I recently read an article on the PMI website titled “Adjusting to Team Time Warps“. The article addresses the issue of how people view time differently when managing their projects. This would be a particularly interesting issue to look at during the planning portion of project management process, when analyzing and formulating strategies to reach a given objective. Understanding each individual’s perspective on time could help prevent future conflict. It may also help anticipate the different needs of each party involved in the project management process.
So how do people “see time”? We are able to see from a cultural prospective, how each culture interprets time differently. For example, Western Europeans are focused on the future, and believe the present is just a means of ensuring a good future. Americans are very focused on the present, seeking immediate gains or results. However, Southern Europe, Asia, and Africa focus on the past, and as a result, feel the future is uncertain. These different perspectives of time can be important to acknowledge when managing a global project. In order to ensure everyone is on the same page, the project manager may need to emphasize important time related goals or deadlines to certain people in a different way. It is also important to be cognizant and respectful of the way other cultures think and feel about time. Someone from Asia may not feel the same sense of urgency of finishing the project on time, as someone from America might
However, I believe this idea of having different perceptions of time can be applied to all projects, even if it doesn’t appear you are dealing with a variety of cultures. Someone with a present focus may be more likely to take actions leading to immediate gratification, versus making decisions toward the betterment of the long term project. A good project manager should be able to identify individuals with this mentality, and coach them toward the desired outcome. This may also help to alleviate any personality conflicts that might have occurred among the team, because of they are stuck in this “time warp”.
I currently work for an industrial supply chain. We have multiple departments who handle the same customer order on any given day. I see issues occurring in different departments as a result of conflicting perceptions of time. For example, the Returns department handles customer orders that were sent out with incorrect material or had quantity discrepancies. This department has a focus on the past. They believe we should be taking our time to ensure we are completing orders correctly, and packing the material in a way that is appealing to the customer and prevents damage to the material. Doing so would eliminate many of the problems they face on a day to day basis. This conflicts with the shipping department who have a future focus on time. Shipping believes in finishing orders and loading the trucks for delivery as fast as possible to ensure each customer gets their shipment on time. Both of these views conflict with the department in charge of picking the orders, because they are focused on getting the material off the shelves and into shipping. They are not concerned with the process before the material arrive on the shelf, or what happens after it has been picked. The order pickers have a present focus.
Has anyone ever been a part of a team where perceptions of time have impacted a project’s processes or outcomes? How did you deal with any problems that may have come up?