Now this is the right way to do it – webinar times in a big world

Kudos to ProjectTimes.

The Internet is a global thing. This means that anything that you publish on it could be read by pretty much anyone in the world. As a result, it is incredibly valuable to offer times, dates, et cetera, in a way that can be easily “localised’.

Project Times promoted a webinar, and were good enough, with the time, to add the offset to GMT. This meant that I could easily calculate what that time was in my time zone. (Rather than having to try and google a translation.)

webinar instructions

My only grumble with this, is that UTC should be used rather than GMT.
However they are both aligned so it’s not that bad.

BA Practices in a Virtual World

Virtual Working This is the another post in my “Today I read …” series where I aim to summarise. or recapitulate, excellent, and educational, articles that I have read
Previous: As a BA, be aware of your motives

Today I read the transcript, and viewed the slide deck, from one of the IIBA Spotlight Series: BA Practices in a Virtual World (from May 2013). I was particularly interested in this,as I am a strong believer that projects can be completed by groups, and individuals, that are located in geographical disparate locations. The webinar was presented by Larry Simon of the Inflection Group.

(Note – this webinar is archived on the IIBA site, but is only available to IIBA members.)

The webinar, promised that I would learn the following:

  • How Facilitation has Changed
  • Building Rapport Virtually
  • Managing Participation
  • Tools for Virtual Teams
  • Demo: Powernoodle for Virtual Facilitation

This was promising.

I read through the slides and then went through the webinar transcript… After the usual introductions, etc, Larry pointed out, through the use of an example (he use to lead a facilitated centre, or an accelerated solutions environment) that the standard practice was to get everyone in the same room, and to hash things out, with copious use of whiteboards, and “group sessions”.
This would continue until a solution had been reached, or an agreement on what the problem was, what the requirements are, etc. There was an expectation that the classic Form/Storm/Norm/Perform would take place.
He then goes on to highlight the fact that, often, getting everyone in the same room, is not possible. This may be because of different geographical locations, or the fact that people work from home, or for any other myriad of reasons. (“Your office is where you are.”)

The presenter describes several handy techniques, and tools that can be used when holding a “virtual workshop”. Handy things that we should all write on a piece of paper and keep in our pocket for reference. Things such as being considerate when talking, building rapport by disclosing something about ourselves that the other person didn’t know, or mirroring others (without mocking).  Finding out as much as you can about the other attendees is also a good tip (but the presenter warns that there is a fine line between being interested in a person, and stalking them.)

Taking notes during the session is also a recommended practice. Recording the sessions is also a “really good suggestion”. I won’t describe the other incredibly useful gems that get mentioned.

Then Larry describes several tools that can be used for virtual meetings. There are tools that allow for the sharing of screens,or for sharing files, and documents (anyone everheard of Google Docs?). This culminates in a demo of Powernoodle, an online collaboration tool which, actually,offers some great functionality.

There are quite a few good questions asked my the attendees of the webinar, but these were not answered in a satisfactory way (I felt).

Expecting More

All in all, I was expecting much more from this webinar. I have seen large enterprise projects work where the stakeholders and the implementation team, were all spread across multiple cities, countries,and continents, where English was not everyone’s native language.

I felt the advice, and information, that the presenter gave was a bit thin. It did not have a lot of depth. Having said that, I understand that the field of working with disparate teams is something that cannot be given justice in an hour-long webinar.

In fact, this topic is something that I have been,and will continue to, delve into more deeply (including Agile and remote teams). I’ll keep you updated.

The webinar can be viewed on the IIBA site (members only).

A PDF of the slide deck is available on the IIBA site here, and the transcript can be downloaded here. (Again – members only)

If you like this post, feel free to share. If you have comments that you’d like to make, please go ahead and use the comment box below. Cheers  

Working Across Time Zones

WashULaw

Chelsea Wilson, the Community Relations Manager from Washington University School of Law (@WashULaw), contacted me recently about a new resource that they had created: the “Working Across Time Zones” infographic. She asked me whether I was interested in sharing this on my blog.

