Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Success Strategies for running a Global Project

After running a few successful global projects I have found some strategies that have helped and I figured I should list them for others to use.

1. Have the entire team present for the planning session.
This is a tough sell to management because it costs money. But on a large project it may only add up to 1 - 2% of the total project cost. Put it to management in those terms. They will agree that the cost savings you will generate by the team building and commitments expressd in front of the entire team will easily outweigh the initial cost.

2. Set up convenient status meeting times.
If your global project is US and Europe, you can usually find a time that works for both. Morning meetings in the US will become afternoon meetings in Europe but the further West you are in the US, the earlier you need to hold the meetings. But once you add Japan into the equation, your options start to fade. I have found that the Japanese tend to work late and I have been able to schedule status meetings that end after 9PM their time. Here's a link to a convenient World Time Zone map.

3. Learn about local holidays.
Every country has their own holidays. This link has a good listing of holidays and their implication on working days but it must be searched country by country.  I'm still on the lookout for a calendar that lists holidays around the world on a month by month basis that doesn't include things like 'World Snake Day.' Plan these holidays into your status meeting schedules and your project plan.

4. Don't forget about vacation time.
Don't expect much work to be done in Europe during August when it seems like the entire continent goes on vacation. But don't generalize this rule to the entire continent. Some countries prefer July so ask your team.

5. Greet Team Members with their correct title, time and greeting.
Making a small investment in learning a few words can pay off hugely in Team Member loyalty. Saying 'Konnichi-wa Sanwa-san' and 'Guten tag Herr Mueller' helps a lot. Acknowledge that the Japanese are heading off for the day while the Europeans are in their afternoon is also a nice sign of respect.

6. Learn about local culture.
Hofstede and Trompenaars have written excellent books that discuss the cultures of different countries and are a worthwhile read for any Project Manager. Learning that one does not approach a senior manager in South Korea the way one would in New Zealand is a lesson that should not be learned through trial and error.

7. Allow time for translations.
Team Members who don't have English as a second language are going to be struggling with rapid English conversations. Talk slowly, even to other English speakers. If some team members are translating, speak in short bursts with pauses for translations. As a Project Manager, take the lead in distilling long questions down to simple queries that can be directed to those of another language.
8. Before you end any call, check with the regions.
A great piece of advice I received and took to heart was to not end my calls until I went to each region on teh phone and asked the question, 'Anything else from Japan, etc.' Because we are so used to assertive Americans, we expect people to speak up when they have issues. In Japan, not so much. They must be asked to bring up issues in an environment where they know all regions will be asked.

Has anyone else found any more advise they'd like to add to this list? Comment below, please.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Egypt's Military still in control

Even though the recent Egyptian elections were, in the words of the Carter Center, 'Free and Fair,' it appears unlikely that the military is ready to give up its power. They have held special privileges since Nasser's 1952 coup and are not willing to relinquish them. They hold tax exemptions and financial advantages for their huge commercial empire, which runs from car making and consumer products to hotels and resorts.

According to a recent NY Times article the military is also concerned about repercussions from their brutal rule in the Nasser and Mubarak dictatorships and are not ready to have a civilian government hold them accountable .

How well are they going to get along with the Muslim Brotherhood after all their years suppressing them?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Saudi women can finally sell lingerie

