Project Management Gone Global

Kate Studwell, Former Project Manager

Article Category: #Strategy

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Viget recently partnered with Lenovo to redesign the technology brand’s blog platform. This was an interesting project for many reasons, one of them being the global reach of the blog. Lenovo is a global company in the true essence of the word; products are sold across the world, and the company employs staff in many different countries. Consumers and employees speak a myriad of languages, so the blog needed to accommodate the many audience types. While this presented a number of fun design and technological challenges, our team also faced unique challenges and upsides of working with an international client; in this case, our main point of contact was based in Singapore.

My previous company had a design and development team based out of Budapest, Hungary, so I grew accustomed to working with an international team. Here at Viget, the majority of our clients are US-based, as is the entirety of our staff, and I was interested to see how the two experiences would compare. Working with Lenovo, I realized there are many similarities between projects with international clients and international team members. Here are some of the challenges and upsides I’ve run into when working on projects with a global team, and some strategies for making these projects go as smoothly as possible.

Scheduling Considerations

Simpsons calendar

Scheduling is such a big part of project management that naturally has many challenges. When it comes to international projects, remember to: 

  • Put on your planning hat. Depending on where team members are located, scheduling meetings can be tricky. You or your client may need to call in outside of normal business hours. To ease this pain:
    • Talk to your team and client at the start of the project to find out their flexibility outside of work hours. What times are off-limits? How frequently can they meet?
    • Use a tool like Timebie to find out when your work hours overlap with your team or client’s work hours (if there is overlap at all).
    • Don’t forget about daylight saving time! DST is largely followed in North America and Europe, but not in most other places. If your project spans many months or you have regular check-in meetings on the schedule, plan around time changes. You can see which nations follow DST here.
    • Plan meetings in advance. Way in advance! It can be tricky to find a time that works for everyone, so nail down meeting times during initial project planning.
  • Be upfront about timeline risks. Because time zone differences can result in limited communication and lost days, build extra padding into your timeline in case of the unexpected.
  • Enjoy the quiet time! In a world of distractions, it can be nice to work in a different time zone from your team or client. A few years ago, I spent three months working in Budapest. The six hours in the morning of uninterrupted time before my US colleagues arrived in the office were some of my most productive. Knowing that your client has already gone home (or is fast asleep) allows you to take some extra time to think through your writing, rather than rushing to get it in their inbox before they leave for the day.

Communication is Key

Tom Hanks You've Got Mail

Communication is one of the most important things to get right when managing a project, and it can be one of the most challenging aspects of an international project. Some tips to keep in mind:

  • Get on the same page. Early in the project, figure out a communication plan and stick to it. How do you want to communicate with the team and the client? What works best for them? At Viget, we use Basecamp for most written client communication, and Google Hangouts or GoToMeeting for video calls and screen sharing. For the Lenovo project, we stuck mostly to written communication, as we had no overlap with working hours.
  • Answer questions before they’re asked. When writing to your team or client, put yourself in their shoes and think through what questions may come up in response to your message; make sure you’re giving them all the information possible. Have a co-worker read the message before sending. Do they have questions? Answer them. When working with others in different time zones, one unanswered question could become a blocker that prevents progress, and before you know it, you’ve lost a day.
  • Create a method to the madness. Discuss what communication can happen over email, and what decisions and presentations are best done over the phone. The Viget team typically likes to present wireframes and designs over the phone or in person so we can give the full context behind the designs. During the Lenovo project, we modified our process to plan just one big UX presentation and one design presentation. The rest of the communication was done over Basecamp so we could keep momentum during the project.  
  • Avoid jargon. Even if you and your client speak the same language, there are likely regional differences and cultural biases that you might be unaware of. Stick to neutral language and avoid slang and jargon that could easily be misinterpreted. You don't want your client to have to Google what you mean when you say the team is going to bang out the next round of iterations, or that your hands are tied on a particular topic.

Design for a Global Audience

Dancing around the world

Working on global projects introduces some interesting design challenges that might not apply to a web project geared to a mostly US-based audience. Some topics you’ll want to discuss with your team and client are:

  • Do you speak-a my language? Which languages will be supported? Will content be accessible or translated for readers of other languages? How?
  • Font choices. There is a plethora of web fonts available for Latin characters, but languages with a non-Latin alphabet (such as Japanese) may have much more limited font options. Keep this in mind in the design and buildout phase and make sure content in all languages looks good.
  • Language-based layout. Decide whether you’ll support Right-To-Left (RTL) languages, such as Arabic, and how that will affect site layout and design.
  • Date format. This seems like a small one, but consider whether you’ll display date in DD/MM or MM/DD format, or adjust the format based on a reader’s location.
  • Color theory. During the design phase, keep in mind that colors often have a strong significance that varies amongst culture. If you’re working with a brand that already has a set-in-stone color palette, this step will be a bit easier.

These are just some of the strategies that can help keep a global project on track; I'd love to hear strategies you've used! As with any project, planning and communication are key, and with a few additional considerations, you’ll be on your way to a smooth global site launch!

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