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When managing a project that involves participants across the globe, it is quite manageable for any two timezones to meet (someone will be at the end of their shift while someone is starting theirs), but add in a 3rd timezone, and someone is going to have an 11 PM call. Are there any practices you have found to work well? The solutions I have seen so far are:

  • Having the project manager take the hit and schedule meetings that work for the time zones of the project participants. The project manager is then a zombie during their shift.
  • Schedule a recurring early-morning meeting (to meet with, say, the European particpants, and a recurring late afternoon meeting (to meet with folks in Asia). Twice the meetings!
  • Have one meeting, but rotate the time so that every 3rd meeting, folks in a given region have the meeting way past bedtime.
  • Make the region with the fewest participants take the hit

What has worked well for you?

15

In my experience, the best solution is to share the load. No matter what, someone will be inconvenienced. Thus, if you rotate the meeting times so that everyone experiences the pain periodically, it will help the team as a whole value the time their distant coworkers spend in the meetings.

If your team spends an early morning meeting with you, you'll appreciate their time more when you have to give up your sleep to meet with them late at night.

Also, consider that your meetings are already remote and will involve some form of meeting technology or video conference software. You could give the non-business hours participants the option to meet from the comfort of their own home, assuming they have the technology. This will eliminate any need to commute to the office for just a short meeting.

  • Definitely what I would recommend. It's also worth considering, particularly for relatively-short-duration projects, that your teams might be willing to work as though they're in a different timezone. Some of my team are currently working (in London) on a project being managed from and designed in Sydney; we're considering asking the team members if they want to shift their working hours for the duration of the project. (Obviously this is not something that could be made mandatory ;o) – Owen Blacker Feb 8 '12 at 21:57
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I am currently involved in a similar scenario managing a global project that requires alignment with our colleagues in Asia, Europe and North America.

We still have calls at 6.00am GMT and other late calls to discuss open issues with the teams in the States, specially when located in the Western coast. However, we ensure that only required teams attend and support these calls from home by using the VPN and another conference facilities.

Unfortunately, we can't avoid having these conference calls at least once a month which are very supportive to avoid any miscommunication via email but we use these calls to set up the next steps and allocate the workload and, eventually, discuss any open item that we haven't been able to resolve the previous weeks.

Once we have agreed the next steps we set up a working folder in our SharePoint for each region which will be open to all Team Leaders and the Programme Manager to track any progress.

By using tools like SharePoint, EDMS, or corporate wikis as a mechanism to communicate workload, issues and stats, we have managed to reduce the need for weekly calls involving all regions.

Another alternative could be the establishing of a controller role or central administration team located in Europe to collect and manage input from the other two regions; e.g. early morning reviews with Asia and late reviews with America. Nevertheless, I have found this role quite tricky since it manages information earlier than other members of the teams and can create certain conflicts.

Summing up, the key factors are determining the most relevant meetings that require live interface and establishing a robust mechanism to communicate effectively and track working progress (Google Docs, SharePoint, and so on...)

3

Avoid meetings. There are plenty of tools that work much better than plain old phone conversations. Such tools include: wiki pages, issue tracking software, document sharing, code review systems, version control.

  • I am all for avoiding meetings (and my projects are not development related, so I'll skip over the code review, version control, etc). I have not ever had luck getting folks to use wiki pages or discussion boards... I love the concept but have never been able to get participation. Maybe I'll put up a separate question about alternate communication methods other than meetings (or e-mail) – Sean Earp Mar 11 '11 at 6:50
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    There is no replacement for a face to face meeting. I'm sitting here spending an hour and a half making video documentation and detailed emails for something that could be explained in about 10 minutes face to face :( Wikis and discussion boards are good tools, but real innovation and brainstorming must happen in real time. – jmort253 Mar 11 '11 at 6:59
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    I agree with jmort. Futhermore, without some form of physical connect, you miss out on body language or voice intonation. You have no way to know if everybody has understood your message. Even telephone or video conference adds to the complexity of picking up these small hints. Face to face still rocks. – Stephan Mar 11 '11 at 11:56
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    I'm with jmort on this one. Yes avoid useless meetings, but if you don't every talk to your team voice to voice, you'll lose the human touch needed to lead people. – Perry Wilson Mar 12 '11 at 0:24
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Start from the need of the meeting and Its agenda: 1. Is it a reporting meeting? 2. A clarification meeting? 3. A meeting for the sake of the meeting (seen a lot of those) 4. A brain storm meeting

Based on this you can see who the attendees should be, maybe not all of the team members are needed but just the Team leaders.

But using shared Documents through Google docs or the better new Google Cloud Connect proved to be a wonder getting the team synched on what should be worked on today - this helped us remove the project daily calls and leave just 1 Scrum of Scrums per week. (Just the Team Leads share the burden of the call) The teams (3 different time zones: -6 +2 and +9) keep doing their local meeting when it suites them.

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Share the load. But don't forget you really have three different teams. There will be no end of differences between the teams. Some items will be difficult to resolve over the distance. Do anything you can to improve communications.

Even with teams from two different sites a couple of hours apart, I found there were communications difficulties across the distance. I didn't have video conferencing available so communications were limited to email and phone calls. Over a period of two weeks I would end up with 10 to 12 sticking points with various groups in the other team. In the course of a few hours during my bi-weekly trip they were all wrapped up in face to face meetings.

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