The Power to Adapt

Cyril Perrotey, PMP, Project Director And Executive Director, EDS USA LLC, Criel-sur-Mer, France



Cyril Perrotey,

PMP, project director and executive director, EDS USA LLC, Criel-sur-Mer, France

Emerging markets are full of opportunities—if organizations can mitigate all the risks. For EDS USA LLC, the biggest challenge to developing renewable energy projects in West Africa is managing stakeholders who span myriad cultures and customs. That's why in 2014, the U.S. company hired Cyril Perrotey, PMP, to oversee the organization's project management office (PMO) and its €120 million portfolio.

“EDS understood it needed someone who knows how to manage stakeholders and knows project management methods and tools,” he says.

His nearly two decades of project management experience in Africa, Asia and Europe honed skills that Mr. Perrotey now uses as EDS USA's project director and executive director. While leading projects in countries like Cameroon, Ghana and Senegal, he's also tasked with developing processes that meet requirements and performance standards of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC).

What do the IFC performance standards involve?

The regulations in Senegal are not at all the same as those in Cameroon or Ghana. So for international organizations that want to work in emerging countries, the World Bank has implemented performance standards for labor conditions, health and safety, and the conservation of natural resources. Another very important standard involves land acquisition. We have to be sure the people who own the land, like crop farmers, are compensated for it and are involved in project decisions.

Our main challenge is managing the local stakeholders—addressing the cultural gaps and compromising with them.

What types of projects do you and your teams oversee?

We have two types. One is off-grid projects, which are mainly rural. These small projects, usually around 10 kilowatts with budgets of about €50,000, bring electricity and telecommunications centers to villages. The other is on-grid projects. These are big projects of about 20 to 30 megawatts with budgets of more than €25 million. With these projects, private partners like us invest in power plants, build them, and then operate them and sell the energy to the African governments at very good prices. These projects have a long development phase of about two years. Construction is about six months, followed by an operation phase of about 20 to 25 years.

Is the development phase challenging?

Yes. Our main challenge is managing the local stakeholders—addressing the cultural gaps and compromising with them. Communicating with the community members can be difficult because sometimes they can't read, so we can't just put things in writing. We have to adapt our communications and arrange face-to-face meetings with the entire community. We might have meetings with 200 people, including children, where we explain the project and answer their questions.

How has that communications challenge impacted projects?

In 2016, we completed the two-year development phase of our first 20-megawatt power-plant project in Senegal. The first thing we had to do was secure the land from the landowners. But in Africa, there aren't traditional landowners. There are tribes that use the land across many generations. And per IFC's requirements, people in Africa who use the land have rights even if they don't own the land, and we have to compensate them fairly. So we had to notify them, meet with them and come to a compensation agreement. And we had to explain all this while seated at a table with 150 villages represented in a small town in Senegal. They have local languages, and they're quite varied.

Can you describe an instance of managing cross-cultural differences?

I remember I met a tribal chief but was not allowed to talk directly with him—even though we were sitting face to face. I was allowed to talk only to an adviser, who then explained to the chief what I was saying. I had to have an open mind and respect that it's not the same culture—because there's a risk of appearing arrogant. I had to convince this chief and his adviser that the project made sense for them and for their community. Because he agreed to work with us, the whole community is now involved in the project, and we have regular meetings with them, at least once a month, to discuss the project's status.

How do local communities' requirements affect the project scope?

That's part of our risk management plan. The scope of these projects can change often as we take into account stakeholders' specific requirements, or even as logistical challenges arise. We work with local experts who have experience in these locations, and we identify and mitigate risks based on their input. For example, bringing a certain container onto the project site can take eight hours just to travel 60 kilometers (37 miles). We've spent about a month with tribal members just to check the roads and see what work needed to be done. You can't Google that—there's no data available about the countryside's road conditions. So we had to set up a schedule contingency and be able to adapt the schedule. The main thing is being flexible. PM

Small Talk

What's the one skill every project manager should have?

Being able to manage people from different cultures and understanding that we don't all look at the world in the same way.

What's the best professional advice you ever received?

Keep an open mind. People have to be allowed to not agree with you, even if in the end you make the decision.

What movie has special meaning for you?

Argo. It's a very good example of project management that resonates with me—working for a U.S. organization when your project is in another country.