Having worked for teams that are spread across multiple time zones (and having lived in multiple different countries), I know the importance of “awareness” when it comes to communicating with others. (Refer my earlier posts.)

@WashULaw also gave some excellent tips when working across time zones. I’ve repeated these below, and added my own comments.

  1. Stick to one reference point. When discussing a time for a conference call, use a single reference time zone – generally yours or your counterpart’s. This can cut down on the possibility for confusion quite a bit.
    Agree totally. There’s nothing worse than trying to work out whether that’s 3pm your time, or 3pm my time.
  2. Always specify a time zone. Don’t forget to mention a time zone when discussing times. It’s a good habit to be in even if you aren’t making international calls. With today’s interconnected world, you never know where a person might be located when you correspond with them for the first time.
    I would go one further. As well as the time zone, I suggest adding the offset from GMT (or UTC, if you prefer). Just having the time zone of the organiser can be confusing. Not everyone knows what the acronyms mean. But most people know what their own time is in relation to GMT/UTC. And by adding the GMT/UTC offset when discussing times, it makes it easier to work out the time difference. For example 11am NZDT (-13GMT) helps someone in another time zone work out what 11pm NZDT would be in wherever they were.
  3. Use a modern calendar app. Google Calendar, for example, will allow you to create events and email invitations that automatically adjust for each invitee’s time zone. All you have to do is set a meeting time in your own time zone — no calculations are necessary.
    Having the app adjust the time certainly is handy.
  4. Check the time before making a suggestion. Again, Google is your friend. If you search for, “Time in _________” and insert the name of the city you want to know about, Google will tell you the current time in that city. This can be very helpful when calculating the distance between your time zone and your counterpart’s. Once you have an idea of the gap, you can figure out which times are optimal for each of you, and you can start off the conversation by suggesting a time that might work right off the bat.
    The WorldTimeBuddy is a good way of seeing the times of different locations at a glance.
  5. Don’t forget about daylight savings. Some parts of the world observe daylight savings while others do not. On top of that, even if both parties observe this practice, the date when the clocks change might be different. @WashULaw’s  graphic indicates if the cities listed observe daylight savings time but don’t forget to check the specifics prior to scheduling meetings around that time of year.

…and two more that I would add are:

6. 24hour format. The concept of am/pm is not used everywhere. Many countries use the 24hour format for their time. (Even 12am/12pm can be confusing for people who do use am/pm). Best to include the time in both 12hr, and 24hr, format to avoid confusion. E.g. 11pm/23:00.

7. Be specific. Avoid saying something like “half ten”. In some parts of the world “half ten” is a quick way of saying “half past ten (or 10:30). In other parts of the world “half ten” means 09:30)”. This can occur when people from different countries are discussing times. Best to be aware of the confusion that it might cause, and state a specific time.

Here’s the graphic from @WashULaw

Working Across Time Zones

Working Across Time Zones provided by @WashULaw, an online LL.M Degree program from Washington University School of Law

Revisiting Hofstede’s five cultural differences

Instead of the convergence phenomena we expected with information technologies availability (the “global village culture”), cultural differences are still significant today and diversity tends to increase. So, in order to be able to have cross-cultural relations, we have to be aware of these cultural differences.

In an earlier post, I talk about Geert Hofstede, a Dutchman, who came up with a way to understand different cultures.

As I mentioned in that earlier post, Hofstede’s model helped me to get my head around what the small things were they was making the culture I was (then) in, different from my own.

Recently I came across a course (“An introduction to business cultures“) that the Open University runs. The very first part of the course discusses Hofstede’s five cultural differences. Because the material is available under the Creative Commons ‘Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike’, and because it’s still really relevant I have reproduced the text from part 1.1 of the above-mentioned course.

Hofstede’s five Cultural Dimensions

A series of perspectives that we might use to achieve a different insight into business was introduced by Morgan (1986) in his book entitled Images of an Organization. One of these was the business as a culture, a type of micro-society where people work and ‘live’ together on a daily basis, with certain rules and understandings about what is acceptable and what is not. The idea of a business having a culture was developed from the work of Hofstede on national cultures (1980). His research focused on ways of measuring national culture and how these ‘measures’ might work differently in different contexts. The cultural values that are important in a national culture, he suggested, could be reflected in the way businesses within that country are operated and organised.

