Insight No.23 : Jan 2011 : Fresh Start : How to be More Effective in 2011Ask Pcubed: Managing Across BordersAnswered by Konrad Mizzi
Q: I have recently been appointed as a program manager with responsibility for a team that's located across four countries. In addition to best practice adopted for national programs, what additional project program management (PPM) themes should I keep in mind?
A: In today's global environment many programs involve planning and delivery across multiple countries, subsidiaries, supply chains, and governance structures. Often program managers don't have control over assigned resources and probably will be working for the first time with various members of the program team. So it's critical for them to understand ways of working across different geographies as well as to develop savvy around how decisions are made within each location.
A program manager in such programs requires a strong technical competence related to the specific field and needs to evolve the role into a partnering manager who can foster a climate of collaboration. This will require a significant focus on stakeholder management. That person must gain the confidence of the team and the major stakeholders and at the same time empathize with local needs and concerns.
Multi-country programs require strong governance, so you need to design governance in a way that it doesn't conflict with local decision-making practices but actually complements it. For example, attempting some large scale governance change will only trigger resistance early on. To get it right, be sure to include carefully picked people to represent different regions on that governance board. This requires an understanding of local decision-making; don't make assumptions based on job titles.
The program manager needs to gather intelligence and work with team members' on their personal drivers - how they're incentivized, who their line management is, what their career development looks like, etc.
The program manager also needs to provide direction in terms of what's expected and what "good" looks like. This will be challenging in a multi-country context, given different ways of working. Respect should be always shown to local traditions and ways of providing feedback. However, at the same time discipline must be maintained. How do you achieve this balance?
Communication is key. This needs to be regular and direct. Simply relying on standardized or automated reporting mechanisms can cause misunderstandings. Use phone and video conference technology for communication. Better yet, wherever possible and affordable, push for some level of face-to-face engagement among team members, starting with you. You might also consider working from different locations to get a strong sense of particulars related to specific locations. This practice can help foster good working relationships and help you maintain strong control over delivery.
Finally, it's important when you're selecting professional service providers to support your effort that you partner with companies that have a regional presence. This ensures that you'll be bringing in a team that follows one set of standards but still understands local specifics.
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Dr Konrad Mizzi is a Partner in Pcubed's EMEA Energy, Utilities, and Clean-Tech Practice. Contact Konrad at firstname.lastname@example.org.