629: Project Management Strategies for Global Success | Yasmina Khelifi

Podcast Cover Image: Project Management Strategies for Global Success Featuring Yasmina Khelifi
Podcast Cover Image: Project Management Strategies for Global Success Featuring Yasmina Khelifi

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In our latest podcast episode, we feature Yasmina Khelifi, a seasoned French telecom engineer and project manager with over 20 years of experience in international projects. Collaborating with major handset manufacturers, Yasmina facilitated successful mobile device launches in the Middle East and Africa. Holding three Project Management certifications from the Project Management Institute, she emphasizes the importance of cross-border collaboration alongside technical expertise for project success.

Yasmina’s commitment extends to volunteering with the Project Management Institute, while her writing contributions appear in the Harvard Business Review Ascend and PMWorld Journal. As the podcast “Global Leaders Talk with Yasmina Khelifi” host and founder, she interviews project management experts. Proficient in six languages and holding a Master’s Degree in Mobile Telecommunications, Yasmina’s diverse skills enrich her connections in the international project management sphere.

Conquer Local is presented by Vendasta. We have proudly served 5.5+ million local businesses through 60,000+ channel partners. Learn more about Vendasta and we can help your organization or learn more about Vendasta’s Affiliate Program and how our listeners (like yourself) are making up to $10,000 off referrals.

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Project Management Strategies for Global Success


Jeff Tomlin: Welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast! Our show features successful sales leaders, marketers, thought leaders and entrepreneurs who will inspire you with their success stories. Each episode is packed with practical strategies, as our guests share their secrets to achieving their dreams. Listen in to learn the highlights of their remarkable accomplishments and get tips to revamp, rework, and reimagine your business. Whether you’re a small business owner, marketer, or aspiring entrepreneur, the Conquer Local Podcast is your ultimate guide to dominating your local market. Tune in now to take your business to the next level! 

I’m Jeff Tomlin and on this episode, we’re pleased to welcome Yasmina Khelifi. Yasmina is a French telecom engineer and project manager with more than 20 years of experience in international projects. She has worked with the main handset manufacturers to launch mobile devices mainly in the Middle East and Africa. She has three project Management certifications from the Project Management Institute. And over her career, she has learned that technical knowledge is not enough to deliver a project – you have to learn to collaborate with people across borders. She is also a passionate volunteer at PMI – Project Management Institute. She writes for Harvard Business Review Ascend and in PMWorld Journal.  For PMWorld Journal, she also interviews practitioners and experts in project management. She is the host and founder of the podcast “Global Leaders Talk with Yasmina Khelifi.” And Yasmina is multilingual fluent in 6 languages and has a Master’s Degree in Mobile Telecommunications. 

Get ready Conquerors for Yasmina Khelifi coming up next on this week’s episode of the Conquer Local Podcast.

Yasmina Khelifi: Multilingual, Diverse Languages and Locations, and an Impressive Journey

Jeff Tomlin: Yasmina Khelifi, welcome to the Conquer Local Podcast. It is a pleasure to have you here this week.

Yasmina Khelifi: Thank you, Jeff, to your team and your listeners, happy to be there.

Jeff Tomlin: And you’re coming to us all the way from France, is that right?

Yasmina Khelifi: Correct. I live near Paris, and it’s a pleasure to travel to Canada today.

Jeff Tomlin: And I have in my notes here, you speak six different languages, my goodness. But you speak six languages. So what languages are we speaking here?

Yasmina Khelifi: Okay. So you want to know everything then, Jeff? So my mother tongue is French, you know it by the accent. I have learned German, and English at school, and after Japanese in college. And when I began to work, Spanish because it’s a very well-spoken language and after Italian for pleasure. And at the moment, I have been learning Arabic for three years.

