Tips for successful international projects

Gaining a basic knowledge about a country's culture, language, and working with the on-site team are several ways to make an international project a success for everyone involved.

By Dave Cortivo, Maverick Technologies May 10, 2016

As the world grows smaller and smaller there will be more and more international projects. Following some basic tips and best practices can help make the project a success the first time.

Prepare your team in advance. There is a lot of extra preparation to be done to make sure your team is ‘International Ready’.

  • Travel visas – Getting a visa for a foreign country can be a huge challenge, especially for the first time. These can take a long time to get approved and awarded. It can take several weeks, depending on the country. There are companies that can help with this process. The companies can provide translated documentation and help with application submittal. These companies do this on a regular basis and are familiar with the ins and outs.
  • Education – If there are individuals on the team that have never traveled afar, fear and speculation can set in if they are left to their own means. Get in front of this and provide cultural training by someone who actually lives there or has traveled there within your company. Not everyone likes change and executing a project in a different culture makes a huge difference. What may be acceptable behavior in one’s native country can get someone thrown in jail if they do not understand the government’s laws and customs. Instruct the team to sign up for travel alerts with the US passport and international services. This will let the U.S. government know where everyone is located and can help with finding the local consulates. Discuss medical care with them before the trip and provide support contact information should they need additional assistance in country.
  • Language – English is a second language in most parts of the world. Having a teammate that can speak the local language will help. Language barriers can cause big problems onsite. Not everyone on the team will need to be multilingual but when dealing with vendors that do not speak English, having a translator for them will be invaluable.
  • Vaccinations – Depending on the location, additional vaccinations may be needed. Lost time due to illness will hurt the team’s productivity. Additionally, make sure to time the vaccinations correctly. Not all are immediately effective. Plan accordingly.

Start the dialogue early with the on-site team. Pay attention to time zones to setup times that work for everyone. Time zone differences reduce the amount of overlapping working hours. However, it can also be an advantage if planned properly. Waiting on information can lead to delays of a day or more. Also, the work week is not the same everywhere in the world. To better align teams, shifting work hours or days to overlap can be a benefit. Building as much of a communication bridge as possible will also help the new travelers to feel comfortable in a foreign place. Get the teams past the language barriers by making them talk to each other often. Talking with site personnel early will get the team in sync so what is thought to be understood or needed truly is not lost in translation.

Prepare for delays. Getting physical equipment to the site can be challenging and take time. This can be as short as a couple of weeks or it could take months. Plan accordingly. Make sure everything needed is on site. Shipping items correctly will also be critical. You are not going to want to have equipment stuck in customs. Make sure you plan for spare parts and identify local suppliers in advance. Not everywhere in the world has a Grainger where you can just pick up the phone and get what you need. Know the area’s local suppliers so that you can get what you need quickly.

Respect the culture and enjoy the challenge. International work can be quite a rewarding experience. Knowing about what to expect will keep the schedule real and the project on track. Putting in the work up front for the team will make them more open-minded about what to expect. 

This post was written by Dave Cortivo. Dave is a senior engineer at Maverick Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. Maverick delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.

Maverick Technologies is a CSIA member as of 5/10/2016