How to successfully manage a global project across different countries

Todd Gagne

Ex - SVP of Global Products at Concur



My company, Concur, had been awarded a project by the Canadian government. This was our first experience of working with the public sector, and we were trying to figure out if this was something we wanted to focus on in the future. I was in charge of the development efforts for this project, and we decided to do the project using an offshore-onshore model, despite this being the first time we had ever done anything offshore.

"We had many large functional gaps to fill in the product and a tight timeline to do it."

Actions taken

The project took 18 months, and we went from a team of three or four people to a team of about 120 people in total, with the team in India growing to around 100 people. This was the first time I had gone from managing small teams to managing more than a hundred, and to make it even more challenging, they were based in multiple locations.

"Our senior developers were based in Seattle, and we built offshore teams around the globe, including in Canada and in India. We had to work out how to build milestones and how to develop an iterative model, where we could ship versions of the product to the Canadian government, and where we could work with our partners at Accenture to get the product deployed."

"Much of the design work was done in Seattle, and we ended up hiring a number of senior leads and architects in India. We would bring them over to Seattle for four to six weeks, so they could sit with the teams and get to know the company's culture and the product. I would visit India four times a year, and some other staff from Seattle would visit during the year, so there was someone from Seattle visiting India every other month. Having this connection with people in India and the United States was critical to the success of the project."

"In the United States, we think that everyone in a team should have a voice, and so you want everyone to express their opinions. In India, we found that this wasn't the culture. Many times the most senior guy in the room would respond, whether or not he knew what he was talking about. Because of this, we had to learn how to engage a larger audience in a culture which values a strict hierarchy. Similarly, I had to learn how to manage conflicts. In America, team members are very direct and will voice their concerns. In India, this was not the case. we had to learn to deal with this, as we were building a product with ambiguity and question marks, and I did this by recognizing that success is dependent on the people you have in your team."

Lessons learned

"When we deployed the product, the client was happy and it was successful from a financial perspective as well. A lot of the lessons I learned were focussed on how to be a better manager. By working across time zones, I was able to learn how to understand cultural differences, how to setup remote management, accountability, and how to hire remotely."

"The project was definitely not easy, but I learned a lot about people, communication, expectation setting and dealing with teams across time zones. When people feel safe, when there's trust, and when you have a common goal, you can overcome many of obstacles through good communication."

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Todd Gagne

Ex - SVP of Global Products at Concur

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyTeam & Project ManagementDiversity & Inclusion

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