3 Project Management Pillars: Language, Skills, and Sharing Knowledge

Jeff Tomlin: Thanks for making me feel very unaccomplished. I am jealous, I’ve got a little bit of French I can get away with, and I’m slowly forgetting my Pig Latin, which is not useful for anything over here. So on this episode of the Conquer Local Podcast, we are talking to Yasmina who is a pro of all things project management. And by the way, I’m going to give a little bit of background about our experience with project management. So before we started Vendasta we were working for a company called Point2 Technologies, which built real estate software and initially heavy equipment software. And one of the things that we did, is we built, maintained and supported Caterpillar’s used global trading system throughout the world. And now this was at the beginning of the two thousands, and some of the issues that they had in building such a massive international trading system online was internationalization. And the organization itself was a massive organization that we had to work with. And when we started Vendasta, we began building our products and decided to sell through channel partners, our initial channel partners were very large organizations, like massive media companies and large pure-play digital internet companies, like the Web.coms. And one of the things that really helped us was our grasp of project management, and being able to navigate some of the challenges of really big organizations and managing projects with them. So I just give that background and say, I have a deep appreciation for the value of project management skills because it helped us position ourselves as a great partner for really large organizations. Now Yasmina, you have sort of three pillars that you talk about, they’re sort of core to your project management approach. Maybe you could speak about those a little bit.

Yasmina Khelifi: Yes, with pleasure. And by the way, Jeff, project management skills, as you said, it is for everyone. And I noticed in all that time you have project management skills when I interacted with Suliman and you to prepare this interview for this episode.

Jeff Tomlin: He’s a pro.

Yasmina Khelifi: So in fact I deliver projects in international environments. It’s telecom projects, in terms of projects. And yes, I have three pillars. One is languages and intercultural knowledge, which is quite important as you said in globalization of the world, and of the product in fact. So that’s one part. And talking also different languages help me to understand new ways of thinking and of behaving. And this is very important when you work with different customers to try to adapt and to understand what they want to have from you, even if they do not tell you directly. So that’s one pillar. The second one, as you said, is project management skills and certifications. And I have to make a confession, I am an accidental project manager because, at the beginning of my career, a manager came to see me and said… Let’s call him Brian, “Is going to leave his position, and I think you would be a good fit as a project manager.” And I did not know what to say. It happens a lot in your career, in life, you have to make a big decision. And then I ask different people. And when you ask different people you can have opposite feedback. So, fortunately, I talked to one friend, and he advised me well, and I accepted, I never regretted it. And after I learned on the job, in the field, by observing and by talking with people. And in 2013 it was a turning point when I passed project management certification because it was a way to be part of a big family, of a big community. And community is very important to learn, as you know in Vendasta because you have also a big community with the listeners and all the professional sales and marketing experts you have. And the third one is also my passion for sharing knowledge. What does it mean? It means lessons learned, and experiences, I shared by writing through blogs, and articles. And now there are so many ways to share knowledge, and at the same time, it is also a way to connect with people. So that’s the three pillars I talked about, languages intercultural, project management skills, and then a passion for sharing knowledge.

Trust through Honesty, Global Project Adaptation, and Cross-Cultural Communication

Jeff Tomlin: The one… Especially the last one in particular really resonates with me, because it’s so key to building trust with the people that you’re working with, the ability to share knowledge and passion. And I’m sure that comes in handy with almost every single interaction that you have with the project management company or another company that you’re working with on a particular project.

Yasmina Khelifi: Yes, that’s correct. What you say is very important, Jeff, is how to build trust. And at the end of the day when we run projects, when we sell products, the most important thing is to build trust, and how you build relationships and long-lasting relationships with people. And what I usually do is what is important, I think what helps is to be honest with what you can do, what you can deliver, and what you commit to.

Well, I am an engineer from background, and I have to say that sometimes when I work with others… How can I say? Yes, I work sometimes with real estate agents on the personal side, and sometimes they tell you, “Yes, I’m going to send you this, I’m going to do this.” But at the end, it’s not done. That’s what I call over-commit, and this one can damage the trust, so I think it’s important to be honest and to do what you say. If you say you are going to provide more information, it’s also important. And the last point is to accept you don’t know everything, and you say, “I don’t know, I have to check.” And it’s perfectly acceptable nowadays.

Jeff Tomlin: Yasmina, a lot of people here as they think about an organization expanding internationally, they hear that they have to do things different in different countries in different cultures. But it’s hard to understand the changes and the ways that you have to adapt until you actually do it because it’s surprising the differences in cultures. Maybe talk a little bit about one of your experiences working with another organization where you had to work with stakeholders in an organization with different cultures, and sort of how you navigate that.

