Global Project Management – From Dusk ’til Dawn
Keval BaxiAugust 31st, 201510 minute read
Keval Baxi is the Chief Executive Officer at Codal. He oversee's the corporate direction and strategy of the company, focusing on innovation and customer experience. Outside of Codal, his interests include running and exploring new Chicago restaurants.
Popular culture likes to lament about how the US and developed countries are outsourcing all their jobs to other countries out of cost necessity. This can be accurate but it is vastly over exaggerated. Regular individuals encounter this culture clash when they're on the line with another country with customer support, like a call center for tech support.
Now this can be frustrating because sometimes 'Sanjay' has to go by 'Steve' and talk to an individual who is having an issue with his new thingamajig, meaning he may not have any technical background. So two vastly different individuals who both actively go into the call can experience some clash of understanding and patience.
How Agile Can You Agile?
So I will break my own rule here and speak in the first person. I am one of the Project Managers here at Codal which is an interesting and wholly challenging role to play. Since most of our team is not located in the same place we need to have a constant stream of communication that runs 24 hours a day. The liaison between our clients, our developers, and all those in between is the Project Manager (PM), at least in this specific instant.
It's a unique role because my working hours have taken the space of one of the time overlays. Implementing a good agile strategy means the engine can't stall, this doesn't mean we can't stop and shift into reverse (which is doable in agile), we just can't have the engine stop running.
Any direction is better than that. So our team in Ahmedabad come in a little later than normal business hours in the US so they have an opportunity to report to the US team in an ample fashion. In my opinion, a good PM has to be there for his team abroad on their time. We want to anticipate any issues during their most productive hours, which means the good PM comes in extra early to mitigate any potential issues.
Just as any job has multiple learning curves, global project management requires a capacity for complete openness and adaption. In India for instance, the glaring cultural differences can be an obstacle for production if it is not managed correctly. If the Fourth of July in the US is on a weekday this might be a hindrance on the team abroad, just as the Indian Festival of Lights, 'Diwali,' will pause development and could be a hindrance in the US. Our solution is to optimize what we can work on internally when the overlays are obstructed.
We've got an office in London for instance, where it's only six hours ahead, so adding another layer to this overlay can increase the complexity of project management. Suddenly I have to consider who is having breakfast in Chicago, lunch in The UK, and dinner in India, all at the same time.
The language barrier is probably the easiest thing to point to as one of the hardest issues of project management. I will admit this can be hard, but the one alleviation to this issue is not complaining to upper management, rather, it's to work with your team to communicate better. This is the first step to improving the barrier: admitting there is a problem. Now I can only speak of my own experience, but if one were to step back a moment he or she would realize that many of the team members in India know multiple languages. We've got Hindi speakers, Sanskrit speakers, Gujarati speakers, and English speakers.
In the States just at our office alone we have Spanish speakers, Gujarati speakers, Italian speakers, Russian speakers, Hebrew speakers, and of course English speakers. Everyone has a capacity to have a large skill set explaining problems different ways and in different languages. I didn't even count all of the coding languages of which there are dozens.
In any case, when a PM is honest about having an issue with something like language, working to solve it teacher-student wise is actually a very positive experience. Challenging my teams to write responses to client inquiries means two things: I can focus on more pending issues and our team members gain an intangible and priceless skill they can take with them outside of work.
Politicians often complain about how stateside jobs are being moved overseas. They're right, especially with primary and secondary industries, that is sourcing raw materials or material production of goods. What we're supposed to have here in the US is a huge tertiary market which is the service industry. This is where the real high paying jobs seem to be at threat of being lost. Having this misconception can really cost the truth.
The truth is the US does not have as much high skilled technical development solutions as it might think it has. This in turn makes the labor market much more competitive and the barriers to entry are raised further for development firms like Codal if we were to rely strictly on homegrown resources.
These development skills are not American by nature… they're human skills. My teams that I work with are fantastic and they're highly skilled. The most interesting insight is a willingness to move toward the best development strategy. It's easy to be condescending, and many PM's can be. All of my team members are much more learned than I and I have the utmost respect for them. That stance and orientation is the second step in good project management.
Working Together: Cohesion and in a Splintered Cycle
When I worked retail in college, one of the most inconvenient situations was when a customer would come in a couple minutes before closing. I very much disliked this and openly view it as the most passively rude thing a customer can do. Corporate giants will insist that the customer is always right, but guess what, they might have money but that doesn't buy compassion.
Due to the time difference, I should come during the team abroad's dinner time. This would be the equivalent of coming in right before the store is about to close. It's really annoying. So to improve our development I find that coming in extra early during their afternoon helps keep everyone on the same page because they won't feel the need to rush.
Global project management relies on this type of understanding. At the same time, one of our engineering leads in the US stays up extra late to facilitate a smooth handoff of the day's tasks. Identifying times that can have the capacity for miscommunication and then implementing a solution for those times is a really effective strategy for happy clients and on time delivery of products.
The Moral Here:
Global project management is a team effort. The approach one takes needs to be open. Ethnocentric and rigid cultural norms need to decay a little bit on both sides in order for effective development to be the ideal.
Honesty, openness, understanding, and humor are the best tools to managing projects in three different places at once. This role is unique insofar as it is the funnel for all bits of information in data, in whatever language to be directed to its proper destination. I love it and hope to progress these strategies further as my career grows and as Codal grows.