Hofstede’s five dimensions (he developed four in 1980, then added a fifth in 1991) were:

Power distance This concerns the extent to which less powerful members of organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally. National cultures that demonstrated what Hofstede called a ‘low power distance’ are ones in which there is a concern to minimise inequalities. Hofstede included Sweden and New Zealand as examples of this. In general, Hofstede found that Latin American and Latin European (France and Spain) countries had higher power distance scores. The less powerful in these societies tend to look to those with power to make decisions, and inequalities within society are more acceptable. This is represented by a tendency for the centralisation of power and the subordination of those with less power within businesses.

Individualism/collectivism In an individualistic society, people are expected to look after themselves and their families. In the case of business this is reflected in, for example, employment contracts based on hiring and firing. Two examples of countries with high scores on this dimension were Australia and Canada. In more collective societies, people are more concerned for others and the culture is based around more cohesive groups, such as the family, which offer protection in exchange for loyalty. This tendency is reflected in businesses as well as elsewhere in society. Hofstede cited Ecuador and Indonesia as examples of more collective societies.

Masculinity/femininity This refers to the degree to which gender roles are distinct and adhered to within a society. In high femininity societies, social gender roles overlap, with both men and women valuing ‘feminine’ qualities such as modesty, intuition and quality of life above the more traditionally ‘masculine’ qualities of aggression and competition. Hofstede’s research suggested that Denmark and the Netherlands were more feminine cultures, while many other Western countries exhibited more masculine values. The USA was ranked fifteenth out of 53 nations on this masculinity score. Japan, the UK and West Germany also scored highly on masculine values.

Uncertainty avoidance This concerns the extent to which the members of a society feel threatened by uncertain and unknown situations. Hofstede suggested that Jamaica and Singapore were relatively low uncertainty avoidance cultures, where precision and punctuality are less important, innovation is encouraged and people are motivated by being esteemed by, or belonging to, others above other things. High uncertainty avoidance scores mean that there is a fear of ambiguous situations, a preference for being busy and being precise and punctual. Relatively high scores on this dimension were found for Latin American and Latin European countries, Japan and South Korea.

Confucian/dynamism This refers to the extent to which long-termism or short-termism appears to be the dominant approach. Long-termism stresses perseverance and being sparing with resources. Short-termism, in Hofstede’s analysis, involves a greater emphasis on quick results. Hofstede found that the USA tended towards short-termism, while the Netherlands was the most long-termist European nation, ranked tenth out of 23 countries surveyed.

These differences between national cultures are based in deep-rooted values and so are largely implicit rather than openly acknowledged. They create all sorts of problems for employees in multinational companies who go to work abroad, or for representatives doing business with suppliers or customers in other countries. We can use the simple activity below to explore some of these differences.

Activity 1

0 hours 10 minutes

Purpose: to consider business practices in different cultural contexts.

Task: consider each item in the following list. In your country’s culture, is this behaviour considered to be acceptable or not?

  • Paying an agent for an introduction to a business opportunity.

  • Paying a government agent for bureaucratic procedures to be bypassed or speeded up.

  • Making a copy of a product that you have seen at an international trade fair.

  • Paying people to find loopholes in tax laws.

  • Giving gifts to the purchasing manager in a large business organisation.

  • Charging high interest rates for unsecured loans to individuals.

Discussion
If you and I came from different cultures, we would give different answers here. You might think some of these behaviours were inappropriate or unethical, but I might think you were wrong. In either of our countries, these business behaviours could be against the law, but, as a visitor, we might not know that, nor realise that we were offending the people with whom we were attempting to do business.

Note – Hofstede also went on to add a sixth dimension “indulgence” at a later stage.

Working with Global Teams: Not all in the same room

This is part of the Working with Global Teams series

Previous Post: Working with Global Teams: Pesky Time Zones Revisited

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A friend of mine,Shoaib Ahmed, has an excellent blog on Agile, and Project Management. 

