Let's Follow the Sun!

My Saturday this past weekend started at 3:45 am local time to do some cool Project Management for the day. I had to take over at 4:00 am from a fellow Project Manager that started our weekend’s work the day before. It would have been very hard for her to stay overnight, however it was more manageable since she was working from a time zone a couple of hours behind me. For the next 8 hours I was the main point of coordination between our customers, located in a time zone a few hours ahead of me, and our technical teams split in three different continents. After my shift, another fellow Project Manager would continue with our work and then I would came to work for another 4 hours and finish our agreed deliverable for the weekend, by the end of the day.

This model of work is called follow the sun and it is the de facto work model in any global corporation nowadays. Such a name reflects the fact that at any given time is daytime somewhere around the world. So if you have people from all over the world working together, you can take advantage of it by having someone making progress at all times; without the need to burn any team member. Even if you work in a medium or small business, you are very likely to come across this type of situation if your customer is a company of certain size, or is based in a different time zone. This involves a series of challenges that are not to be taken lightly. 

As I rest from the very demanding journey I had yesterday; I share here a few tips to help you meet that kind of challenge. 

Wait a second! – You may be thinking something like: ok, why should I care about joining such a thing that you call a model of work? Well there are different factors. First, if you work for a corporation or in an industry where you interact a lot with customers from around the world, this is the usual model. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not. If you really want to advance your career, you wont be able to avoid this kind of project forever. 

Then there is the nature of the project; there are cases like the project we are undertaking  now in which you deal with the information systems of big companies, systems that keep their operations running. There is no other time to work with them other than the weekend, following very specific protocols and executing to a very demanding and complex schedule. If we want to be successful in doing this kind of project, we need to align with its nature and inherent constraints.

Water in the Dessert – In this global setting you will work with lots of people doing several different things. Inside your company, with your customer and with the many third parties which are very likely to be involved. A fully developed and comprehensive contact list, including every team and every team member involved in the effort is like having water in the dessert. Without such a list the amount of time and energy that you will waste looking for the right folk that you require to perform a task is endless. 

Who is awake right now? – You must have some certainty about who is working or is ready to work at any given time. Given all the different time zones involved in a project you can’t take for granted that your colleague on the opposite corner of the world will be up and running at the very same time that you are. Plan ahead. If there are different shifts involved, you should require each team to confirm the team members that will be taking ownership of every shift. You should also get in touch beforehand with any colleagues from which you need participation, so they are aware and properly aligned when you require them to be. If you forgot about something, solved it inmediately.

Effective communication – You should manage communication effectively. Making sure that the message reached the other end, was understood as you intended to communicate it. More important you need to make sure that the message will trigger the pertinent action on time. Let's put it this way: sending an email or putting a request in a system has nothing to do with getting something done. An email sitting in an inbox, or a request aging in some system doesn’t do things. People do things. For the normal course of business you may have the luxury to wait some time to know if the email arrived or not, or to know if the request was attended or not. If time is constrained or if whatever you need to be done is important, at least use the chat. Ideally pickup the phone and talk to the person to make sure that both of you are on the same page. You need to use your judgment carefully to differentiate each situation. If you are not fully positive about something, communicate until you are positive. 

Emotional Intelligence – working long hours during the weekend, early in the morning or in the middle of the night is not something easy. No matter if you like to work hard or if you don’t need too much sleep. It is likely that you come into the need to wake someone up, or to call at a bad time, etc. Some people have flexible personalities and will be responsive to your requests; others are very structured and won’t react very positively to something like that. You need to have this reality present at all times and act with empathy in any interaction. 

Your work life balance – This kind on effort definitely has an impact in your work life balance, and in the life or your loved ones. Be mindful of their needs and align them with the efforts you are undertaking as part of the project. Remember that your team members and their the families will be also impacted. It is your responsibility to advocate in their favor in as much as possible. Plan ahead of time both your working time and your personal time. It is a very demanding pace that you will be required to accommodate, arrange with your employer and your management to get back some of the time you have invested. It would not be realistic to pretend to get back all of your time, but the goal is a healthy balance. Even if you don’t work in a global company, if you are involved in Project Management you will face this kind of situation at some point.

- Sergio Calvo

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