What's wrong with this picture?
With women banned from retail sales in repressive Saudi Arabia, they were forced to buy from South Asian men. While the restrictive laws were designed to prevent men and women from interacting, the reverse became true as Burqa-wearing women were forced to discuss intimate details with non-related men.
The law also resulted in funny sights such as this.
In 2006 the law was repealed and women were supposed to be able to sell lingerie but, with the restrictions on driving and the lack of trained women, nothing really changed.
But Social Media came to the rescue again. With a Facebook boycott garnering 1300 signatures, King Abdullah put his power behind the rule and gave the shops until June to comply.
While it's a small victory over petty rules that dominate women's rights in Saudi Arabia, there are two very interesting aspects to it that excite me:
  1. Facebook, the oil lubricating the entire Arab Spring protests, was involved again and the Saudi royals recognized its power and bowed immediately to the pressure before things became worse for them.
  2. Now that the women have a foothold in retail, they will gain experience and start taking over in other areas. They will have to be able to commute to jobs either by a newly developed public transportation system or a relaxing of driving laws.
Could this small change could be to Saudi Arabia what Rosie the Riveter was to the US women's rights?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Twenty-seventh excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Gwilym looked deeply into his son’s eyes. “Is that why you thought I didn’t let you come until you were three?”
Gwilym and his family settled into a comfortable routine in town. He and Bleddyn woke to the church bells and, leaving the younger boys sleeping, washed their faces and hands and walked a short distance to attend morning Mass. On the way there and back, father and son discussed the morning’s readings and Gwilym put them in context within the whole Bible. Bleddyn’s Latin was still growing and he often had to rely on his father’s translation to understand some of the prayers. Gwilym, as ever, used this as another way to improve his son’s learning. Bleddyn knew by heart all the words intoned by the priest and his expected responses, as he had done since the age of five.
On returning, Gwilym prepared their simple breakfast while Bleddyn woke his brothers and took them to empty their bladders. Breakfast was always the same except for Sundays. Gwilym and Bleddyn ate a boiled egg, some carrots, a bowl with yoghurt and a cup of water. The twins had the same except Gwilym had crushed the carrots in a mortar and pestle and cut up the egg. The boys also drank milk instead of water. On Sundays their breakfast was hotcakes with honey.
After breakfast, Bleddyn would set to work on the reading his father had assigned him. Their library of books and scrolls was growing rapidly in Londinium. Bleddyn had found some people who were only too happy to swap scrolls with Gwilym and they could each copy the others’ onto a new scroll. Gwilym’s scrolls were mostly from his travels to the Holy Land and were rare in these parts. In exchange, Gwilym received scrolls of epic battles, love tales, some bad poetry and some interesting stories. Bleddyn’s work was to read these scrolls and transcribe them onto the new books that his father provided. 
A woman who lived nearby with her small brood of children looked after Jac and Llawen during the day. Gwilym would usually gather his children up for dinner and ask them what they had learned so far. Then he would ask them in turn his usual question: “Did you ask any great questions today?” Dinner was bread and cheese and more carrots. The afternoon went on like the morning for the younger ones but Bleddyn would spend it with his father, learning the business and doing some physical labor. “Healthy body, healthy mind, son,” was Gwilym’s mantra if Bleddyn complained about being tired.
After work, Gwilym would gather his boys and troop outside the city walls to wash in the river. Depending on the tides they would go to the east or west side of town to avoid washing in the filth of the city. They received a lot of jeering for this fastidiousness and Bleddyn, starting to feel self-conscious amongst boys of his age, asked to be freed from this chore. “We’re not in the Holy Land, Da. Why do we need to wash every day?”
“Have you smelled these townsfolk who wash only once a year, lad? Have you seen the lice in their hair and the dirt and shit caked on their skin? It’s not healthy and I won’t have you be one of them.”
The younger boys were washed in the shallows and seemed to enjoy the warm water. But as the days grew colder they complained more until Gwilym started washing them in the yard of their lodgings with some warm water.
They would end their evening over a meal of some kind of stew with bread provided by their landlord. Gwilym always asked his boys the same two questions. “What was the worst part of your day? What was the best part of your day?” The answers to these questions always elicited great conversation and the family talked until late in the evening. Then Gwilym would read a story to the boys from one of his many books and scrolls until they fell asleep. He would stay awake another few hours, catching up on his project records and planning what tasks needed to be worked on tomorrow. Finally he would read for an hour for his own pleasure before falling asleep.
Often Fred would come over to visit and Bleddyn would sit with

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Women's rights amongst the Haredim

Naama Margolese, 8, the daughter of American immigrants who are observant modern Orthodox Jews.
Oded Balilty/Associated Press
As if the horrid and worsening state of Women's Rights in the Middle East wasn't bad enough already with Shariah law likely to become more common; in Israel, the Haredim are increasingly exerting their ultra-conservative demands on their neighbors.
Little Naama, pictured above, has been spit upon and called a prostitute by hordes of black-clad men for dressing 'immodestly'. Her American parents dress her in a way that most of the world would consider quite conservative but the Haredim seem to wish to make a point. More from this article.
Israel, a beacon of light for Women's Rights in this otherwise blighted region, is feeling the strain from this sector of their democratic society. When the country was founded, David Ben-Gurion offered subsidies and army exemptions to the few survivors of this group, expecting them to be absorbed in the greater experiment. Instead, they multiplied and now number a million amongst the 7.8 million Israelis. Their votes are valuable and so they have been placated by generations of politicians, encouraging their excesses.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men in Beit Shemesh, Israel, rallied around a sign that reads in Hebrew: “Women are asked not to linger in this area.”  By ISABEL KERSHNER
  • Organizers of a conference on Women's Health and Jewish law barred women from speaking at the podium.
  • The chief Rabbi of the Air Force resigned his post because the army refused to excuse ultra-conservative soldiers from attending events where female singers performed
  • Protesters depicted the Jerusalem police commander as Hitler on posters because he instructed public bus lines with mixed-sex seating to drive through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods
  • Vandals blacked out women’s faces on Jerusalem billboards.  More from this article

