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Diversity in the Workplace (Practical Project Management Series)

Diversity in the workplace is a fact, and successful Project Managers need to develop the skills for getting the most of everyone.  So, this time the subject is ‘human resource management’ in case the project team is composed of people from different countries and cultures.

Especially large companies make use of outsourcing which transfers activities other countries with low salaries. This might seem an inexpensive solution but this is not true in all cases.

In the text below I would like to list a number of topics in this framework.

1. These foreign centers (‘global delivery centers’ abbreviated GDC) are ‘cost centers’. This implies that all costs will be charged to the organisation which is outsourcing the activities. Some examples:

  • All facilities (housing, computers, software licenses, telephone costs, etc.).
  • Education costs.
  • Travel and living expenses.
  • Tax egalisation costs.
  • Managing people remotely individually is not the best way. This means that you need a local (Project) Manager who acts like a single point of contact. These costs will be charged as well.

2. The attrition rate in eg. India is rather high (approx. 10%). The consequence might be that people are changing jobs quickly resulting in leaving your project. You just trained them and now you can start again with training of the next person (on your expenses of course).

3. An option is to transfer staff from a GDC to your location. However, the travel and living costs will be yours (and quite often a ‘per diem’ too). It is also common that these people are traveling home frequently or the whole family is joining them. These expenses will be yours.

Apart from this you need to arrange the proper visa to allow them to work at your location. This is crucial in order to prevent huge legal issues! Arranging a visa is not done within a couple of days so you need to start well in advance.

Beware: when people are coming over they need guidance as well!

4. Collaboration with people from other countries and with different languages requires for instance mutual understanding and respect and adjustments on both sides. Both organisations need to prepare themselves.

An example. You decide for teambuilding purposes to have meal together in a restaurant. People who are veganists don not appreciate a dinner in a steakhouse.

Realise that in a number of cultures people don’t say ‘no’ explicitly. This can cause big problems in case you as Project Manager want to know what the status is of their activities.

5. Securing knowledge and experience is hard in these environments due to the attrition rate of staff. Transferring staff every time for knowledge transfer is expensive.

6. Meeting frequently is needed and my experience is that this is arranged by means of teleconferencing (sound only). When more than one person is involved in such a meeting telephone equipment with a loudpseaker can be used. However, this turns out in practice not always to be a good solution. An alternative is using Skype but this facility is not always allowed in companies due to eg. networkload.

7. Check how many hours a normal working week is. In India for instance this is 44 hours. This has impact on your planning and costs.

8. Make explicit agreements regarding working times where you have to take the time difference into account. Which organisation is adapting? Usually the staff in the GDC work according to the timezone of the requesting organisation.

9. A complex topic, both technically as well as legally, is access to systems of the requesting organisation (and esp. when an external client is involved). As soon as these systems contain sensitive personal information the you have a challenge. This challenge is even bigger when access has to be arranged for staff outside the European Union.

Involve the right technical and legal specialists before any decision is made to get staff involved outside the country of the requesting organisation or client.

10. According to me very seldom it is made explicitly visible how much time (so money as well) is needed from the requesting organisation to manage the GDC staff. Throwing the work over the fence is not working.

The next time I’ll describe ‘project planning’.


This is a ‘blog’ article by Lex van der Heijden regarding practical Project Management. For questions/remarks I’m available via [email protected] or via LinkedIn (