The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

Now Apply Five Whys to Global Project Management

My last blog talked about applying Five Whys to elements within project management and specifically to human and team dynamics. The more challenging aspect is in attempting to apply the Five Whys on global projects where activities are performed in multiple countries and the team is typically comprised of members from more than one country. Global projects are becoming ever more common and I would suspect we are all doing it to some degree right now.

We project managers need to possess a variety of skills and traits including, but not limited to, being culturally aware and sensitive, listening well and communicating effectively with other cultures. What does that really mean?

I have heard so many stories about how gestures, language and body posturing have all been misunderstood leading someone down a wrong path, to the wrong conclusion or worse an un-recoverable situation.  Even a well versed and culturally sensitive person can easily forget to step back and remember the cultural dynamics in the current situation.

I wish there was some special magic to this but what matters is constantly being aware of the environment and players, constantly applying your learnings and experiences.  There are good resources available to jump start you or help you understand your experiences, both in the present and from the past.  One really good book is “Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands by Morrison and Conaway”.  The more projects I manage globally the more I add notes and comments on the pages within my copy.

So back to Five Whys, how should Five Whys be applied to the people and team dynamics without the perceived attacking “why” because the why word can and often does cause people to go in to a defensive posture.  Here are my keys:

  • Know your audience personally and culturally
  • Be aware and listen carefully
  • Search for understanding before responding 

The final wisdom I can share because this has really worked for me recently. If you are building a global team or lucky enough to inherit a global project, find people you know from those cultures or regional areas and learn as much as you can from them before that first meeting or conversation.

Once you are globally and culturally aware and ready, tackling Five Whys at a later juncture will be more successful. Good Luck !

– Debra Hein


About the Author

Debbie Hein currently holds a position as a New Product Introduction Program Manager with Cisco Systems. Prior to Cisco, Debbie held various senior leadership roles at Extreme Networks in Engineering Program Management, Business Process Development, Document Control and various other functional groups. During her time with Extreme she led a Product Lifecycle Management and several other critical business process initiatives within the company. Additionally she has been involved with company-wide quote to cash business process, infrastructure and ERP migrations. She has also dabbled in Business Consulting providing services to several firms. Debbie began her career with National Semiconductor where she held postions as an ASIC designer, hardware designer, applications engineer, marketing engineering and project manager. During her tenure with National Semiconductor she was awarded thirteen patents, published many articles, and was a speaker at various symposiums and conferences. Debbie holds a B.S.E.E. degree from the University of Pacific and completed a M.S.E.E. with a concentration in networking and communications theory from Santa Clara University. She has completed training in TL9000, ISO9000/9001, DMAIC, PMI and Design For Manufacturability.
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