Working World-Class: Four Ways Project Management Makes Global Clients Happy

By: Kerri Simmons

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Despite the long flight times, international travel can be pretty enjoyable. Flight attendants seem more prepared to cater to your needs — a pillow for your back, a nice blanket, maybe even a nightcap. While it may be business-as-usual for these professionals, they understand that everything goes smoother when your needs are anticipated and you can relax in a calm environment. They’ve got it under control.

As learning professionals, we take virtual international flights with our global clients and partners: projects that can be as short as a few months, or ongoing relationships that continue year after year. We’ve found a few things that make the difference between smooth sailing and a turbulent ride.

1. We are now arriving at your destination, where the local time is…

Let’s start with the most obvious: time. Navigating time zones and working hours is one of the first considerations to work through. Some global professionals may be used to working with U.S. partners, and they adjust their work schedules accordingly. In all cases, determine a meeting time (or range of time) and day that’s reasonable for all parties. By establishing this parameter up-front, team members can plan ahead and be available for critical check-in points.

How do you determine what that time might be? This is where technology can step in to lend a hand. In the World Clock Meeting Planner, you can enter several different time zones and line up times in each location. Gmail’s Calendar includes a feature to see one other time zone in your main calendar view, lined up with your time zone.

2. Bonjour, Mesdames et Messieurs. Welcome aboard…

Language differences can make communication among team members challenging, and create the potential for project delays and rework if a miscommunication occurs. If English is not the first language for your team members, notice their proficiency in speaking and writing early in the project. Ask them (and if possible, people they’ve worked with) how you can help make things easier for them; for example, speak slowly and clearly and allow time for reflection and questions. If possible, partner them up with another speaker of their language so they can collaborate. Perhaps most importantly, always document decisions and action items in writing, which will give them time to review and even translate the next steps, if needed.

3. Excuse me, sir, but “thumbs up” is an insult here in Brazil…

Creating a strong project team is all about building trust and — despite everyone’s best intentions — cultural differences can compromise that effort. Conduct some research up front to understand the country or region’s important business etiquette. ASTD offers a good list of resources, such as Executive Planet, in their article “Global Business Etiquette,” which includes information and books for your reference. Be sensitive and also direct: Ask your team members if there are ways of working they prefer.

4. We do hope you enjoyed your flight…

The desire to produce a successful project knows no boundaries or time zones. How to measure success, however, will be specific to the project and to the client. Identify the factors critical for success at the start; they may be similar to domestic clients’: on-time and on-budget completion, meeting system requirements, deliverable quality, performance improvement, and satisfaction with the process. Global clients may have specific assessment or tracking needs that differ from domestic clients. With a firm grasp of these needs, you’ll be better equipped to deliver on — and exceed — expectations.


We all experience a little bump or two on every flight, but with a solid foundation of partnership and trust, these can be weathered and can even make the team a stronger unit. By following these approaches from our experience, your clients will be able to sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride.

Photo Credit: MsBlueSky via Compfight cc

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