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish demonstrators in Jerusalem were denounced by Israeli leaders on Sunday after wearing yellow stars and alluding to other images from the Nazi era.   By ISABEL KERSHNER
Israeli leaders on Sunday denounced ultra-Orthodox protesters who took to the streets of Jerusalem on Saturday night and put young boys on display wearing yellow stars and striped prison camp uniforms reminiscent of the Holocaust. One little boy was instructed to pose for cameras with his hands raised in surrender, mimicking a famous photograph of a small, frightened Jewish boy surrendering to the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.
Tensions were further fueled by the arrest of an ultra-Orthodox man here last week on a charge of sexual harassment after he verbally abused a female Israeli soldier who had refused to move to the back of a public bus. More from this article.

Until now, Israel has been the Democratic, Modern, Western, beacon of hope for the region. We Americans could point there and show the way to the Arab countries that seem to revel in their brutal dictatorships, dismal Human and Women's Rights records and religious intolerance. Now those who are screaming for Shariah law in Egypt and Yemen can point to Israel and say, "Same thing here."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Great Escape Project

As a boy growing up in Australia I loved reading my father's old World War Two books. One of my favorites was "The Great Escape,' a story of a mass escape by Allied POWs, causing a huge recapture effort that diverted German troops from the war effort. Since this was the objective of the project, (the prospect of many of the prisoners actually making it to safety was slim) the project was considered a success. Unfortunately, the German chose to punish the escapees by executing 50 of the 76 who escaped.

But what a project this was! The preparation and planning and duplication of effort to mitigate risks. The incredible details that went into forging all the documents, tailoring the fake uniforms and civilian clothes, the rails for the tunnels, the air circulation system, the radios, the list goes on and on. All of it was amazingly planned. Too bad the execution failed by them ending the tunnel about twenty feet shy of the forest. The whole story was well depicted in the classic movie. Here's the original trailer:
But an article in this week's paper showed just how incredible the tunneling itself really was. A group of British-based engineers, battlefield archaeologists, historians and modern-day Royal Air Force pilots, tried to replicate the work of the prisoners using their techniques and were unsuccessful. They couldn't safely make the tunnels in that sandy soil and had to quit.

Did the prisoners simply have more time and more incentive than the recreators to complete their project? One of these days I'm going to have to study this project in detail from a Project Management perspective and write it up properly.

Anyway, if you have time, check out the four videos below that detail the making of the movie.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rube Goldberg

The closest I ever came to programming was writing macros for Lotus 1-2-3 to manipulate data. They would work but when my boss watched them operate, (programs executed slowly enough to watch in the eighties) he would shake his head and call me Rube Goldberg. Then he'd show me an elegant solution to the problem I was trying to solve.

That's when I realized my future lay in Project Management where I could leave the programming to the professionals. But I still have an affinity for Rube Goldberg inventions. So when I saw this article in the paper and realized that the spirit of the master is still alive and well, I had to post it. Check out the newspaper turning machine:

 This last music video is more complex but it moves too fast to see all the interactions. Still, more than three minutes of Rube Goldberg motion is still pretty impressive:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Twenty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers'