He’s based in New Zealand, and as New Zealand is literally so far away from “the rest of the world” (said with a cheeky wink), he has a pretty good idea of some of the challenges that are met when working in a globally dispersed group.

Shoaib’s latest post goes into this in more detail. He mentions things such as time difference, culture, and reporting lines. Click here to read what he says.

Related posts:

 

Working with Global Teams: Pesky Time Zones – Revisited

World_Time_Zones_Map
This is part of the Working with Global Teams series

Previous Post: Pesky Time Zones

In my “Pesky Time Zones” post I discussed different time zones. Namely, how even adding the abbreviation for the time zone that you are in can be meaninglessfor the recipient.

Especially if they are not familiar with anything but the abbreviation for the time zone that they are in.

While trying to find out what 11pm EST is in the country I live in, I came across an excellent site:

http://wwp.greenwichmeantime.com/info/timezone.htm

 

 

This site lists all the different time zones with the offset from GMT.

Now – this is what is handy for me. If I know the offset of a specific timezone, then I can easily calculate the difference between that timezone and the time zone where I am living.

 

I recommend  bookmarking that site and having it close at hand.

 

Cultural Dimensions – How people from different countries and cultures are…different

This is part of my “Working with Global Teams” series.

cultural differences

I’ve been reading Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers“. In part of it, he delves into a study that a dutchman had done into different cultures.

I found this fascinating and looked into it further. The dutchman was Geert Hofstede and he had built a model that described different cultures using six different dimensions.

Now – ever since moving to a foreign country, and then starting work for an international company, I have been trying to find a way that would help me understand, and to describe, the differences in the cultures of the people I live with, and work with.

And, it seems that Hofstede’s model certainly helped with that.

The six dimensions are:

  • Power distance index (PDI): This dimension refers to how people perceive those with power. For example – is the head of the country honoured and revered, or seen as “no different than us”.
  • Individualism (IDV) vs. collectivism: – “The degree to which individuals are integrated into groups”.
  • Uncertainty avoidance index (UAI):  – Best summed up as “how many rules and regulations are in place to ensure that things happen as they should.”
  • Masculinity (MAS), vs. femininity: Is there a big difference between what are perceived as the “male” role, and the “female” role.
  • Long term orientation (LTO), vs. short term orientation: – This dimension measures how much importance a culture puts on “the future”, as opposed to how important they hold onto traditions, and the past.
  • Indulgence, vs. restraint: Hedonistic behaviour, or not.

This made it so clear for me – looking at the different cultures I have lived in, as well as the different cultures I have worked with, I was able to finally get some clarity on how the cultures differed. To be able to categorize behaviours I had seen.

Hofstede’s work is still widely use, and very relevant. In fact, here is a quote from wikipedia:

Why is it important to be aware of cultural differences?

“Culture is more often a source of conflict than of synergy. Cultural differences are a nuisance at best and often a disaster.”

Despite the evidence that groups are different from each other, we tend to believe that deep inside all people are the same. In fact, as we are generally not aware of other countries’ cultures, we tend to minimize cultural differences. This leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations between people from different countries.

Instead of the convergence phenomena we expected with information technologies availability (the “global village culture”), cultural differences are still significant today and diversity tends to increase. So, in order to be able to have cross-cultural relations, we have to be aware of these cultural differences.

With his five (the Indulgence dimension was added recently) dimensions model, Geert Hofstede has lighted on these differences. Therefore, it is a great tool to use in order to have a general overview and an approximate understanding of other cultures and, to know how to behave towards individuals from other countries. Because, we still need to cooperate with members of other cultures, and maybe more than ever with the new problems which have arisen for several decades like environmental issues. Therefore cross-cultural understanding is indispensable.

Geert Hofstede has a site where you can compare two cultures against each other, as well as learn more. Go and see how much difference there is between the cultures. (http://www.geert-hofstede.com/hofstede_dimensions.php?culture1=&culture2=7#compare)

Other great references:

Working with Global Teams: Date Formats

Timezones

Image via Wikipedia

This is part of the Working with Global Teams series

 

Previous Post: Working with Global Teams: Pesky Time Zones


OK, I’m going to give you a date, and I want you, without thinking about it, to tell me when it is.

