Managing projects across different geographies/timezones

Anand K

One major part of the Project management is communication. While managing projects, communication can be – not limited to – Emails, Text and Voice.

Now, how does one manage this communication along with ensuring the other aspects of managing projects when one is handling multiple project and especially when these multiple projects is across different timezone/geographies – For example – IST and PST!
Different geographies.
Different cultures.
Different styles of driving the project.

Since the day to day activity for the execution part of the project will be driven based on the delivery center’s defined operating time. The following concerns were observed by the team.
1. Turn around for the clarification of queries was twice as much.
2. Any voice or text communication with the team posed a challenge due to extremely varied timezone.
3. Handling voice communication spread at the extreme end of a day.

Concerns from a project manager point of view.
1. The team blocked with their deliverable due to unavailability of clarity or clarifications from the client.
2. PM’s personal time being expended for the calls and customer support at odd hours.
3. Ensuring the team and self’s work-life balance.

Steps I have taken to manage these concerns:
1. Daily stand ups are the key. Never miss them! This will ideally define how a day in the project(s) progresses.
2. Lists have always helped me. I use Tasks (GMail’s feature) and a notepad (The pleasure of crossing things out once you are done with it on a notepad is something else 🙂 )
3. Make a priority list of task for yourself. Depending on the time zone/geography sequence them.
4. Get your team to send out a simple daily status report covering Tasks performed for today (with status and time spent on the individual task), Tasks planned for tomorrow and Blockers (if any). This will ensure to get the team’s buy in and helps the team to get started right away with the tasks the next day.

Typical Day’s activities for the team:
Let’s call project one as ‘IST’ and project two as ‘PST’.
* Daily stand up meeting for IST
* Task allocation and outstanding email communication for IST.
* Daily stand up meeting for PST
* Task allocation and outstanding email communication for IST.
* Task follow up – Through out the day for both teams.
* Task closure meeting with the IST team.
* Task closure meeting with the PST team.
* Capture concerns to be communicated.
* Send out daily status reports.

Few extra tasks I perform outside the operational time.
* Consolidate the Daily status report and send it across to both the project clients.
* Consolidate the queries from the PST team and get on a call with the PST client to ensure the team has their queries unblocked for the following day.
I see no need for the entire team to connect to the PST team for a stand up meeting on a daily basis. I usually would have captured this information from the team and have this communicated.
This ensures that the team can start the day on time and not worry about staying up late during odd hours.
Yes, there are few times when the team is needed in technical discussions with the PST client, but this we will need to ensure that it is scheduled and does not affect the tasks planned for the following day.

This brings up the question – where is the work-life balance for the PM in this scenario?
Well, as one of my earlier mentors quoted “There is no work-life balance. There is only work-life blend“. This is the harsh truth of the service industry. It’s upto us individuals to figure out and strike a balance with the work we are doing.
The ideal scenario would be to ensure the project managers work with clients from a same/similar timezone geography. Until this happens, it’s upto us to find the right blend. This definitely is a challenge but definitely doable. The sequencing of tasks and activities have definitely helped me.
This blend has not come to me right away and I am still evolving this. I have failed and from those failures I have learnt and ensured to improve the process. With every new challenge, I still fail and I learn, but the key is to not fail at the same thing again. Make new mistakes, you will have new things to learn from these. 🙂

My key take away for me with managing projects like these – I get to learn a lot when I interact with clients from different cultures and geographies. This has broadened my horizons of communication and has also ensured me to be a better people manager.

about the author

Anand K