The State of IT Project Management in Singapore
Is a bit of a misleading title, however, it does allow me to lead into the subject quite nicely as I’m a Project Manager and I am currently based in Singapore. I have been in Singapore since 2006, and in Asia since the start of 1993. For a Brit (that’s short for “Englishman”) I’ve now spent more of my working life away from home than at home. As of this article, I’ve spent just over 20 years in the Far East. So what’s so worth talking about when it comes to IT Project Management?
Obviously the subject is a very close one to me, having been a professional PM for well over 25 years and in the IT industry for well over 30 years. In all the time I have been in Asia, delivering projects across many of the developed and developing countries in this part of the world, I have always learned new lessons on every project I’ve run or been part of. And that’s one of the least appreciated facts about being a project manager – there is no “off the shelf” solution that works for every project. Everyone is different and every challenge will bring new experience and new approaches and solutions.
It stands to reason then, that the more experience a project manager has, the more capable he is likely to be. Well that’s great in theory but does more or less hold true in practice as well, for many reasons. But back to Asia and being a PM here. So why is this different from working in England or Europe? In many respects it isn’t. You’ll find almost the same kinds and scale of projects everywhere in the world. The challenges around corporate cultures, communications, managing local vendors, managing local staff all vary just as much anywhere else, I’m sure. But Asia seems to bring some of its very own and unique challenges to the mix.
Firstly, and probably controversially, some cultures in Asia find planning ahead a very unnatural thing to do. As an example let me tell you about my wife and the challenges we’ve had over the years with her family. My wife is from the northern part of the Philippines, she is Ilocano, from a place called Maddela in the Cagayan Valley. You may recall a couple of years ago Maddela hit the international news when a Typhon tore through the place. Anyway, in that part of the world, for many years, electricity was not wide spread and very few people could afford to own, let alone run, a refrigerator. So the culture, as it is in so many other parts of the world, was to shop for fresh food every day. Buy what you need to eat because you can’t store it for tomorrow etc.
The challenges I faced when I first met my wife, was to get her out of the habit of shopping every day (for food) and into a weekly cycle. It took time but we got there. This is a very simple example showing how ones environment can influence the way we think and impact the way we work. Project management is all about planning ahead as well as many other things, and the management part of it is about managing people specifically, in order to get them to do what you need them to do to meet the plan. Again, how people interact and communicate varies so much from one country to the next and one culture to the next. It is a potential minefield.
In my years in Asia I have met all sorts of people on projects, including many westerners who had near nervous breakdowns because they just couldn’t work out how to manage local staff and vendors. In all those years I have been able to learn to work with most of the people on my projects and deliver a successful end result. Interestingly the biggest problems I have faced have been with western staff, for various reasons, and they have predominantly been the low points in my career.
So running projects in Asia has led me to some basic guidelines I try and follow whenever I start a new delivery. The rules are good foundation for any project and if you’ve done Prince 2 or PMP then you’ll be familiar with the reasoning behind them. However, you may not appreciate the significance of them quite as much as I do after 20 years of learning what works, why it works and where are the pitfalls (and I’ve fallen down more than my fair share of pitfalls here!)..
- Always detail the final deliverables of a project: this should be put together as though it were a check list you could get signed off at the end of the project, which you should use in your close out. The amount of detail will depend on the nature and complexity of the project so try and look at it through the eyes of your customer. Your controls will also largely depend on this list and the milestone timings against each deliverable too. I don’t care what people say, if you don’t know what you need to end up with how do you know where and what the risks to delivery will be and what constitutes a change in scope? And that’s stuff I’ve talked about in many other articles.
- Detail out the project organisation structure and roles and responsibilities very clearly and make sure everyone knows what is expected of them. So often tasks fall through the cracks because Joe though Chan was doing it. In project meetings always go over tasks and ownership multiple times and look for positive response from those who are doing the work. Anything less is an indication that a task won’t get done, or won’t meet the quality standards or timing.
- Get to know your vendors and especially the key vendors on your project. Any vendor that has staff on-site working for you will be your best set of ears and eyes on the ground. Your best way to manage risks day to day. If you have a good working relationship with them then they’ll be happy to look after you. If you screw with them the will screw you. This is one very common area where westerners fall flat when they come out to Asia. Don’t treat the staff on your project any less importantly than you would the client. Without them you’ll get left with a heap of poo to clear up.
So that’s brings me to the end of my first article on life as an IT Project Manager in Asia. I hope you enjoyed this small insight to my 20 or so years out here. If you have experiences, comments or just want to challenge my thoughts, then please do and if there’s value in what you send me I’ll include it in my next article.