Managing International Projects

Competence Requirements for International Project Managers

Projects whose members come from different cultures, speak different first languages, and are separated by geography, times zones, and work styles, require project management competence above and beyond those held by even the most talented domestic Project Managers.

Below are samples of the competencies needed to deliver results in projects that cross international borders.  Use the questions below to assess the extent to which the International Project Managers in your organization possess the knowledge and skills needed to manage international projects successfully.

Do your International Project Managers possess the skills needed to:

Adjust initiation and planning processes to fit differing cultures, work styles, and languages?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Interpret and adjust cost estimates to compensate for cultural characteristics and preferences?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Recognize the subtle cues that indicate foreign colleagues or subordinates believe a plan or approach is unreasonable or impractical?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Keep local and foreign project members from acting as separate identities, prone to escalating and/or ignoring problems that require complex cross-border problem solving?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Design projects to minimize complex cross-cultural collaboration and to foster the pride and commitment associated with local ownership?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Frame culturally savvy questions that encourage foreign colleagues and subordinates to provide information about risk, delays, and other types of bad news?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Create and manage the formal communication systems needed to build and maintain understanding of project status and requirements across domestic and foreign colleagues?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

Build and nurture dependable relationships with all domestic and foreign team members and other relevant stakeholders?
      Absolutely    Pretty much    Sort of    No or not sure

[SUBMIT]

 

Competence Requirements for International Project Managers

Based on your inputs, the Competency Score for your group of
International Project Managers is
 

24 – 19 low risk: the risk of project failure resulting from a lack of IPM competency is low
18 – 13 medium risk: the risk of project failure resulting from a lack of IPM competency is significant, but can be mitigated with training and coaching
12 – 0 significant risk: unless intervention is fast and significant, failures in international projects should be expected


The following table provides a brief explanation of why each of these competencies is required for International Project Managers working across borders.  To develop and hone these competencies, please consider joining us for one of our  Managing International Projects  workshops or Initiating International Projects / Executing International Projects online classes.

Adjust initiation and planning processes to fit differing cultures, work styles, and languages?

The importance of relationships, the lack of history in working together, and critical differences in leadership style, work processes, and priorities create unique requirements for the initiation and planning phases of international projects. IP’s require more time, more training, more planning and more communication than domestic processes. These requirements decline as the project creates a successful processes for working across borders.

Interpret and adjust cost estimates to compensate for cultural characteristics and preferences?

Cultures differ in their approach to risk and their attitudes toward time. Some cultures will overestimate the time required and others will underestimate. Similarly, one culture may attend to details at a level inappropriate for the project and others will ignore details that are critical. Failure to recognize and compensate for this results in costly errors.

Recognize the subtle cues that indicate foreign colleagues or subordinates believe a plan or approach is unreasonable or impractical?

Members of many cultures communicate very indirectly. Unless adequately trained, Western Project Managers, especially those trained in the US, often won’t recognize the more subtle forms of negative feedback provided by foreign colleagues. This results both in costly mistakes and a deterioration of trust. It is not uncommon for members of one culture to think they clearly communicated “no way,” while the other heard “we will do it.”

Keep local and foreign project members from acting as separate identities, prone to escalating and/or ignoring problems that require complex cross-border problem solving?

It seems to be a natural human process to separate into “us and them.” The likelihood of this happening increases with the number of characteristics that make one group different than the other. Unless Project Managers actively and diligently work to discourage this tendency, problems frequently turn into conflicts and the quantity and quality of work suffers.

Design projects to minimize complex cross-cultural collaboration and to foster the pride and commitment associated with local ownership?

Cross-border collaboration is difficult and time consuming because of the number of complexities involved. Work bounded to take advantage of similarities reduces cost, creates ownership, and minimizes conflict. Designing and managing projects the right way frees time and energy for the critical areas where cross-border collaboration is required for project success.

Frame culturally savvy questions that encourage foreign colleagues and subordinates to provide information about risk, delays, and other types of bad news?

Many cultures are more hierarchical, more indirect, and more relationship-oriented than the US and other Western cultures. In the former, subordinates, colleagues, and supervisors may refrain from saying anything that could be considered as criticism. Successful IPMs learn to ask questions that allow their foreign colleagues to provide information on concerns and risk in “safe” ways.

Create and manage the formal communication systems needed to build and maintain understanding of project status and requirements across domestic and foreign colleagues?

As experienced Project Managers know, domestic projects can diverge in ways that cause major problems. The separations and differences in international projects exponentially increase the likelihood of this happening. Formal and informal communication mechanisms have to be frequent, mandatory, and varying to insure adequate alignment.

Build and nurture dependable relationships with all domestic and foreign team members and other relevant stakeholders?

Because of the differences involved, and because of the greater importance relationships play in most non-US cultures, relationship building is much more important to the success of international projects. The best time investment IPM’s can make early on is to build relationships with their colleagues in other parts of the world.

 

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