When in Pakistan-

 
VIEWPOINTS EAST MEETS WEST  

Launching a mega IT infrastructure project in Pakistan proves daunting, but rewarding. BY S.K. KHOR, PMP

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When Ahmad Azahari Pawan Teh worked on a major project to lay telecom wires across Pakistan, he learned to make some adjustments to the local culture. And perhaps just as importantly, he learned when it was the local culture that had to adjust.

Mr. Azahari, CTO for TT Frontiers Sdn Bhd, a Kuala Lumpur, Malaysiabased infrastructure and infostructure developer and implementer, shares his thoughts on the modernization project.

Why where you assigned to the project in Pakistan?

Mr. Azahari: I was reviewing TT Frontier's project reports from across the Asia Pacific region, and the one from Pakistan caught my attention. I noticed major inconsistencies between the plan and the actual timeline, quality acceptance criteria and, most importantly, payment to subcontractors. I alerted senior management and the company decided to send me to uncover any additional problems, fix them and return home with project closure.

How did your work in Pakistan compare to projects in other countries?

Mr. Azahari: Meetings or events never started on time. Discussions weren't always related to the project. And meeting minutes were not short and concise, but instead were written like a movie script.

Since I was the project director, staff members expected me to know everything. It was not easy to ignore their questions or say, “I don't know,” because the locals view an expatriate as someone who is more knowledgeable and skilled.

What issues did you face in handling the project team?

Mr. Azahari: Getting the 300-odd staff members to work as a team was a real challenge. They blamed each other and made excuses for not doing their assigned job or for failing to complete the tasks on time. I had to persuade them to look at the bigger picture.

Aside from this, my biggest challenge was getting team members to start on time. Although the official working day starts at 9:00 a.m., team members came in much later and gave a lot of excuses. One common excuse was that in Pakistan, it is typical to have dinner at 10:00 p.m. and continue until midnight or 1:00 a.m. Hence, they found it difficult to wake up for work!

To fix this problem, I called the team members into a big hall and pointed to the building next door. There, a local CEO started work at 7:00 a.m. and the whole office got into action before 8:30 a.m. I questioned my team members about what made those people different when they lived in the same culture. My message was clearly heard—and we saw some positive changes.

How did you localize your efforts?

Mr. Azahari: I took time to learn the local language so I could communicate. Being a Muslim, it was easy for me to mix in with everyone. I also observed that the locals talked and discussed project issues better when not in the office, but over a cup of coffee or dinner at my home.

I must say I had a good time during my stay in Pakistan. I have met many good project managers and still maintain good friendships with them. PM

S.K. Khor, PMP, is founder of Asia ICT Project Management Sdn. Bhd, Selangor, Malaysia. He also is regional chair-Asia Pacific of the PMI Information and Telecom Specific Interest Group.

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PM NETWORK | OCTOBER 2007 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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