International Project Management

Most people I meet during a Cultural Awareness Training work in some sort of International Project Management way.

International Project Management also seems to be expanding since more and more organizations move (parts of) their business outside their own country.

Very often this off-shoring or outsourcing (leading to international project management) makes financial sense. And a decision like that is then easily taken. But the reality teaches us that it is not all that easy.

Different CulturesGlobal project management

Different Cultures have different ways of working when it comes to international project management. I have had the opportunity to work with a big International Bank that outsourced a big chunk of their IT to India. Again, financially that made good sense, however the people working on the projects were less happy. One quote I can remember from someone was “I get what I ask for, but I don’t get what I want”.

Of course this is by no means any finger pointing to any culture. It just illustrates that different cultures work different. Also when it comes to international project management.

So How does it Work?

Below is an abstract way of looking at international project management. I’ve only mentioned 4 specific cultures in order not to lose the overview. The vertical axis is the amount or level of Action/Implementation a culture/country does. The horizontal axis is Time.

The countries are:

  • Germany
  • Belgium
  • USA/UK
  • Netherlands

International Project ManagementGermany: (the Green line) A smooth line. The Germans spend a relative long amount of time planning how to implement what needs to be done. Typically Anglo Saxon cultures could wonder if the German actually does anything. If the German then replies: “I’m planning!”; The Americans/Brits could reply: “Planning? What good is that for?”.

Belgium: (the jagged Red line) The amplitudes of this line are a bit exaggerated, which is a limitation of PowerPoint (sorry). But the overall idea remains the same: Belgians have a need/urge to be specific and to plan things. However, the relative high score on Hierarchy (compared to Germany) causes friction in the process, since a high score on Hierarchy brings with it lots of political “under the table” power struggles. In general one could argue that all cultures that score relatively high on Hierarchy and Anxiety Avoidance have this same pattern.

USA/UK: (the red “staircase” line) A typical illustration of “Trial & Error” approach. First there is Action. If that does not give the desired results there is (a bit) of planning/thinking. Etc… this is how Americans made it to the Moon after JFK pledged to make it there before the 60’s were over. Also, this explains the so-called Quick-start-guides in Anglo Saxon user manuals: “Get started in 7 steps“. If that does not work you can always revert back to the manual!

Dutch: (the curly Blue line) This might look contradictory, but it actually is not. It shows the Dutch’ need for consensus and for so-called “Growing Insight” (voortschrijdend inzicht). This gives the Dutch the possibility to come back to an earlier decision made. Something that drives all the other cultures mentioned mad.

Simple

Of course the above image is an over-simplification of international project management. But at the core it comes pretty close to the truth.

In addition, you can observe that all cultures mentioned do come together after the same amount of time (at the same point). This is to illustrate that one way of working is not better, it is just different!

What did I miss? Comments? Leave them at the end of this post

 
 
Chris Smit

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Chris Smit

I'm passionate about Cultural Difference. I have been helping organizations save time and money when they work Internationally for the last 19 years. I have had the fortunate opportunity to hold lectures, workshops, and consulting projects on this subject World Wide. It has made me understand my own culture much better, and appreciate the differences around the world.
I have a Master's Degree in Organisational Psychology and have lived in the USA, the Netherlands and, currently, in Belgium.
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Chris Smit

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