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Note Taking – Your India Project Needs At Least 2 Court Reporters

by Brandi Moore on September 14, 2009

“And every time we met, they refused to take notes.  I would say ‘are you getting this’ and I would get these head bobs, that looked like a yes, and they would say yes….but 4 months later when the product arrived my suspicious were confirmed:  they did not understand.”

Met with a friend from graduate school this week to enjoy lunch and the conversation turned to his last company where he served as a product manager working closely with an India development team.  This project manager was wildly confused by his inability to get this remote team to write anything down.  After belaboring the requirements document in finite detail he would look around to see no pens, paper, or keyboards moving.  Only nodding agreements and saying yes repeatedly.

Yes it will get done.

Yes we understand.

Yes we will be implementing that feature.

Yes, Yes, YES.

How can my friend get to a real yes and avoid another product failure?  Notes!  Demand that notes are taken by the Indian team and TAKE YOUR OWN NOTES.  Implement protocol that notes are exchanged after each meet. Reconcile the notes from the opposite side with yours and create a finalized set of note.  Get the remote team to sign off on the new adjusted reality of the meeting.

Why is this so hard to implement?  Because we all are trained to “believe” that we have individual styles for communicating and remembering information.  This is part of our cultural identity, something that will be tripped over in a cross cultural situation.  Managing work across borders requires throwing some assumptions to the side.

You have similar experiences when you order at a restaurant, the waiter does not take down the order, and you wonder if your food is going to show up properly.  Our instinct is to trust the methods others put into place and believe they know how to succeed.  When we enter into this new mixed nation relationship we take these ideas into a room they do not belong in.

This is not to say that Indians don’t have the same number of talents that you hold in your pocket.  Rather, there is so much room for a communication failure in these situations that a formal method for communicating must be implemented.  It seems like a lot of extra work, but the payoff is large.

What I hear from people that implement this strategy is the cold realization of how many things the remote team missed. Western leaders realize that understandings are completely different on both sides of the ocean.  Of course, this lack of meeting of the minds would occur in any situation such as comparing notes in college.   The degree of variance is the problem.  When taking notes in class you may decide not to write something because its not “important” and you already know it.  You know the teacher and what they will ask on the test so you construct your methodology on this basis.  Unfortunately, this is not a luxury you can afford with a remote team who does not have these cultural contexts.  They don’t have the ability to decide on importance and you can’t rely on them deciphering your communications without verification.

Get it on paper.  Review it on paper.  Email it and get agreement. Your project will be better for it.

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