Strategies to Avoid Global Project Pitfalls

Hiromi Nohara

In complex and constantly changing global business environments, a great number of managers who are taking care of global projects involving regional offices often face huge stress. They have to manage varieties of regional differences to serve as project managers.

Each global region usually has different business priorities and resources, and their cultural and custom differences add extra difficulty to the managers’ activities. Quick business speed and time-difference of the related areas prolongs managers’ working hours, and never-ending list of things to settle also makes those managers feel time is always after them.

In such stressful time-pressing situations, we tend to get tempted to rely on our intuition and past experiences to detect cause of a problem and quickly take an action without carefully investigating the facts, even if we know that careful research and root-cause analysis work better in a long run. Countermeasures selected based on our intuition, not research results, often fail because they don’t tackle root causes of the problems.

There is one good part about such quick problem-solving approach, though; we can temporarily forget the task we applied countermeasure and start working on another. Once a measure is implemented, we usually have a moment before we see the results of our action. There is a time gap or a delay between a cause and an effect. The length of such delay depends on the situation, but we usually have some days to some years before we see the results.

Of course smart managers do not prefer such easy time saving since they know the problem gets worse during this cause-and-effect delay period.

Then what can we do to plan our global project? Here are some tips for global management.

Any problem is a part of a system. Take a holistic look of the problem.

Although the specific problem we are working on may seem to be whole of the problem we need to solve, we need to remember any problem is a part of a bigger system.

For example, an employee is a part of a team, the team is a part of the department, and the department is of course a part of the entire organization. Solution for one part of the system may work negatively for another part and may cause different problem. To avoid partial optimization distracting total optimization, we need to see the whole team/organization as one system.

Look at the problem from different angles and levels; individuals, management, and organization. Check how the stakeholders of the project are related, how their work is forwarded, and how their actions influence one another.

Consider all the potential causes to solve a problem.

Problem causes can usually be classified as one of these categories; structure of the organization/or work process, motives of members, knowledge members have, physical resources provided, and information available.

Many managers find their intuition based on their experiences isn’t the most effective tool to use in ever-changing complex global business environments. Experience is about past, and the current task is about present or future. Although our intuition seems to have certain power, it’s always better to double check other factors also. Considering these five categories as a framework, we can avoid relying deeply on our gut feelings.

Don’t waste time with the unchangeable and focus on the changeable.

As experienced business professionals, we must have learned that there are certain things we cannot just change in real world. For global managers, regulations, power relationships or business politics, and business customs in each country are examples of those unchangeable.

When different regional offices/companies are involved in our project, we may have to deal with regional differences in labor regulations, business priorities, and CEO philosophies. These factors have a great impact on our work; however, they are over our responsibility.

If such unchangeable gets in our way, there are two things we can do. One is to get around the unchangeable. Think about way so that the unchangeable doesn’t get in your way any more. The other is to have somebody who can change it work for you. Managers cannot change a CEO’s idea of another company, for example, but your CEO may be able to. Two CEO’s can have discussions and come to an agreement you feel comfortable with.

The best of what we can do, in such a case, is to let the people with right authority know the situation and navigate them toward your expectation. Don’t try to change the obstacle by yourself. While the authority is working on his task with the unchangeable, we can focus our limited energy and time on other things.

Avoid "we-and-they" thinking.

Especially in a multinational business environment, it’s easy for us to compare and contrast customs and cultures of members. Gaining knowledge on differences certainly helps us understand different ways of thinking and business processes, it also let us have "we-and-they" type of bipolar thinking. When such thinking is accelerated, we often start separating ourselves from "them" and our ideas tend to bear win-lose mentality, instead of win-win mentality.