Fred was painting on the stones when the rest of the team arrived.
That evening Fred was in high spirits. He ate with Gwilym and his boys, excitedly going over the day’s events. “It’s as though we could see t’whole bridge and tower bein’ built right in front of us! And we could see where we’d be gettin’ in each other’s way and what had to happen before what else. And that Charlie, rememberin’ the road. We’d ha’ been sloggin’ through the mud before we’d a remembered it. I love this tool. I’m comin’ up wi’ a couple of verses for it in me Project Management Guide song.”
Gwilym smiled at his excited foreman. He too, was excited at how well it had worked but he was a little troubled by this morning’s events. “I think I may have been premature when I said we knew HOW to build the tower. We know the structure of the project but we need more definition in these activities.”
“Wha’ do tha mean, Gwilym?”
“Well, look at some of these tasks. Wood for arch supports, for instance. That doesn’t tell how to get there. The men need to do a lot of things to get that wood. Like: Measure arch; measure depth of water, make a drawing of the supports; add up the measurements; add some extra for scrap; order the wood; deliver the wood. Now, the men are doing that, but who’s to say that some of these more defined tasks won’t be repeated or skipped or unnecessary, just like activities in the Work Breakdown Structure. I think we need to define these activities better right now before we run into trouble.”
“Aye. I get what tha means, Gwilym. But does tha worry that t’men will think it stupid to have tha write down ever little step? Will they think tha are watchin’ over them like an owld mother hen?”
“Not if they are the ones giving me the steps. And not if I don’t go to ridiculous detail: ‘walk to bridge, look up, take out measuring stick, place one end at bottom of tower.’ I think they trust me now. I can go to the master of each activity and ask them to define their activities and then pull it all together myself for them to look at as a whole. And I can find the problems myself before I show it to the men so that they will see the value.”
“Sounds like a lot of work”
“Aye. I reckon it will be. Maybe you can continue doing my job while I work on this.”
“But Gwilym, tha knows I cannae write.”
“Yet you can draw like a champion, Fred. And you know your numbers. Look.” Gwilym pulled out a scroll that had all the letters carefully inscribed in beautiful calligraphy in alphabetical order. “Today I used the first five letters, A, B, C, D & E. There were about 20 stones per layer. What I did was start with the stone on each layer that faced directly west along the wall. On the first layer, I called this A1 and painted that on the outer face of that stone. Then I moved around the tower towards the river and called the next one A2, then the next A3, and so on. Make sense?”
“Aye,” said Fred dubiously
“Then I did the same with the next letter: B. B1 for the stone facing the wall, then B2 and so on. The next was the C layer, then the D layer, then the E layer. I got through some of the F layer.”
Fred started getting excited. “I remember t’symbols. So they are in order, t’same way t’numbers are in order, 1, 2, 3?”
Gwilym smiled. “Aye Fred. A, B, C, is the order of the letters, just like 1, 2, and 3.”
Fred looked carefully at the list of letters, then looked questioningly up at Gwilym. “But there are 26 of them, not 10. How do I count above 26 with letters?”
“The nice thing about letters, Fred, is that you can combine them to make whole words. Then words make sentences and you can write down whole conversations. We’ll get into that later. But for now, you need to learn the letters. So you are starting with this letter. It is called F. It’s pretty easy to write. Just a straight line up and down, with two straight lines coming off the right side: one at the top and one at the middle. Make the middle line a little shorter. And when you are done with that layer, call me to inspect your work and I’ll teach you the next letter.”
“I’ll do t’work, Gwilym and I’ll be right careful. But I know there are more than 26 layers of stone in that tower. What do I do when I get done with t’last one here, the one that looks kind of like a straightened number 2?”
“We can treat the letters like numbers then. What do you do with numbers after you use 9?”
“Tha takes 1 and starts again after that wi’ zero, then 1, then 2, making 10, 11 and 12. But what be t’letter for zero?”
“We don’t have a letter like that so we’ll name the 27th row: AA, then the 28th row: AB and so on. Can you do that Fred?”
“Which one is A and which one B again?” Fred inquired.
“These first two are.” And Gwilym went through the letters a few times with Fred.

The next morning, before the team had assembled, Gwilym showed Fred how to start numbering the stones and Fred quickly understood. He was painting on the stones when the rest of the team arrived. They looked at Fred with a new respect, then drifted off to do their work. Gwilym moved around them throughout the day, getting definition on all the activities and inscribing them all in his scrolls. He checked in on Fred after every level and praised his careful work. He noticed that as Fred painted, he repeated the name of the letter like a mantra, “F, F, F,” Gwilym smiled to himself and continued gathering information from his men.
They ate dinner together and Gwilym explained what he was doing with the scrolls. “I’m getting detail on all of the activities we worked out yesterday so that I can make sure we’re not running into each other, or having to do anything twice. When I’m done, we’ll go over it and look for the problems.”
Gwilym was as good as his word. He had spent the day inscribing all the defined activities into his scroll and, after the boys were asleep, compared each set of activities to work out the problems. The next morning, when the men assembled, he brought them back into the tavern for an hour and went over each set with them. He read the activities out loud, showed where he had made the corrections, and got their input into the changes. The men were at first shocked when Gwilym crossed out and rewrote over the existing scroll. They were accustomed to scrolls being sacred texts, carefully handled by priests. But they soon got used to it and felt respected for their opinions. By dinner they were all satisfied that the work was well defined and they ate and went off to do their jobs. One carpenter said to a mason, “Finally you won’t be asking me to do my work again after I’ve finished.” They both laughed and went to their places.
Fred continued with his painting while Gwilym rewrote the scratched up scrolls into a large book that he had purchased for this job. On the first page he wrote the name of the project in fancy calligraphy. The second page was a transcription of the charter. The third page was a list of the project stakeholders. The next page showed the Work Breakdown Structure while the following pages broke each major deliverable down into the defined activities that the men had just figured out. He finished up just as the men were getting ready to leave for the day.
Gwilym assembled the men and showed them the book. They were suitably awed. “It’s loik our own Boible for this tower,” one said.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Ernest Shackleton's Polar Expedition

Endurance, cutting through the ice on sail and steam engine
A lot has been said about Ernest Shackleton's polar expedition, especially within Project Management circles. Most of the dialogue centers around his decision to change the goal from crossing Antarctica to saving the lives of his entire crew. Since he's back in the news again as his 100 year anniversary nears, I thought I'd add my take on the story.

