project to be successful, you need your customer to actually have Contactless / NFC payments ready devices. Those include – bank issued cards, Contactless stickers, NFC sim cards or NFC capable smartphones. What is the penetration ratio of Contactless / NFC payments capable devices on those markets you operate? No idea? … you can find out more from local banks, bank associations, government financial authorities or from card issuers like VISA/MC/AMEX/DISCOVERER.

ImageStep three: Doing the math. Here we need to calculate total cost of Contactless / NFC payments implementation. Those may include but are not limited to: eventual purchase of new POS terminals including roll out costs, adjustments to POS software, adjustments to in-house payments processing software, testing and certifying the whole HW/SW solution by given authority (acquiring bank, VISA/MC, any government offices), solution testing in-house or externally, training of your IT staff, training of your sell guys, marketing costs (advertisement, printed posters and stickers in your stores, promotions), eventual incentives to customers using Contactless / NFC payments (even if for a limited time). There you go, now you have your total cost of Contactless / NFC payments implementation bill.

ImageStep four – allocating financial resources. Should you have enough money ready to play for the whole total cost of Contactless / NFC payments implementation bill – then you’re safe and proceed further. Should you be short of funding, you can consider contacting other bodies that will benefit from your Contactless / NFC payments implementation. Those are banks and card issuers. Their profit is clear – more card transactions means more transaction fees for them. Try to negotiate some sort of support from your acquiring bank, try to contact other banks and ask whether they can support your project. Go and ask your local VISA/MC/AMEX/DISCOVERER office for marketing or incentive support. Depending on the quality of your project, the size of your business or actual situation in your market … you might be able to receive significant bonuses.

ImageStep five – blending all information into a business case. Now you know whether you can actually sell your goods for NFC-friendly prices, know the penetration ratio or Contactless / NFC devices in your markets and have completed a basic balance sheet. Now just add your expectations from a successful  Contactless / NFC payments project and ready you go … your business case is ready.

Having a business case for Contactless / NFC payments is just the very first step and there are many more to do before your business will start accepting Contactless / NFC payments and generate extra revenue / profit, but every journey begins with the first step.


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.


Engaging IT to business – reloaded

IT2BusinessIt was back in October last year when I wrote the original article Engaging IT to business. Through many discussions on LinkedIn or during various events where I participated, I came to the conclusion that my ideas presented in the article were just the beginning. I do not aspire to offer a complete and final concept, but some of ideas presented below might help you in your own voyage on engaging IT to business.

The key element behind the idea of engaging IT to business is the wish of IT managers to become partners to their business peers, of IT departments getting rid of the label of a cost centre and service provider “only” or of CIOs who wish to get a seat in the board.  Getting there is not easy, but I’d like to share a few ideas how to start the road to get there (… and back again).

The ball in on IT’s side. It is important to realise that it is IT that “would like to” be recognized as a partner to business, so it is IT that needs to be proactive and do the first (and several next) step. Opinions of your business peers won’t change all alone or because you wish so. Instead, IT needs to take the ball and work step by step to shift the existing paradigm. Listening to business, proactively seeking gaps to fill, taking the extra mile, generating IT driven revenue and  sharing with business might be right tools to earn “IT’s place in the sun”.

Listen to business. Sounds too simple, but in fact – this is the key to any IT initiative to engage with business. Business has is always in need to help and support, there are always sore points in need of attention or defunct processes in need of mending. Bad news is that very few of those aching issues are visible from the distance or advertised openly. It should be one of CIO’s top priorities to engage business peers in conversations trying to figure out what is bothering them. There are many different ways the CIO can take, staring from joining sales and marketing meetings, through spending a day in a week out of the HQ in the front (sales) lines, up to informal coffee events sponsored by IT. Taking an found issue as a starting point, IT should be able to mitigate pros and cons and prepare a plan how to solve it.

Proactivity is the key. Opportunities to show business that IT is actually a partner and can get things done will rarely appear out of nowhere.  In the contrary, it is IT that needs to take an proactive approach and create such opportunities. Taking a classic example … there is a new business initiative that has really the potential to make a difference, but it requires several changes in existing IT infrastructure, extra funds to buy a new server cluster and extra human resources supporting the whole idea. Considering costs, risk of negative impact to overall system stability and performance, tight time schedule for implementation and general negative perception of changes … IT usually states that this initiative / project cannot be done. But it takes not much more to come with an approach to evaluate and accept the risk of failure, find maybe a less traditional IT infrastructure concept and personal engagement within the IT department to actually say “YES” to business and make the initiative / project happen.

Take the extra mile. Requests from business are usually processed and issues or incidents solved. There difference is in customer experience as any job or task can be done well enough … or to a point of perfection.  IT should strive to take the extra mile as often as possible … not only fulfilling requests from business but rather exceeding their expectations. When asked to provide an analysis, add some extra statistical charts or add data for a larger period of time than requested. When there is a planned system downtime, makes sure that after all the systems  will be back online to check with key users if respective systems are running correctly. Should there be a repeating problem with an application regularly used, do not only solve that bug, but create some manuals or FAQs and offer in-house training to respective users.

 Generating IT driven revenue. Usually IT is supporting business processes and enabling other business units to create revenue. While this task is important, it still puts IT in the role of a service provider. IT can be presented very differently when there will be projects / initiatives sponsored and executed by IT that actually directly generate revenue. In addition to supporting your business to increase your company’s revenue, make and keep a commitment to identify, develop, get required acceptance, execute and support IT projects directly making money … at least once in a year. Staring from new payment methods, through increasing customer loyalty up to new digital products for direct sale … possibilities are endless.    

 Share with business. There are many decision made by IT that are effecting the entire company – main technology framework, BYOD, outsourcing, information security guidelines … .Inviting business managers to join the process of decision making for such projects / initiatives can bring valuable opinions, hints and ideas based on ‘real business’ experience as well as a strong feeling of engagement. Invite your business peers into respective steering committees,  create IT open days, creative IT workshops and informal meetings (Meet your IT procurement guy …). Get the buy-in from your peers to increase the acceptance.


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.