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Managing Project Schedule in Multi-Geography Projects
By Suyash Apte
During the Y2K problem fixing days, the Indian IT industry started working with international customers. That was our first time experience of working across the globe. Post Y2K days, the outsourcing era began, which continued the work across geographies, but most of these projects involved teams working at two locations. These outsourced projects were typically about application maintenance and support (i.e. enhancements and bug-fixing), and operations or production support.

In this article, we will be mainly talking about software development projects executed from multiple geographical locations. For such green field projects, managing schedules becomes critical. This is not only because slippage has a major impact on direct cost but it also involves opportunity cost due to time-to-market implications.

Managing the project schedule is an ongoing activity to make sure that the project meets deadlines and provides deliverables on time. The project schedule is used to monitor progress and keep the project on track. When significant variances occur, the schedule is updated and appropriate actions are taken.

Various activities that the project manager needs to do to manage the project schedule are as follows -

There can be many reasons for executing a project across locations. But irrespective of the reasons, such teams face common challenges related to project complexity, team engagement, culture, and time-zone differences.

These challenges lead to poor communication between different project roles like developers, business analysts, testers, and project managers. Communication problems, in turn, mean that the project manager does not receive required inputs about the current status, which makes it difficult to monitor, track, and revise the schedule. It results in lack of project visibility among team members. Teams tend to work in siloes, which may be the reason for project breakdown and failure.

To overcome these problems, the project manager needs to apply innovative techniques, especially the use of modern technologies like instant messaging, enterprise social networking, video calls/conferencing, and Internet meetings. These can replace, and not necessarily just add to, traditional communication mechanisms like documents, email, and phone calls. Modern web-based project management tools and application lifecycle management tools further improve communication. These tools are centrally located and can be accessed by anyone to view as well as update information about their tasks, efforts spent, status, remaining work, and related tasks and artefacts for the common understanding of project schedule and status.

However, these tools and technology platforms produce the desired results only if they are put to use in context of the right process framework. In other words, practices and protocols followed while using these tools are equally important. For example, agile project management practices such as daily stand-up, continuous integration that is focused on real-time communication, and quick feedback are useful in a multiple location setup. Agile project management methodologies are useful to manage communication challenges.

Managing the project schedule across geographies involves significant effort. Apart from project management techniques to handle complexity, the project manager needs to focus on people management to ensure that communication takes place at all times. The team, in addition to the core technical skills, also needs to be technologically aware and must use it to its advantage.

(Mr. Suyash Apte is technical architect at Mastek Ltd. He has 16 years of IT experience in developing and delivering solutions across geographical locations. This article is an abstract of his paper that won a special award from PMI India in April 2012, for best technical paper during PM Month at Mastek.)
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