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India Project Management: Cross Cultural Skills

by Brandi Moore on September 14, 2009

Cross cultural clockMost India based projects need a bit more care and feeding than a US based project requires.  IndiaThink calls this India Specific Project Planning.  One of the aspects of ISPP is Schedule Awareness.  Schedule Awareness should be one of the biggest priorities of any international program/project manager.

I spoke to a VP of Products from a large software company last week and she talked about how her team was using Schedule Awareness. Each week 2 project managers and 1 program manager (one of the project managers is in India, the other one is in the US) have a conference call.

The goal of the meeting is to review the project schedule.  This goal repeats each week allowing the team to be constantly preparing and planning for it.

The meeting walks through each project milestone at length instead of  “is it done” inviting a conversation that collects details.

Cross-cultural tip: Indians are uncomfortable with confrontations and tend to prefer the answer “yes” rather than offending the person in authority who has put forth the question.  WHY? Indians work in a high power distance environment. This process avoids the common communication break-down, a common cross cultural communication mistake, of assuming a “yes its done” means the milestone is completed.  The data collected is used by the project managers to develop an opinion on the status of milestones.

As each step in the project is discussed, the program manager adjusts the schedule in real time based on the new data, demonstrating that “it will be completed on time” is not reality if milestone 17 is not completed by next week Tuesday.  The Indian team sees the clear picture during the discussion based on the facts being presented.

This is a great methodology.  It manages a lot of cross-cultural challenges that present in an India/US relationship.  Language barriers are avoided with the use of video and conference call tools.  Indians write their responses when they do not want to speak out of turn.  The Indian “Yes” is not an issue because there is a factual discussion around the impact of the date slip in relation to the desired completion date. Tactile pieces leave little room to avoid questioning the overall objective of on-time completion.  It’s hard to say “it will get done” with a complex schedule in plain sight that states otherwise.

My suggestion for improving this process from a cross-cultural management perspective is to avoid group discussion around where the project is against the timeline with the whole group. A meeting with the project managers and the business owner on the India side after the fact offers a more comfortable environment for the India side because it reduces the need for Indians to save face. It also offers the India manager, who is interested in being a leader in front of her team, a different venue to acknowledging the problems that are plainly in front of her.

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