11/7/7

Did you choose the 7th day of the 11th month of 2007? Or did you choose the 11th day of the 7th month of 2007? Or even the 7th day of June 2011?

All three are valid.

I’m sure whatever you choose was based on what is normal where you live. And that’s great when communicating with other people within that area (city, county, country).

But when you working beyond the extend of that area, as part of a global group for example, then you need to be aware of the date formats.

For example, if someone in Japan was asked to do something by 11/10/12, then they would aim at the 12th day of October 2011. While someone in North America would know that, obviously, the date is November 10, 2012.

Real life example – my car was broken into when I was in the United States. The police officer who arrived, asked me for my date of birth. I told him 17-11-73 (17th day of November 1973 – and not my real date of birth). You’d think that, obviously, there is no 17th month, that he would be able to work out what I meant. However, he was so used to MM-DD-YYY that he had to stop and think about it.

While it’s easy to rant and rave about how stupid this is, the fact is that different date formats are one of the things that comes with working with a global team.

ISO 8601 suggests using YYYY-MM-DD (similar to what our Japanese friend in the example would use). I think that this is a brilliant idea, and gives a clear standard. Also it allows a list of dates (in a spreadsheet or similar) to be easily put in order.)

However, I know that unless you were used to it, even this would cause frustration, and possible errors (until it became second nature).

When communicating with people in other parts of the world, using e-mail, fax, or carrier pigeon, I recommend using a  long date form. Something like “10 January 2013”, or “January 10, 2012”. Sure – even there, there are differences in the way that it is written, but at least you know what the month is, you can see what the year is, and (hopefully) you can work out that the rest is the day.

This would certainly prevent issues and miscommunication regarding dates.

For some interesting reading on this subject , check out the following:

The Use of Collaborative Software in Virtual Teams

I was delighted to discover a whitepaper by Eike Grotheer’s on “The Use of Collaborative Software in Virtual Teams”.

I’m interested in how “virtual teams” operate and work together, and so started reading his work. Then I realised that I had actually been part of his research. To gather data for his thesis, Eike had sent out  requests to participate in a survey in May 2010. (Google still has a cached copy of the survey). In November 2010, he sent out the results of his research. And I never looked at it!  (Kicking myself now, though!)

As I read Eike’s work I got even more excited – his research not only involved communication in virtual teams, he had used TAM (Technology Acceptance Model) to determine the effectiveness of the software.

(If you are not familiar with TAM (Technology Acceptance Model please check out my earlier posts: Predicting User Acceptance; and Applying (loosely) the Technology Adoption Model to a Real-Life situation)

Eike had used some pretty advanced statistical techniques to analyze his findings (Spearman’s rank correlation coefficient; Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance), and I won’t go into those in detail.

Survey Results Summarized
  • 265 people responded to the survey,
  • There was also a very large variety of tools in use (Microsoft Outlook, SharePoint, Microsoft Project Server, Lotus Notes, Lotus Sametime, Lotus Quickr, and Google Apps were all listed, along with other collaborative applications).
  • Most of the features that are frequently used can be split into two categories:
      • Tools for sharing and managing information (e.g.  document, content and knowledge management)
      • Tools for direct communication between team members

User Satisfaction and the Use of Collaborative Software in Virtual Teams

OK – this is where it started getting interesting. Eike rightly states that

the use of information systems can only provide a benefit to an organization if users first of all have interest in using them and then actually make use of them.

To try and explain this the Technology Acceptance Model was devised (refer earlier mentioned posts for more detail). It states that the a user’s intention to use a system is influenced by the perceived usefulness and  the perceived ease-of-use.

Eike analyzed these two determinants (perceived usefulness and perceived ease-of-use) to determine their impact on the use of collaborative software. (He points out that, as everyone who responded to the survey is already using collaborative software, the intention is already known, and that the use is measured.) 

Again, I won’t go into too much detail. In the survey there were 4 statements that were related to the perceived usefulness, and 4 statements that were related to perceived ease-of-use.

