Our Experience Working With Partners in the Middle East

Carlos Oliveira

Our Experience Working With Partners in the Middle East

Monterail has had exciting projects with Middle Eastern partners and also keeps a regular presence in the region: our team visits Dubai often for meetings and events, such as the Step Conference. These were fruitful partnerships that we hope to deepen.

Which makes us think: how do we ensure we are the best partners possible to our Middle Eastern counterparts? Are there things that we did right and that should be replicated? Are there things we should change?

In this blog, we’ll cover three lessons we learned while working with partners from the Middle East.

Our Experience With International Clients

First, a broader look at our collaborations.

We have had the pleasure of working with more than 200 clients from all over the world, ranging from the West Coast of the US to China and all time zones in between.

In practice, we are used to working with different cultures, styles of communication, and approaches to feedback. Our project managers, in particular, are masters in identifying if certain differences might influence business cooperation - and, when that’s the case, they know how to handle it.

It helps that English is the de facto official language in Monterail - even for internal discussions.

A great read on this topic: How To Deal With Cultural Differences in Project Management?

Additionally, our team is diverse: in 2022, one in five of our employees was from a country other than Poland. And we make sure to follow day-to-day diversity and inclusion practices.

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Our Experience With Middle Eastern Clients

Speaking of the Middle East in particular, we have developed bigger projects with startups and SMBs in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia.

Since Monterail is based in Poland, there is a very small timezone difference (of around three hours), which makes communication seamless.

Overall, this experience was enough for us to understand that, while they are all part of the “Middle East” geographical label, every country is unique.

What Impacts Collaboration?

There are some practical aspects that can affect collaboration. For example, calendars. Inside the Middle East, most Muslim-majority countries currently follow a workweek of Sunday through Thursday since Friday is considered a sacred day of worship in Islam.

But it depends and it can change as well. For example, in 2022, UAE adopted a workweek of Monday to Friday noon.

In practice, however, this changes very little in the way we work with our clients. By following good practices and following Agile procedures, we were able to always keep partners involved, be it over email or over daily and weekly meetings with the team.

Lesson 1: Great Project Management is Universal

The few issues we had were solved with effective Project Management.

In one example, we had delays with approvals due to a long stakeholders chain. Many people were involved in approving certain translation tasks, which meant a long wait time and too much back and forth.

The answer was risk mitigation: the PM reviewed this chain and suggested a flow where the decision-making phase only depended on critical people. Everybody was still in the loop, but we had fewer blocks overall. Win-win.

The takeaway is that there are techniques for communicating effectively, and these can address a wide range of issues.

A good read: Communication challenges in Agile Project Management

“Project management in software development is quite universal. No matter the geography or culture, you always have the tools to address any issues.”

patrycja-wieclaw Patrycja Więcław Project Manager
at Monterail

Lesson 2: Culture Impacts Even Seemingly Small Design Decisions

Someone that never downloaded apps from a Middle Eastern country would be surprised by how the design can be different in both small and big ways.

First of all, we have script orientation. Arabic, Hebrew, and Persian are among some of the languages that use the RTL (Right-to-Left) orientation, as opposed to English, which uses LTR (Left-to-Right).

This impacts interfaces in an obvious way: the designers must adapt the screens to display the text properly. But it goes beyond that.

Consider one bilingual application (English and Arabic) we developed in the UAE. When the app language changes, multiple components are flipped, such as progress bars and menus. And icons were not only flipped but in some cases changed as well, to be more relevant to the local culture.

Another partner, from Saudi Arabia, had a different concern: the illustrative images in the application should be suitable for its users. By using stock photo service from that region we ensured the image selection would be more in line with what was expected.

Lesson 3: Good Documentation Helps to Follow Guidelines

It goes without saying that, in any project, it’s imperative to follow the relevant compliance guidelines. This is especially important in heavily-regulated industries, such as Fintech and Medtech. And, adding to that, you have the layer of relevant national and local legislation.

More specifically to the region, there is Sharia compliance. Some businesses might embed the compliance of Sharia (Islamic law) into their practices. That might mean some activities (gambling, non-halal food production, among others) might get a different treatment from the business and regulators

All this can sound like a scary red-tape maze. But, while it can be complex, it doesn’t have to be an impediment to the completion of a great project.

Case in point: one project we delivered in Saudi Arabia was particularly sensitive since it would be connected to the local government tax office. We received good documentation from the client, but during that time, the pertinent law in Saudi Arabia was very dynamic and changing constantly.

So we created an efficient confirmation flow with the client to solve any questions and approve changes quickly.

Then, since the government documentation was available in English, our developer was able to base the first iterations of the code directly on it, speeding up the process.

Working With Partners in the Middle East: Considerations

Partnering up with startups and SMBs from the Middle East has been a very rewarding experience.

There are some particularities, such as app language or local guidelines, that impact the day-to-day work and the end product.

However, one takeaway after several projects is that many issues one might think are cultural are actually universal. That is very good: it means they can be addressed by universal tools and techniques that help move the project forward.

Carlos Oliveira avatar
Carlos Oliveira