Yasmina Khelifi: That’s a great question, Jeff. I contributed to different projects, but I can give you one example, the first time I launched a mobile device by a Chinese manufacturer in the Middle East and African countries. So how does it work? I worked with a new Chinese manufacturer for the enterprise, so with my manager, we had a first face-to-face meeting. That’s true nowadays, we can make a lot of things online, but meeting for the first time is still important face-to-face from time to time. And that was what we did because they did not know our organization, and we did not know their organization, so we met in China where we can have our first relationship and explain how we worked. So I think it facilitated a lot after when we had online meetings with them, so that’s why the manufacturer. After, in the group, we have different countries. We have 15 countries, French-speaking countries, and also English-speaking countries, and also one Portuguese country, but most of the time we use English of course. And then we have laboratories to test the product, and some were in Romania, in the UK, in China. And the technical team I worked with, I was a project manager, was  in the UK. So how does it work in that case? That is what I did, I used a document where I write everything. Because as you can understand, we had different accents in English, and it can be a source of misunderstanding because most of us were not native English speaker. So that is what I do. And I had a project status regularly. And after I had different concourse to follow, to really explain, to help to guide the customers between the countries in the product, and how to use the product. So that was how it worked. So I would say the common basis was project management skills and technical knowledge. But as you said, sometimes we had misunderstandings and some confrontations. And how do you solve that? By talking in fact. So it takes time, that is a conclusion in this kind of project.

Cultural Adaptation, Empathy, and Direct Communication for Effective Project Management

Jeff Tomlin: And that’s an incredible diversity in that project, you’ve got people from all over. One of the areas that’s coming up a lot with people that we’re working with is Africa and the Middle East, there’s a lot of opportunity there and a lot of growth happening. Are there specific strategies that you have for working with companies and organizations there, especially maybe ones that really contribute to business development?

Yasmina Khelifi: Okay, so I would like to answer in two steps. I work in a big corporation, in a big organization, so it’s different if you are a small business owner and you want to develop your business with Africa, I would say. So what is important is to know the ecosystem, to know the regulations. And it’s also I think from what I’ve said, human relationships are quite important. Sometimes we say – we have task-oriented and relationship oriented. So the Middle East and Africa, they’re relationship-oriented and not task oriented. So it’s important to build the relationship first. And also in my case, when I worked with them, in terms of leadership skills, yes, you have to use empathy. So I know the word is used all the time, but what does it mean for me? The way I implemented it is to understand the constraints they may have. For instance, internet connection, internet bandwidth, and electricity. Once I worked with colleagues in South Africa, or DRC in Congo. And one of my colleagues told me, “Well, I have to send you the email when the electricity is back.” And this is the kind of thing you cannot really anticipate. So it’s important to have a relationship in the countries to try to be aware of these kinds of constraints. The other part is also time perception. For example, we have a meeting in one hour. Okay, let’s say it’s 10:30 in Canada. You come at 10:30, but perhaps some of the other stakeholders will come at 10:45, or will not come. So it happens sometimes, also it happened to me, and it happened with my British colleagues. And what they say, they say, “People do not respect me, because they do not come, I organize a meeting.” But when you talk with the stakeholders, with my colleagues in Africa, it’s not because they don’t respect, you have scarce resources or you have one person who manages everything, who had competitive meetings and couldn’t come to the meetings. Or you had constraints, as I said, about internet connection, international code at that time, I would say. So empathy is very important, and it’s not so easy because it’s quite indirect communication. So people are not going to tell you, “Today I have a big issue.” I remember I talked… I have a lot of energy in the morning. So I remember Monday morning I called the colleague in Senegal. And I said, “Yes, we have this project to test together. What do you think of these requirements, and the specifications?” I talked a lot. And at the end, he told me, “I have many things to do in fact today.” And I was a bit ashamed because I was quite task-oriented, I didn’t take any time to inquire, he has so many things to do. So it’s the kind of relationship that takes time to build. But I think it is worth it, because as you say, it’s quite a growth, and there are many ideas and many innovations in fact by different actors there.