Performing a bivariate correlation analysis on the data from the survey, Eike was able to show that there was a positive correlation between the perceived usefulness and the actual use. This effectively proves (statistically) that the more users perceive collaborative software to be useful within a virtual team, the more they will use it. (Sounds logical, but then this fact means that the TAM can be verified).

Tackling the other determinant of the TAM, Eike did a bivariate correlation analysis between each perceived ease of use item, and the extent of use of collaborative software.

There was no significant correlation which meant that the ease of use of collaborative software  has only a minor effect on the usage behaviour. However, it wasn’t actually possible to draw a conclusion as the survey participants were all experienced IT users, and the difficulty of the software may not have prevented it being used.

Going further, Eike investigated the impact of TAM factors on project success. Again using statistics he was able to show that there was a positive correlation between perceived usefulness and project success, and between perceived ease-of-use and project success. This confirmed that a relationship between the use of collaborative software and project success does exist.

In other words, the more useful the participants perceived the collaboration software that was used in the virtual team to be, as well as how easy they thought it was to use, had a positive impact on the success of the project in all aspects.

Summing it up

Sometimes it is easy to think “well, that’s already obvious”, but I always find it valuable to be able to scientifically prove (in one way or another) what everyone assumes.

And that is why I found Eike’s research exciting. From a handful of well thought-out survey questions, he was able to scientifically prove that

if software is considered useful by its users, it enables them to become effective and productive in their work, and if it is easy to use, it enables them to make use of it straight away, and leads quickly to desired results. 

Other useful links:

 

 

Working with Global Teams: Pesky Time Zones

World_Time_Zones_Map
This is part of the Working with Global Teams series

Previous Post: Working with Global Teams: e-mail confirmation

This post touches again on different time zones.

Often, especially when members of the team are in different countries, it is easy to “forget” what the local time is of the other team members.

Added to that, unless you have a good understanding of the geographical location of a particular place, the Time Zone Abbreviation may not mean a thing. For example…knowing that Kuressaar is in Estonia is one thing. However, knowing that the time zone abbreviation for Estonia is EET  is another. Unless you happen to live in Eastern Europe, you might have to keep work out what EET actually means.

Even once you have worked out that EET is Eastern Europe Time, you then have to work out what that actually means to you. And have they started their summer time/daylight saving yet? It can all get very confusing, and leads to meetings being scheduled at times that are either late in the evening, or very, very early in the morning.

What is handy is to have something that is “in your face” that shows the current time of that other location. You can have clocks on the wall, but if these are analogue, then there is still the question – “is it morning, or evening there?” A better idea is having digital clocks that use the 24 hour style for reporting time (this is used a lot in Europe – 06:00 is different from 18:00). But then, if you aren’t used to the 24hr style, even that can be confusing.

There are a number of other ways that this can be done. The main point is:  Have something that is visible at a glance. Something that constantly reminds of the difference in the times of you and the other people in your global team. So you don’t even have to stop and think….”now what time was it there?”

If you have any suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below.

Working with Global Teams: e-mail confirmation

land_of_confusion_2-wallpaper-960x600
This is part of the Working with Global Teams series

A global team, by its very definition, is made of of people in different geographical locations and often different time zones.

In these situations, it is a good idea, if you receive an e-mail from one of the other team members, some sort of sign, or acknowledgement that you have read the e-mail. Sure, you can set up email to notify the sender when the recipient has opened the email, but nothing is as good as clicking on Reply, and typing a quick e-mail to say “Hey – just looking into“, or “Got your e-mail. Just need to talk to Fred & Tish about it“.

When people are not able to stroll into the other person’s office, or peer over their cubicle divider, this small “communication” just let’s those people involved know what is going on.

Even then – it doesn’t have to be a reply by e-mail. Could be an IM, or even (gasp) a phone call. The benefit of an e-mail response includes:

  • Usually the reply will include the original e-mail. You get conversation chain.
  • If the person you sent the email to is not in a different time zone, it doesn’t matter if the person isn’t online at the time.

This way the sender at least knows whether that something is happening. This leads to a better “team”.

email communication responding polite global

Following Post: Pesky Time Zones