Overcoming the Top 3 Challenges of Global Project Management
Managing successful projects in a global AEC marketplace requires a systematic and precise approach. Yet with multiple firms on the team, conflicting time zones, cultural and language barriers and infrequent face-to-face meetings to build trust, there’s a high risk that projects will fall behind in some way.
Data from the new 2019 Pulse of the Profession® survey from the Project Management Institute (PMI) show organizations wasted almost 12 percent of their investment in project spend last year due to poor performance—a number that’s barely budged over the past five years.
The positive news, drawn from Deltek’s experience supporting project execution for global AEC firms, is that high-performing organizations are steadily increasing project efficiency and profitability. How?
- They seek out, establish and constantly improve project management best practices across the organization.
- Leaders in these firms align project planning, decision making and resource allocation with reliable, real-time information available across the entire team.
- High performing global firms benefit from a culture of effective communication, training and team accountability.
What’s more, these firms exhibit a consistent emphasis, from the CEO on down the line, on developing staff and technology capabilities which result in a competitive advantage during project pursuit and implementation.
Consequently, these firms are executing projects on their terms, with predictable outcomes regardless of complexity or geography.
Fortunately, best practices in the execution of complex global projects can be replicated. By applying recommended best practices, adapting behaviors, and embracing technology innovation, today’s global design and construction firms will achieve higher profitability and secure more repeat work with clients.
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Planning Quality Outcomes
When leaders look back at unprofitable projects, they universally cite the lack of planning as the largest cause of the problems seen throughout the life of the project. In many cases, they say, the planning was constricted by a) the urgent time demands set by the client or b) staff commitments to other projects inhibiting planning time.
Whatever the reason and however true the extenuating circumstances, it’s a mistake to compromise on planning. The time invested in planning will reveal a set of opportunities to streamline project tasks, improve schedules and examine valuable data from past projects to set benchmarks for the new project.
For global projects, with added risk and logistical obstacles to overcome, planning wisely and engaging the entire team in the planning will solve problems early, when the solutions have the most impact.
Actions needed during the planning phase:
- Define project objectives for the team, based on your understanding, the RFP and client briefings.
- Develop a detailed scope of services, and test this scope with data from past similar projects.
- Create fee parameters built off of the scope document; communicate these parameters with the client and senior decision makers within the firm.
- Assess the current state of resources available and forecast the resource contingencies related to project unknowns; document specific resources needed for the project.
- Establish a schedule to support all deliverables.
- Establish a set of project processes, procedures and policies, based on client expectations.
- Define reporting protocols and systems technology requirements to be applied and used by the entire team and sub-consultants.
Overcoming Distance, Culture and Technology Challenges
The unknowns of a global design and construction project require a vigilance that extends far beyond conventional project planning and management. What works in one country or culture does not necessarily work in another. Distances between key team members, time zone conflicts and communications issues relating to language and work customs are extraordinary risk factors.
Practices for addressing these risks:
- Ensure that the entire project team and all stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed, how the lines of reporting are structured, who will be making decisions, and how quickly responses to questions and requests are expected.
- Establish a project culture based on information sharing, communications and accountability. Using an industry-specific solution such as Deltek’s will provide a common platform and ease the task of sharing information without ambiguity.
- Consider the benefit of a change management initiative to align all participants with shared values and behaviors.
Whether the objective is to change past conventions within your firm or address cultural barriers within other project team organizations, the idea is to communicate expectations and spell out the reasons for a project culture of shared responsibility and collaboration.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle global projects face is distance and time. Time zones are not going to go away! Your training needs to reflect the reality and constraints of time zones in the way you structure teams and individual work. This includes practical guidelines and tips on organizing international conference calls and other routine team tasks.
Leaders need the ability to motivate, communicate and manage performance remotely. Adopting and effectively using a set of techniques and tools and expected behaviors that allow for a seamless integration of diverse national, functional and corporate culture is essential.
Deltek Vantagepoint for Architecture and Engineering Firms
Working internationally and with global consequences requires a shared team vision and commitment. The only way to ensure this commitment is to create, communicate and train on standards, protocols and technology.
Training delivers multiple benefits for the team. When delivered with a strategic view of the risks inherent in global work, and knowledge of the inherent skill or technology deficits of your teams, a training investment mitigates the ad hoc approach to project execution.
- Document your process, then train to it: too often, the process for managing a global project is handed down from PM to aspiring PM, with little documentation seen. Resolve this with a clearly written process available to all team members, and available for clients to appreciate.
- Develop training curriculum: senior leaders with recent global project expertise create the firm’s curriculum and provide case examples to illustrate their content.
- Create training manual: a playbook illustrating the curriculum, process and systems supporting the work is the “textbook” and anchor of a sound training program.
- Support outside training: many global firms have both internal and external training resources available; the outside courses help train on industry practices and technology.
- Teach technology: research on adult learners reveals that personal instruction models, paired with the opportunity for repetition, is key to long-term retention of new information. Create training and development strategy that works for your firm which could include in-person training for technology and self-led tutorials and online manuals.
- Build-in accountability: project managers and task leaders on global projects are accountable for knowing, supporting and consistently applying the training curriculum. In many firms, this stewardship of the organization’s training is part of performance evaluations.
The key to successful execution on projects is to continually strive for clarity and consistency. It’s a leadership mission that never is complete, a long-distance marathon without a finish line.
As they work to overcome these three main challenges, CEOs and project leaders can establish greater insight and control on their global, fast-changing projects. Ultimately, a reset of their cultural and organization patterns will lead to increased profitability and repeat engagements with their desired clients.
- To learn more about what Deltek has to offer, visit our Project Management for Architecture & Engineering page, or join one of our upcoming Solution Speed Sessions in the series, Deltek Vantagepoint for A&E.
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