A few years ago, I had the pleasure of working with an international team on a major material handling project
in India. Being born and raised in Michigan, this project provided a great opportunity to expand my experience with international programs.
Our project involved a broad spectrum of specialists from around the world. We worked with major suppliers in Sweden, Germany, Belgium, the United States, and India as we designed and implemented the system.
During the design phase, we often held long-distance meetings with team members in Europe, India, and the U.S. Fortunately, the universal language of our various team members was English, which put our communications in a familiar territory!
With a 9-1/2 hour time difference from the eastern U.S. to India and a 6 hour time difference to Europe, scheduling meetings at optimal times was a never-ending challenge. Meetings held in the early morning in the U.S. were actually being held in the early evening in India.
Having worked through the numerous communication challenges discovered by our team, I created a few pointers to help you get off and running with your next international project.
1. Web Based Meetings...
A good portion of our up front work on the project was conducted via the Internet. For one-on-one meetings, we often used Skype for quick discussions. For meetings with multiple parties, we found that using a web meeting service proved to be extremely helpful. We were able to have numerous parties view the same layouts and design documents and join our conversations as we reviewed the various aspects of the project.
2. World Clock Meeting Planner -- A very Useful Tool...
Scheduling meetings with global team members presents unique challenges in finding mutually agreeable times to meet. When scheduling meetings, we found that using the web-based--World Clock Meeting Planner
--was very helpful. These types of websites allow you to enter the multiple locations around the globe and your local meeting time to get the meeting times for all locations in the local time zones! This is a very helpful tool when establishing times and dates for meetings.
When establishing meeting times for international projects, flexibility is the key. We often adjusted our work hours to better overlap with our client's work day, so that we had several hours of overlap with the project team in India.
3. Scheduling Meetings...
Now that you have a set time (in multiple time zones) for the meeting, it is time to send out the meeting notice.
In order to minimize confusion and possible meeting delays, we found that stating the meeting time BY TIMEZONE works very well to help all attendees know what time the meeting is scheduled.
When working with a tool such as Outlook, the program often converts times to the local time zone where the user resides. However, as mentioned, it is strongly recommended that you list the meeting times by time zone to assure yourself that your attendees are clear as to the meeting time.
After you have set the time on the invitation, be sure to include a link to your web meeting or mention that you will be using Skype. Also include the dial-in phone numbers by region, etc.
So that everyone is clear as to the purpose of the meeting, include a meeting agenda in your invitation. This helps alert other attendees as to the subjects that will be covered. If you can consistently use the same format for scheduling meetings, you have a better chance of minimizing delays and starting your meetings on time.
When dealing with emerging markets, patience is a major rule to live by. We need to understand that our country is very fortunate to have a fantastic infrastructure for our power, our phone systems, the Internet, and the many more "givens" that we enjoy daily. Unfortunately, this is not the case for many emerging countries, such as India.
While India's telephone service is marginal at best, we often found that meetings were delayed due to power outages and very often due to interruptions in our client's Internet service. Sadly, these almost daily interruptions of service are a common way of life in many emerging markets. Often times we would be in the middle of a meeting and the phone or Internet would drop out--sometimes for hours at a time. Again, patience is a major rule to live by.
5. General Work Hours and International Holidays...
When planning your project work, it is advisable to contact all major team members and create a master calendar of work hours and national holidays by country. Are the team members generally working a five day or a six day work week? When are their national holidays? Does their company have any plant shut downs that might impact your project ship schedules? You should find this information helpful as you plan out your project schedules and expected response times for critical communications, etc.
6. Metric vs. US Standard Design Standards...
As you set up your project, it is best to establish what the design standards will be for the system. If the end user is located in a country that uses the metric system, it is best to set up the design standards in metric. Some computer-aided design packages, such as AutoCAD, offer the ability to dimension in two different standards, such as imperial and metric standards. Using a dual-dimension plan may prove helpful for those assisting with the various aspects of the project.
7. Exchanging Project Files...
Our team set up an FTP site for the ease of exchanging drawings, documents, and photographs. The use of this site greatly reduced large project files being exchanged via email. This approach made the exchanging of files a very manageable task.
8. Passports and Visas...
Well the designs are complete and the equipment is heading to site. So now it's time to make sure your passport and your Visa are up to date. This process normally takes several weeks, so don't wait until the last minute.
In order to get a Visa, you might need to present letters of invitation from your U.S. employer, your overseas affiliate, and your end user customer. Based on your role within the project, you might also need to request a Work Visa. Be sure to check with the Embassy of your destination country to make sure you have provided all the documentation required for your Visa request.
Immunizations are often required for travel to other countries, so check with your travel advisor to determine if your final destination will require you to have immunizations prior to your trip.
9. Off to the Jobsite...
After you have received your Visa and set your travel plans, it's time to pack. We found that bringing an MP3 Player with noise-cancelling headphones helped time pass on the airplane. (It is a 14 hour flight from the U.S. to India.)
Make sure you bring along plenty of batteries, including an auxiliary battery for your laptop. (I wish I had brought one!) You will also want to get a power conversion adapter for your electrical devices. A few medical supplies, cold remedies, band aids, etc. are a good investment as well, and you really can't be sure if you will find many of the products we have available in the U.S.
Also on the list are a few snack foods, chewing gum, and a few candy bars. Individual servings of soup also came in handy at lunch time. One of my favorite snack foods was peanut butter. When you get back to your room in the evening, it is nice to occasionally have a little treat to remind you of home!
When you arrive at site, make sure you keep an open mind, and don't forget to take time to stop and enjoy your surroundings. Embrace your opportunity with open arms. There are many things to see and learn and new friends to be made. And don't forget your camera! Safe travels!
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