Technology has made the world one extensive network with no barriers. In the IT Service industry where I worked, interaction with foreigners is quite common. Therefore, cultural sensitivity is an essential aspect of our work. As project managers, we are prepared to work with people, be it a colleague or a customer, from different parts of the world. I recall an incident with a customer which made us rethink our attitude to quality. It taught us to own responsibility for any work we do. We learnt this lesson on our project, but it has universal value and relevance.

As a project manager, I was surprised when I received the requirements from my client that explicitly excluded quality checks. That means he does not want to bear the cost of a quality check. A quality check validates our output against the client's requirements. Usually, companies have a team lead or manager on every project to do this work. Many customers pay for these efforts on quality control. But this client was firm at the outset that they did not support this effort and would not pay for it. My manager and the quality team in my company were a bit surprised and confused about the future course of the project.

Our quality team insisted that we ought to have quality checks – peer review and lead review – as a part of the project plan, and our company was ready to absorb these additional costs. We expected the client to welcome this move, but to our surprise, they were upset. As a project manager, I tried to understand why the client discouraged conventional quality checks. After deep thinking, I understood that this position had more to do with culture than quality or project processes.

In India, from childhood, we are constantly told what to do and what not to do. At home, parents continually monitor their kids daily. Later in school, teachers play this role, and in college, professors. In a professional environment, our supervisors guide us. We are told what is wrong rather than what is right. We are conditioned to take instructions and guidance. We depend on somebody to validate our work. This expectation can be traced back to our days in school when we routinely did our homework and looked for someone to check it.

The situation in my project was challenging this fundamental process. We had instructions to execute the job, but nobody other than us would check the quality of our work. We are responsible for what we deliver. Of course, there are checkpoints for us to review our work on tasks assigned to us. After this stage, nobody would recheck it. In a way, the customer was expecting us to take ownership of our work.

Our client was a European original equipment manufacturer (OEM) with roots in a highly individualistic society. From an early age, they learn to take responsibility for their actions and circumstances. This ethos prevails in their workplaces too. A person is encouraged to seek guidance at work, but the responsibility for the output rests with her.

The client expected the same behaviour from us. But we were not mentally ready to meet this expectation. I realised the client is pushing us towards doing it right the first time, thus avoiding a final round of checks before delivery to the customer. It was fair from the client's perspective to push us to accept these performance expectations, and alter our mindset. As a project manager, I recognised the importance of this cultural change, yet we struggled because of the burden of habit.

I am in a dilemma whether to renew these efforts at change or revert to our traditional ways because I have not seen a significant shift towards owning outcomes in the last six years. During audits, when our quality team insists on making the quality check a part of the software development process, I smile at them, wondering whether they genuinely want it or are merely following the template unquestioningly.