Jeff Tomlin: Yeah. So that’s a great example of how a relatively small thing can create a pretty big disconnect in the expectations right off the bat. So maybe talk a little bit about some of the strategies and what you do to bridge the gaps and the cultural differences, to actually manage expectations, and bring people together, and get them all on the same page.

Yasmina Khelifi: That’s such a good question also. So this one, I will give you another example from mid-career when I worked for the first time with Chinese colleagues. So I did not speak Chinese, at that time I didn’t go to China, I did not know the culture, and I had no Chinese friends. So I was not confident when I arrived with this first interaction and the project with them. And what they needed to be developed, was an application to be operated in devices. And when I interacted with them, I required things to be developed. But when the product arrived, it was not about issues or mistakes, and I did not understand. So what I did at that time, I increased the number of exchanges, I said that was a solution probably, and I increased email sending. But it still didn’t work. So then I thought, what shall I do? Because China, from what I heard, is quite indirect communication. So if I ask them directly, probably will not appreciate my question. Shall I go for escalation? Which I don’t like. So I asked people, and once more I got the opposite feedback, and so I thought I was the issue. I don’t know how to manage the situation exactly. And then I just decided because of project management skills, and certifications, and mindset, it meant to first talk directly to people. So that is what I did I organized, and I said from the outset, “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t seem to work, because I ask required things and when I have the product, it’s not implemented as I record, and I think I explained well. So we need to discuss together, and it’ll be a discussion between us. I will send it, but it’ll stay between us because we need to collaborate, and we need to be successful in the delivery of the product.” So we spoke honestly, and they also spoke honestly, and they just explained to me they will need to send me different solutions, solution one, solution two, three, et cetera, with screenshots. And then I can check also with the marketing owners because specification, as you look, can be interpreted in different ways. And also when you are not co-located, it’s harder also to get this kind of conversation, because it’s remote, we don’t have a common screen at that time, et cetera. And since this conversation, we restored trust, because I did what I said, the meeting minutes were between us. I didn’t send it to my manager, I didn’t send it to their managers. And after it worked much better, and I’m still in contact with some of them still nowadays, after many years.

Certifications, Community, and Continuous Learning in Project Management Skills

Jeff Tomlin: I’m going to shift gears a little bit, Yasmina, and talk a little bit about what we can offer people to help specifically with project management skills. Because regardless of whether you’re working with internal teams and you want to improve your project management abilities internally in your company or you’re working with people externally, it is such an important muscle to build in your organization, especially as you’re scaling.

And I’m going to look at my notes here to make sure I’ve got this right because I want to go through some of the certifications that you have. You have a PMP, a PMIACP, you have a PMIPBA. My goodness, the only thing you don’t have is a PBR for an EDO. That’s a North American beer joke, I’m sorry everyone, I’ll be here all week, don’t worry, try the veal. But that’s a lot of certifications. So talk a little bit about how they’ve helped you with your organization, or with your skillsets and throughout your career, and maybe just provide a few recommendations on maybe some things that people can do to help build that project management muscle inside of their organization.

Yasmina Khelifi: Yes, sure, with pleasure. So first let’s talk about certifications. First, Jeff, you have to know that I love certifications, because I also have languages certifications, whereas it’s not required at all. So that’s the first point. The second point, when I passed the certification, I didn’t have the aim of having a big promotion or a pay rise. That’s what I want to say, it was to learn to be part of a community, to confront what I did, and what was written in theory. So if your listeners perhaps think, okay, we have all the certifications, she got a big promotion, she got a big pay rise, that’s not the case. Because also another default, and I have to say it’s… Fortunately, I’m sure your listeners will not have this default. I have difficulties to monetize things, in terms of certification or what I do. So what, again, from certification at any rate is credibility? Because I’m recognized in the organization where I work as a competent project manager in international projects. And I gained personally more confidence because sometimes I do not feel so self-confident in different feelings, not only in my abilities. So that is what is very important, I’m part of a big community, in fact of a family. And you have also a community at Vendasta, and I really encourage your listeners to contribute, to engage, to share. Because I discovered quite late in my career, the power of community, and this project management community I’m part of. And by the way, if you don’t have the certification, you can still be part of this community with a membership. But for me, it really brought me a lot in terms of exchanges, learning, and connecting and networking with people.

