Engineering in a global environment
The Great Recession changed the landscape of the construction industry forever. The economic collapse shut down construction like we had never seen before. We all scrambled to find that next project. The work was out there, but many of us had to look around the globe to find it.
During the scramble to find new work, many companies looked to global economies. What that created was a world of global delivery. Yet many of us did not have experience in delivering in a global environment.
There are a number of crucial differences that must be taken into account if you want to deliver globally. There are at least four key areas you will need to address to be successful in delivering expertise globally.
1. Learn the local codes and standards for construction documents
Understanding regional differences is important to deliver a product that is understood in the market and that can be built. Don’t assume that how you deliver in your backyard is how you can deliver around the world. Instead you need to do your homework and get a clear understanding of what the local market needs, how they build, and how they approve before you start. What codes apply? Who will ultimately approve the design? What are the common practices for construction in the project’s location? This seems simple but is often overlooked early on in the project.
2. Understand how to set up the project team
How will you deliver your product across the globe? Who will work on the project, and how will they prepare and deliver the documents needed?
A good understanding of how to set up the project team is necessary to develop the process for delivery. You need to be able to deliver the expertise needed to perform the work, but it may not be located where the project is. Do you relocate that expertise or do you rely on local personnel who understand the market and culture? It may be preferable to apply senior level expertise at the early stages of the project, where resources can be distributed, than use local personnel with expertise who understand the market and culture to deliver the project.
Think carefully about how you will set up your project team. If multiple offices around the world are working on the same project, you need to avoid loss of work due to files being overwritten. You need to develop a process to allow multiple people to collaborate on the same document. This may require a combination of work flow processes and technology.
3. Understand the technology available to the project team
It is important to realize that the technology infrastructure is not the same worldwide. You need to determine what technology is available in the local market where the project is being delivered, as well as the offices that make up the project team. How will you communicate between offices? Is video conferencing available between all offices and will it work with the connection speeds? What Internet speed is available in your offices? Very often something this simple can slow down project delivery, so the better you grasp technology, the better your chance for success.
4. Pay attention to cultural differences
Whatever the differences in local markets and technology, your success comes down to your people–your most important assets. Your staff is who delivers the product, understands the regional differences, and takes care of the client. Get this right and you are well along the way to success.
Having people of multiple cultures working on the same projects adds layers of complexity. What’s okay to say or do in one culture may offend someone from another culture. Sometimes something as simple as saying, “Yes, I’ll take care of that,” can mean very different things, depending on how it’s expressed.
I strongly suggest that you invest in some cultural training for your team members. Cultural pitfalls must be avoided. Teamwork is key to any successful project and communication is the key to great teams. Getting everybody up to speed on cultural differences, how to communicate, and how to function as a team is critical for success in global delivery.
John Rice, vice chairman of General Electric, says that the companies that figure out how to marry the global resources with local delivery, and get the mix right, are the companies that will sustain and thrive as we move into the future.
Allyn J. Vaughn is CTO/president at jba consulting engineers. He has been in Las Vegas for more than 15 years providing fire protection system design and code consulting services, including design and commissioning of smoke control systems. He recently spent several weeks working on projects in Asia.