Project Managing across the globe

Project Manager Gemma Wood describes what it's like to manage a project for Mauritius Commercial Bank - a client based on the other side of the world!

Travelling to an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean for a project meeting, not quite just ‘another day at the office’…

Being a Project Manager and working in a fast paced environment like Equator means being flexible, motivated and a commitment to ensuring smooth project delivery for each and every client, even for those based 10,251km from my desk in Equator’s Glasgow office. I love my job and the fact that every day is different, I also love to travel (known around the office as the girl who is always on holiday) and having the chance to combine both is a dream come true. I am fortunate enough to be the project manager on the Mauritius Commercial Bank account, delivering projects remotely to our client on the island of Mauritius. Even more fortunate is the fact I had the opportunity to visit our client on the African Continent at the end of last year and pave the way for remote project delivery within Equator.

As soon as people hear Mauritius, white sandy beaches are the first thing to spring to mind. However, despite the exotic and glamorous location (with sunny weather that Glasgow can only dream of.), the Mauritius Commercial Bank is the oldest and largest banking institution of Mauritius, with an appetite for improving and future proofing its digital landscape and that is where Equator come in.

When I first heard my new client was based overseas, I was excited and slightly anxious at the same time… My colleagues, however, were envious of my opportunity to go on “holiday”. With the majority of my clients based in and around Glasgow I wasn’t sure how I would effectively manage project delivery and client collaboration being so many miles apart. How do we synchronise diaries with two different time zones? What are the cultural differences? Would there be language barriers? Despite any initial concerns I may have had, project management skills are the same regardless of what continent/time zone you are on, they key is communication and planning (and Skype.)

The first port of call was to establish a relationship with the client and understand its business needs and objectives. As with any other client, this would involve a project kick off and requirements gathering sessions, so why let a 14 hour plane journey get in the way? Having had a handful of phone calls with the client, occasionally proving tricky due to poor Skype connection and confusion over time zones, (is the UK 4 hours ahead or behind?.) it was time to go to Mauritius. The project team packed their bags and left rainy Glasgow armed with laptops, post-it notes and Mauritian rupees, ready for workshops and presentations to deliver to our Mauritian audience.

The team spent three days on site at one of the offices of the Mauritius Commercial Bank undertaking activities for different projects, each at various stages in the project lifecycle. We presented our findings on one particular project, giving us the chance to showcase our work for the first time and enabling us to engage with the client on the difference in the digital banking world within Mauritius compared to the UK. We covered everything from banking terminology to images and icons used across the website and internet banking, learning that the piggy bank icon for savings readily used back here in the UK, is not a recognised symbol within Mauritius. For another project in the early stages, we carried out an Equator style requirements gathering workshops with audience participation and activities to get to know the client and their business requirements, just as we would with any other client. While on site, we also had the opportunity to visit some of the MCB branches that are frequently visited and utilised by their customers, something that I believe to be happening less and less within the UK since everything is so readily available online. I know that going in branch is something I don’t do, however for customers in Mauritius it is the norm to visit the branch where they have access to lounges, help and advice and face to face engagement.

Unfortunately, the full project team that would be delivering the project(s) was not in attendance in Mauritius. However, I was confident I would be able to go back to Glasgow and brief in the team now that I had met the client and had a little more insight into the similarities and differences of banking in the UK and Mauritius, something that may have proven tricky if this initial visit hadn’t taken place. Due to our short time in the country, we didn’t get to visit any of the beaches we had heard so much about (not that any one believes me when I tell them this.) but we did manage to visit Port Louis and enjoy some traditional food before leaving for the airport (as well as sampling the local rum).

Having had a chance to meet with the client in Mauritius, I had a firm grasp of the project requirements, an understanding of client expectations and even a little knowledge of the cultural differences - including keeping track of the 15 public holidays that Mauritius celebrate to ensure project planning is as efficient as possible. Back in Glasgow, it was time to get the project underway and begin remote delivery. My first task was to get the internal project team on board, to deliver successfully I needed the support of my team. The internal project team worked together through the requirements, defining the solution and planning delivery ensuring we engaged the client at key milestones in the project for a collaborative approach. The internal project team joined calls and were included within communications with the client, an important part of the remote delivery as it gave the client confidence that although we were thousands of miles away and they couldn’t see day to day progress of projects, they could hear about it from the people actually working on it.

Being flexible, understanding client needs and having open communication, especially when it comes to any challenges that may arise, will ensure successful outputs and long distance project delivery is no different. When the internal project team begin their working day, the client is breaking for lunch and when we break for lunch, the client is headed home. We are able to be fairly flexible to accommodate the time zones and we always aim to deliver project plans, test links and feedback in the morning each day so that the client has something waiting in their inbox the following morning. With Skype, we can have regular communication, as well as sharing of screens to talk through designs and test links together, allowing for instant feedback that isn’t always possible with email.

As with any project, there are challenges and obstacles to overcome and in this case, the main challenge is the long distance relationship and that lack of face to face communication. However, the internal project team at Equator is a great example of how that challenge can be tackled and this is evident in the strong relationship we are building with the client and the output of work we are delivering, despite the oceans between us. While we do not let distance get in the way, I am sure I can vouch for all of the team when I say that should the opportunity arise to take a trip back out to visit the client, we wouldn’t say no.

By Gemma Wood, Project Manager.