Jeff Tomlin: By the way, you mentioned at the beginning of our talk that you’re an accidental project manager. And the thing that I wanted to say to that, is a lot of the skills that I’ve built throughout my career, I’d consider the same sort of thing, I’ve accidentally backed into them. But I think that that’s more commonly the case with people. We build these different skills out of need, and oftentimes people don’t have a master plan, they’ve figured it all out at the beginning of their career, and this is the direction that they go. And so I think that it’s important to say that it’s a common path for people to sort of back into these, and then build a set of skills over a course of a career. Yasmina, are there some other takeaways that you have for the audience?

Yasmina Khelifi: Yes, Jeff. But before going there, I’d like just to comment because I think if your listeners want to upskill their project management skills, I think what can be recommended, there are different courses in… I don’t know if we can say. But you have different online platforms where you can find project management courses. They do not need to pass a certification, that’s what I want to say. Because you have already some online courses, short or long, depending. And what is good, also what I do, I am also a volunteer in project management communities. And some in Canada, there are a lot of chapters from different organizations in project management communities. And they organize events, and webinars if you are a member of the community. So it can be also a way to approach project management. And you have also good books written, I can give two names, two famous people in project management. Antonio Nieto Rodríguez and Ricardo Vargas, are two famous people. And now they’ve wrote, by the way, an article in Harvard Business Review about artificial intelligence and project management, so they’re quite renowned. So you have also their books, and they’re leading lessons and courses.

Learning from experts, LinkedIn Toolbox and Stay Connected via LinkedIn

Jeff Tomlin: Now, always important to learn from the best, don’t try to reinvent the wheel. And so that’s a great takeaway. So a couple of other takeaways for the audience here. You’ve got your own newsletter and talk a little bit about the LinkedIn toolbox, you’ve got some takeaways for the audience here, talk about that a bit.

Yasmina Khelifi: Yes, sure, Jeff. So for your audience or great listeners, they can subscribe to my LinkedIn newsletter, The Leader’s Toolbox. I also have my website’s newsletter and I have a podcast that’s not on this podcast at all, but it’s a podcast I did by myself and I do by myself because of my project management skills, because I did not have any knowledge in podcasting. So these are the kinds of takeaways, yes.

Jeff Tomlin: Yasmina, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show this week. People want to reach out to you and continue the conversation a little bit, how can they get in touch with you?

Yasmina Khelifi: It will be a big pleasure if they connect with me on LinkedIn because I’m a big LinkedIn fan. So I’m just looking forward to getting connections, and questions, and going on the conversation. Thank you very much, Jeff.

Jeff Tomlin: Well, thank you very much for joining us. I bid you an amazing summer, and thank you again for joining us, and I hope we do this again.

Yasmina Khelifi: Thank you very much, Jeff. And thank you to your listeners and community. 


Jeff Tomlin: It was a real pleasure speaking to Yasmina, a really accomplished project manager. She highlighted three key pillars for achieving success in her field. She emphasized the significance of Building Trust and Strong Relationships, and stressed the value of honesty, delivering on commitments, and being transparent about limitations. Face-to-face interactions were particularly important in establishing connections and understanding, as demonstrated by her experience in launching mobile telecommunications ventures across multiple countries. Building trust and fostering successful partnerships also require an understanding of intercultural communication, adapting communication styles, and valuing human relationships.

Continuous Learning and Community Engagement were also crucial elements in project management. Yasmina encouraged a passion for knowledge-sharing and ongoing learning. And while she acknowledged the value of certifications for theoretical knowledge and credibility, she emphasized that community involvement extended beyond certification. Yasmina recommended engaging in online platforms, participating in project management communities, volunteering for webinars and events, and seeking insights from renowned experts through books and articles, including those available in the Harvard Business Review. All in all, continuous learning and active community engagement are essential for professional growth and expanding project management skills.

If you’ve enjoyed Yasmina’s episode discussing Project Management Strategies for Global Success Keep the conversation going and revisit some of the older episodes from the archives: Episode 601: Make your systemization look like a million bucks with David Jenyns. Or Episode 536: Managing a Hybrid Team with Hassan Osman

Until next time, I’m Jeff Tomlin. Get out there and be awesome! 

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