Tim Reed shares hard-earned lessons for surviving the madness of global versus local needs.

Balancing global and local requirements is one of the toughest challenges I have faced when trying to drive a new digital capability that meets user expectations. It’s extremely difficult to do and can cause moments of pure panic. 

Almost everything we touch in IT has global implications and local reality. The challenges may be very obvious, like the reality that some portion of your infrastructure, network or software tools will not support the solution. For example, local data privacy requirements may require a distinct infrastructure. Or, the challenges could be very sneaky, found in today’s world of blockchain, Web 3.0, NFTs and differentiated by the demographic profiles of your targeted users. For example, your customers in Asia may require a completely different omni-channel experience than the customer in North America.  

I’ve come to accept that I will be overwhelmed and at times shocked by the volume of variations found at the local level that are in total conflict with a global objective. Here is what I have learned to: take a breath and stop for moment. There is a solution. I’ve been applying these four rules when I find myself wrestling with this type of situation, and they seem to be working pretty well (albeit not perfectly).

1. Listen to the customer.

I cannot stress this point enough: take the time to listen to what your customer is telling you. Listen to as many users as you can squeeze into a day, develop a target list of who you need to talk to and capture what they are saying. The ‘voice of the customer’ is one of the most powerful things we can do to make sure we deliver great capabilities and balance our investments.

2. Share the reality with users.

The voice of the customer will usually generate more regional requirements than you could’ve imagined, all needing to be addressed over and above your focus on a global solution. Be upfront with people and make it clear that that there is only so much money and resources available, but that the organization still needs a solution that can address the majority of requirements. Some key users will not be happy that the requirement they have highlighted to you may not be addressed, but stick to the end game. Drive towards consensus on completing a global set of capabilities and a logical view of what could be added over time to address local requirements.


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3. Stick to the core.

One of the key challenges with global implementations is in defining and sticking to the ‘core’ of capability. What are the basic and game changing capabilities you will be delivering to the global customer base? Make your explanation of these capabilities and their relevance rock solid and crystal clear. Consider what would happen if you did not allow any regional variation? How bad would it be? Is it possible that more than 80 percent of your users could live with a global solution? These are some of the questions we all should be asking and not hesitating to challenge our teams with.

4. Accept and manage the risks.

Everything we touch has some amount of risk and negative impact attached to it. The risk profile may be heightened due to a number of factors. The largest potential risks that should be addressed early in your planning include technical, legal, security, controls and human resources. For example, what would you do if your solution is reliant on key resources that decide to leave the organization as part of the ‘great resignation’?

Rather than ignoring these thorny questions and pushing off the discussion, my recommendation is to bring up these areas first. Don’t hesitate to call out each risk area, unpack it, and seek help from experts outside of your core team– you will need it. You won’t be able to solve or remove each risk immediately (or maybe ever…) but from my experience, there is value in identifying them early and making them a part of your discussions around global and local requirements.

There is no perfect strategy for balancing global and local requirements while working to deliver new digital capabilities. My experience has been that it is extremely hard, and at times, overwhelming. But by applying the steps above, I am confident you will find a way forward.

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