Global Program Management
Solutions for the Next Generation of Programs
by Barry Calogero and Louis E. Metcalf III
New resources and tools are being used for project management support of globally dispersed teams.
AS THE INCREASINGLY global economy drives the requirements for global project management, supporting tools and skills are in short supply. Geographically dispersed teams are being deployed by transnational corporations—increasingly common entities resulting from merger and acquisition frenzy among corporations and entire industries, such as in the case of the Time-Warner and AOL merger.
Technical and technological innovation, examined side-by-side with the evolving business environment, also points to a logical increase in global projects. High-speed Internet access, alongside phones, faxes, hand-held computing devices, videoconferencing systems—and, of course, jet travel—creates the physical potential to execute and manage long-distance initiatives, harnessing resources from far-flung geographies to work together toward a common goal.
Barry Calogero, executive vice president for Robbins-Gioia Inc., has extensive experience working with large and complex federal and commercial programs, and has developed expertise in program control, financial management, and cost management. He is a current member of PMI.
Louis E. Metcalf III, senior vice president of Sales & Marketing at business consultants Markowitz & McNaughton Inc., is responsible for expanding the business globally. His expertise is called upon to develop management strategies and tactics to increase the client enterprise's effectiveness and profitability.
Born Tomorrow: Version Control and Other Transnational Project Challenges. While business drivers are very real, significant barriers exist with technology that can and often do block global project execution. First, there is the obvious language barrier—which is the easiest to overcome, using both human and automated interpreters. Work ethics, normal workday schedules, workweek length, and average number of vacation weeks per year all vary greatly from country to country, creating a complex project planning environment.
Management structures also vary widely. Japanese teams favor decision by consensus, whereas North American teams lean toward a more hierarchical approach, emphasizing personal accountability.
Global teams often find that the ability to communicate information in real time, despite the technology options, is still a primary challenge. Time itself must be agreed upon. For example, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) is the typical standard; however, geography can cause unique confusion as a team member can technically receive a document that was created “tomorrow.” If not recognized and managed properly, the timing elements can impede project progress and lead to significant team frustration.
Managing Change Across Borders. Organizations must establish processes that enable team-based collaboration and ensure that information flow is democratic. In addition, processes that delineate data ownership must be agreed upon and implemented—defining data ownership, update, and dissemination responsibility. As there are no “water cooler” conversations, all information must flow through formal channels, a communications structure unique to global project environments. Equally key is establishing time and reporting requirements that provide project leaders the needed details to adjust project schedules and ensure highest-priority tasks—across geographies—take precedence. These processes range from simple to highly complex online tracking systems.
On the technical side, the telecommunications infrastructure must be deployed based on resources and bandwidth available at each project location. Web-based project collaboration tools can be powerful enablers if the appropriate infrastructure is in place (that is, all team members have Internet access). These tools can enable team members to post project data and share the information in real time. In addition to web-based software, other web-based applications such as training and distance learning are critical to the long-term success of global project teams. Training is a significant challenge for virtual teams—particularly in rapidly evolving industries with an ever-present training requirement. While corralling members into a classroom is acceptable and viable with traditional projects, it is not an option for teams with members in the U.S., India, France, and Japan.
Exhibit 1. Global organizations, like Robbins-Gioia, are launching full-fledged Virtual Project Management Offices that serve as enablers for improved project communication and coordination.
New resources, such as Robbins-Gioia's PM Boulevard (www.pmblvd.com), are increasingly being harnessed to support the project management requirements of dispersed teams. These tools offer access to a common set of resources—guidelines, checklists, tools, training, and expert advice—to support decentralized global project teams and enable project management novices to become acquainted with and implement industry best practices more readily.
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Exhibit 2: When establishing a VPMO on an international level, a hub-and-spoke approach is ideal. At the hub is the VPMO, serving as a center for project excellence, with the spokes connecting each team to the hub.
To meet virtual teams' training requirements, for example, PM Boulevard offers live lectures, interactive group work in virtual breakout rooms, and self-paced case studies and exercises on a variety of project management issues, including earned value management (EVM), activity-based costing (ABC), and work breakdown structure (WBS). PM Boulevard has been recognized by the Project Management Institute (PMI®) as a global Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.). As an R.E.P., PM Boulevard's Online Training Center provides authorized courses that may be credited toward maintaining Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification.
The Virtual Project Management Office. Many global organizations are taking the next step: launching full-fledged Virtual Project Management Offices (VPMOs), as shown in Exhibit 1. Companies can develop these online offices and implement from scratch, or work with an outsourcing partner. VPMOs do not replace all of the requirements for team meetings and traditional, proven project management processes; rather, they serve as enablers for improved project communication and coordination. Virtual team meetings ensure that the communications processes are functioning properly. The frequency of these meetings is usually determined by the overall length of the project—for a project with a total duration of three to six months, teams often schedule weekly meetings. For a duration of one year or greater, monthly meetings will suffice. Individual teams should review project status on a weekly basis, regardless of project duration.
When establishing a VPMO on an international level, a hub-and-spoke approach as shown in Exhibit 2 is ideal, versus the traditional dedicated on-site approach. At the hub is the VPMO, serving as a center for project excellence, with the spokes connecting each team to the hub. The VPMO helps ensure that:
Project information is communicated effectively
An issues management infrastructure is in place
Adequate time and reporting systems are utilized
Best practices are collected and disseminated to geographically dispersed teams.
The individual project teams seek guidance from the hub, the Virtual PMO, as onsite VPMO representation is not feasible.
One highly important VPMO task is the creation of effective global change management processes that will meet the requirements of global teams. Initially, all team members must have common goals and objectives, as well as an environment and infrastructure that encourages and enables team-based collaboration. Both technical and management information must be shared across geographical boundaries—clearly delineating areas of responsibility, oversight, and current project status.
The Global Manager. Creating an effective leadership structure and implementing best-fit processes and tools is critical for any team—including one of a global nature. Project leads should have sound technical knowledge and also be highly effective communicators with the ability to explain and work through complex issues from a remote location.
In addition, global managers must be extremely skilled in mentoring rather than just execution—they will have to analyze from the hub rather than contribute from within the trenches. The necessary skills for global project managers represent the “soft side” rather than the “hard side” of program management.
Global programs often falter due to a natural tendency to centralize decision-making. Decision-making on minor issues must be decentralized to each individual team. At the same time, processes should be implemented that enable the centralization of decisions on major issues and quick action. Control board meetings must be conducted frequently—monthly meetings are not sufficient. Communication of changes on a daily/weekly basis is critical as change management has to be the focus of global initiatives, rather than traditional status-based management.
THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON learned to date is a strong respect for the complexity of the issues involved in global project management. The technical and language barriers—once thought insurmountable—are today considered the simplest component of the equation. As the business environment grows more complex, so does the role of the project manager. The project management industry as a whole must recognize this pressing corporate requirement and empower project managers with resources, access to training, and mentoring that facilitates the development of effective global project leaders. ■
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PM Network June 2000