Monday, November 01, 2004

People : Geography is more powerful than History

When managers face problems with holding team meetings or receiving deliverables from distributed teams they tend to say that it is due to the culture of the team on the other side. I hear them say "Oh! It is the culture of those teams that is stopping us from having a productive meeting or getting things done."

I believe otherwise. Managers and team members use culture as an excuse for poor planning and sloppy execution. Planning for distributed development is different from planning a project where all team members are in the same location. Some simple project management techniques will help.

1. Recognize the time zones in which teams are operating and plan meetings accordingly. Use an email system that allows you to plan for meetings across time zones. Several email systems including Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes allow you to see everyone's calendars and plan meetings when it is convienient for everyone.

1a. Acknowledge the fact that people may be joining the meeting from their home offices and there could be background noices like babies crying or dogs barking. Such behaviour is not because of their culture. It is probably because it is 10.00 p.m. their time and they are home.

2. Understand the workday cycles of the distributed team. For example, a work request sent on Friday afternoon to Europe from the U.S. may not be viewed until Monday morning U.S. time by European team members. Same is the case with Philippines or India. If you get a response to your request only on Monday afternoon U.S. time, it is probably due to the time delay and not due to the culture in Europe or Asia.

3. Develop a simple work request protocol where your project clock starts ticking only when the receiver acknowledges the work request, not when the requestor sent the request. This protocol saved us a lot of trouble in executing work flows across the country and the globe. It might work for you even if you have different locations in the same city.
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