International Project Management – Grab Your Stein and all will be Fine!

Revellers salute with beer after the opening of the 179th Oktoberfest in Munich

I’ll always remember my first trip to my company’s site in Ludwigshafen, Germany.  The circumstances of my involvement were that I was a local expert in the use of the data collection software application used in our facility.  The same software was being implemented at the German site so that our two laboratory facilities would share a database and thus harmonize business practices.  Prior to my departure, I was warned of the gruffness of our German colleagues, whom we had inherited through acquisition of their company.  The Germans were criticized for passive-aggressively clinging on to their old ways, ostensibly because they feared their site would be divested anyway, and they’d all lose their jobs.  It was in this environment that I needed to form some bonds with my German counterparts to help ensure the successful adoption of the new software.

Even though I had traveled throughout Europe several times after college, I was excited to return and experience a foreign culture again.  I didn’t mind that Ludwigshafen was a mostly industrial city, rebuilt after extensive World War II bombing, that didn’t have much to offer in terms of green space or other urban beauty.  I enjoyed just being there, noticing the subtle differences in architecture, automobiles, public transportation, and how people behaved when walking around.  I brought this enthusiasm to the meetings with our German colleagues.  Although they were somewhat cold and reserved during the initial meetings, things really loosened up after we were able to interact socially.  The Germans were quite eager to show us points of interest in the surrounding area.  We toured castles, churches, breweries, vineyards, and museums, and our hosts were very proud to demonstrate their knowledge of these sites.  Beer was consumed on many a late evening.  I was truly appreciative of their hospitality, and our meetings became more open, honest, and productive because of the fun we were able to share.  Elimination of these barriers helped put the software in place, which is still used by our company.

My bond with our German colleagues remains today, more than nine years after that initial trip.  Trust naturally developed also because they were never laid off as they feared.  I have been able to return the favor of hospitality whenever they visit our site.  Besides our conference calls and WebEx meetings, which are important for our continued collaboration, I find myself frequently calling my German counterpart just as I would do to speak with an American colleague.  We’re able to joke about topics like the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament (the USA women beat Germany in 2015).  Furthermore, I sense something is missing when I don’t check in with my German colleagues often enough.  From these experiences, I learned the importance of building and maintaining relationships with remote colleagues, to ensure success in business.

A recent blog post from the Project Management Institute (PMI) describes the challenges and successes of project managers who traveled to and lived in places far more exotic than Germany.  What experiences have you had in your career with ex-US colleagues, and what tips can you provide for improving collaboration with them?

Use the Heart to Keep the Buzz Going

On a bright September afternoon, six strangers glanced about the classroom, made eye contact with five proximal classmates, and serendipitously assembled into a high functioning team.  IMG_1412

All members were engaged and participated in all of our planned meetings.  Our brainstorming sessions were fun and productive, yielding a series of ideas that we prioritized unselfishly and weaved into a plan.  We selected and vetted a reputable charity with a just and noble cause.  Through the creativity of our team, we soon had a logo exempt from DePaul brand restrictions, an attractive T-shirt design, a cleverly assembled cookie mix for sale, and a series of fun events that were sure to attract many participants and donors.  We were excited by our progress – there was no way we could fail in our mission.  We launched our team Facebook page and Making Strides ACS team site, sent out an appeal through email and waited for our buzz to go viral….

Family, work, and school responsibilities have placed me into an extended social media coma.  I’ve rarely checked my Facebook profile, and almost never posted anything for the past four years.  Now, due to this class assignment and our social media communication strategy, I began obsessively checking my site for updates and applying as many “likes” to our posts as possible to promote them to my network.  Did anyone out there in Facebook land “like” my posts or the ones on my team site?  Was our message getting through?  Should we consider paying money for Facebook to “boost” our post?  Do we need to invest more money in advertising to raise more money?

Perhaps it’s not the quantity of communications, but rather their quality that matters most.  A recent blog post from the site npEngage compiled some good, if not obvious, tips that will likely seem familiar to many readers.  Periodically updating team members and our social network about our progress towards our financial goals, describing how funding enables the programs of the American Cancer Society, and personally thanking our individual donors are critical communications that we can’t forget to send out.  Are there any communications that your group has sent out that have been particularly effective in generating responses to your campaign?

During our team’s October 4, 2015 yoga event, I found the instructor’s connection of our project to the yoga session moving.  Mariel Victoria introduced the class to a difficult (for me) pose, “the wheel,” that was selected in the spirit of opening the heart to charity and kindness.  After 75 minutes of physically demanding yoga, Mariel encouraged the class to bring forward any other projects or concerns to share with the group.  Prior to the start of the session, I was prepared to speak to the class with enthusiasm about our events and items for sale.  Afterwards, I knew that my delivery would not have been nearly as effective as Mariel’s for that audience.  Many of the attendees stopped by our area and took information, bought cookie mix, or just donated.  For me, this reemphasized the importance of quality in the communication, and I intend to up my game for the remainder of the “Blue Demons for a Cure” campaign.  How will you adjust your message to optimize your project’s appeal?