Each week, project management veteran Tom Mochal provides valuable advice about how to plan and manage projects. Tom first describes a common problem scenario, based on a real-life situation. He then offers a solution, using practical project management practices and techniques.

The dilemma
Reyna had just completed gathering business requirements when she was asked to speak to her sponsor. In the meeting, she learned that her project to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) package became significantly more complex. She came straight from that meeting to my office.

“My sponsor just told me that their division has reorganized,” Reyna said. “We need to implement this CRM package in our Canadian and Mexican operations as well.”

“Wow, that is a major change,” I said. “I’ll bet you want to talk to me about scope-change management.”

“Actually, I don’t,” she said. “I explained to the sponsor that this was way outside of the scope we agreed to. He agreed and asked us to come up with a new estimated budget and end date. My biggest concern is being able to communicate and work successfully in the other countries. I have never been to either country. I don’t know what to expect.”

The solution
“I think I would have the same concerns,” I told her. “There are no specific problems right now. However, you have a concern about problems that may arise in the future. So I think the risk management process is what we need to work through.”

“Absolutely,” Reyna said. “I see many potential risks, and I’m sure there are many I am not even aware of. I need to call a team meeting to try to get a handle on the risks and work with my team on a risk plan.”

Mentor advice
Implementing a solution to a widely dispersed team can be very challenging, especially the first time you do it. When there are stakeholders in foreign countries, it can really be scary. You may not be sure of the cultural differences or how they are organized. Depending on the country, there may also be time-zone differences that make it hard to communicate live. All of these potential problems can usually be overcome with enough planning and proactive project management.

Reyna has already come to the conclusion that she needs to deal with this from a risk management perspective. When her team meets, they need to identify all of the potential problems they can think of and then rank them in terms of how likely they are to occur and the potential impact to the project. Risk plans should be put together for both high- and medium-level risks. Examples of activities that may help mitigate the risks include the following:

  • Identify local sponsors and champions who can represent the CRM solution positively at each location.
  • Create a proactive and detailed communication plan specifically targeting the users in each country.
  • Understand cultural differences that could result in problems with the software implementation and make sure that these differences are accounted for and worked around in each location.
  • Add people to the project team who speak the native languages. In this case, Spanish and French translators may be necessary.
  • Increase the travel budget to allow for a number of visits to each location.
  • Make sure that the marketing sponsor communicates clearly and consistently on the importance of this project to the Canadian and the Mexican locations.

In addition, even though Reyna has not had responsibility for an international project, others in the company have. She needs to speak with someone with this experience to determine what she doesn’t know and make sure that she has as much knowledge as possible on what needs to be done to make this entire project a success.

Project management veteran Tom Mochal is director of internal development at a software company in Atlanta. Most recently, he worked for the Coca-Cola Company, where he was responsible for deploying, training, and coaching the IS division on project management and life-cycle skills. He’s also worked for Eastman Kodak and Cap Gemini America and has developed a project-management methodology called TenStep.

Quirks of an international IT project

If you’ve worked on an IT project overseas, what tips and best practices would you would recommend? Post a comment or send us a letter.