Project Management in Asia
Asian Implementation Considerations
Monday 28 November 2011
- Commonalities can be hard to find.
There are no real commonalities in local GAAP principles in Asia. China, Japan and Malaysia are good examples of countries that treat taxation, asset management and cash management in completely different ways. IFRS, SOX and USGAAP are global ideals however there is much work to be done to ensure local requirements are met before subscribing to these standards if we are to avoid falling foul of local regulators.
The commonalities that you see in the US and Europe do not exist in Asia and the penalties for accounting mistakes can be high. Listen and learn, forcing what you know can be detrimental.
- Language and Culture differences lead to misunderstandings.
Languages and Culture differences are possibly the number one cause of project failure in Asia. Many companies ship US consultants to Asia that have been very effective in their US operations only to see their projects fail. Everyone is very polite, but no one can understand why the project failed. Local language skills on the project team is a must. Only through local languages can the team overcome personal and corporate hurdles. You can push the local staff to do what you want in English, but you can persuade them to help you in their local language.
- Management Support and Styles.
Management styles are completely different in Asia and to engage with the local staff and further more, to motivate and involve them in the process takes experience. Demonstration of experience with issues that concern local management garners trust and support. Alignment of C-Level executives strategies and vision for the projects/programs is critical to success.
- Experience with relevant issues.
Most accounting and business process issues can be overcome, however, only through experience can an implementation team know which issues are real and which issues are not. Often a local office believes that something is an issue because it has “always been an issue”. Experience can guide the project team over issues and point the team in the right direction before issues are escalated. Most times we are implementing packaged software and there are limitations. Expectation management with the local office through information sharing bridges these gaps.
- Regulatory Approval and Head Office Communication.
Team experience includes detailed issues such as Japanese fixed asset tax filing reports like Koteishisanshikokusho and extends to data management and regulatory approval procedures in local languages but it is also imperative that the implementation team is able to drive the corporate model and communicate effectively with the head office. It is tempting always to listen and respond to the person standing next to you however you need an experienced team that is able to communicate on a native level with head office and continue to drive the corporate vision without completely accepting every request from the local office.
- Cost management and choosing the right external partners.
One of the primary reasons that international projects fail to meet their budgetary limits is due to the large expenditure budget. Large numbers of consultants flying in from overseas and flying out regularly adds an inordinate amount of money to the project budget. Sometimes in the region of $10k per month per person. In asia this is not necessary or needed and team members typically stay on-site for longer periods making for a more cost effective project. The typical MO for corporations that have no experience in implementing in Asia is to engage the “Big 4” as their implementation partner. In Asia, the “Big 4” has no readily available experience in large ERP, Shared Service Operations, Business Process and Multi-lingual Project Management and therefore typically outsource to contractors this work. They do not interview properly and therefore the client is charged a lot of money for lower quality resources or resources that the client would have found on their own. The best approach is to find resources based on experience and reputation, not on corporate safety, after all project success is the objective.
- Spend a lot of time face-to-face.
Remote project management is a strategy that fails 9 times out of 10. A project manager must be present, capable, experienced, motivated, respected and supported by Head Office and also the local team. You need a management team that is prepared to commit to the project and be present and accountable. You need to have faith in your team to carry out the implementation remotely without you managing the detail remotely.
- Us and Them – Not on my team.
Consulting staff, local and US team members assigned to the project need to support each other for the project to be successful. The consulting staff have the systems, local accounting and business practice knowledge, the US team understands corporate accounting and policy and the local team members understand filing requirements and local accounting needs. No one group can do everything, a cohesive, engaged, communicative team is mandatory for success. Off-Site system and process demonstration sessions, team building and other cohesion activities are a must in diverse teams.
- Difference in work practices and approaches.
Project plans done in isolation without understanding local business practices often fail. Local customs, local practices often influence the length of a plan, the resources required and the time taken to execute those tasks can influence the project more than executive commitment.
- Communication is King, Coordination is Ace.
Reporting and Communication is more important on projects in multiple time zones than normal. Coordination of resources and activities takes another higher level of planning than may be usual. (see attachment)
- A good CV is less important than a positive attitude.
Complexity management. Running multiple projects in one country only increases the volume of issues to be dealt with. In Asia you have completely different issue sets, skill sets and requirements. You need consultants, project managers and team members that are flexible and have experience.
- Methodology is critical
In instances where culture, language and approach are very different, spend more time than usual on planning, communicating and methodology. This serves as the backbone and can be used as a guide to conflict resolution. Add in benchmarking from industry and independent audit to ensure that you are on track and compliant with industry standards.
The Program Office
To setup a structure to handle these complexities, the following areas are defined by the Program Manager and instituted into each project team as they are formed and disbanded in a delivery flow;
Governance: Defining roles and responsibilities, creating and enabling the long term strategic planning organization, creating and maintaining the long term delivery organization, creating and maintaining the long term support organization, providing oversight, engaging audit and implementing organizational controls and metrics.
Management: Planning and administering both projects and the overall program. Forming delivery organizations as needed in order to meet the delivery of specific strategies inline with the overall vision that has been decided by the client executive.
Financial management: Implementation of specific fiscal practices and controls, reporting on progress and validating the initial “Cost of Vision”.
Infrastructure: The program office, technology infrastructure, and other facilities related activities.
Planning: Activities that take place at multiple levels, with different goals. The program plan is not a traditional plan and multiple initiatives must work together and not be in conflict.
Thank you to Michael F. Hanford, Chief Methodologist, SUMMIT Ascendant Methodologies for excellent insight.