For those who don't know the story, back in 1914, there were still some difficult places to reach on earth and explorers willing to expend large amounts of money, time and lives on being the first person to reach these places. Ernest Shackleton was part of Scott's 1901, failed expedition to the south pole, not the 1911 one that cost Scott his life and the life of his crew.
Ice mountains formed by moving pack ice

After Amundson reached the pole, Shackleton decided to explore Antarctica by crossing the continent on dog-sleds from one side to another. (Was this the inspiration for 'Ripping Yarns' Crossing the Andes on frog?)
He gathered a crew and set off, leaving civilization, as it were, on South Georgia island where the locals warned him that ice pack made his expedition impossible. They warned him to wait until the pack melted in a few months. He ignored the local knowledge and pushed on, his ship becoming trapped in the ice one day from his destination.

Realizing he was not going to achieve his initial goal of crossing Antarctica on dog-sled, he changed the project's goal to ensuring that every member of his expedition survived the ordeal. (A pretty lofty goal in those days when losing half your expedition crew was commonplace. This is still true on many Everest expeditions)

He proved himself an excellent leader for this second goal. He worked on his men's warmth, shelter, comfort and mental health. He organized a sail on lifeboats to the nearest land mass, Elephant Island, before the ice all melted. He organized a rescue mission, sailing over open Antarctic water to South Georgia island, (a ship voyage considered by many to be the most impressive in the entire history of sailing).

He climbed for 36 hours across to the inhabited side of this island, then sent a vessel to rescue his remaining crew on Elephant island. All but the animals survived.

Read the details here:

But let's look at the entire project from a good project management perspective:
Idea Phase: Good job, getting backing and getting people excited to join. He even acquired a stowaway with his enthusiasm. Grade A
Planning Phase: Filled the ship with valuable supplies that ended up saving their lives. Probably missed some key information that could have been supplied by Norwegian whalers. Things like: When does the pack-ice form? How thick is it? How much pressure does it exert? Grade D
Early Execution Phase: Completely ignored valuable information from people with knowledge who warned him not to attempt what he was doing at the time. Didn't keep pressing forward with his steam engine and allowed the ship to become completely trapped. Grade F
Rethinking Phase: Changed the Project Objective on his own. Normally a huge no-no but given that he had no way of communicating with the stakeholders who have this authority, he took it on himself to change the objective to what he thought was right at the time. (It's what the team thought was right as well and he was vindicated on return for making the right decision) Grade A
Replanning Phase: Knew that the ice would destroy his ship so he set up camp on the ice in such a way to survive the winter. Grade A
Early Execution Phase: Ensured that morale stayed high by giving the best supplies to the lowest ranked members of the expedition. Encouraged work, hunting parties, diversions to make it through the three months of darkness. Got the men safely to dry land before the ice melted. Grade A
Middle Execution Phase: Organized the rescue mission. Put the best sailors on the rescue ship and led it himself. Placed a competent leader in charge of those left behind. Endured personal hardship in the hike across South Georgia Island. Grade A
Late Execution Phase: Focused on the goal of rescuing the remainder of his expedition until it succeeded. Grade A
Closing Phase: Gave out rewards to some of his men but not to others, sometimes for minor infractions during the almost two-year ordeal. Grade C
Overall Grade B
Better planning would have brought him up to an A and remember, 90% of Project Management is communication and most of that is listening.

Monday, January 2, 2012


The Maillardet automaton, on display at Philadelphia's Franklin Insistute
Before the invention of the phonograph and electricity, recorded music, playable by amateurs, was still available through the invention of intricate music boxes. These marvels of engineering, using clockwork and pneumatics are still fascinating to young and old. I just took my boys to see one of the greatest collections at the Morris Museum. Check out some of the amazing music boxes and automata on display here:

Another famous automaton has inspired the recent movie Hugo. The 200 year old doll pictured at the top of this post is on display at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. It can write three poems and sketch pictures. Imagine the intricate workings behind such a feat.

Here's a trailer for the movie, Hugo:

More details in the New York Times article