Global project management fails without culturally aware leadership and cross-cultural communication, according to “Cross Cultural Differences and Their Implications For Managing International Projects,” by The George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA.
This research paper says that multicultural project teams are becoming the norm and suggests that projects executed by globally dispersed teams benefit from experienced, innovative thinking that gives organizations a competitive advantage. But to achieve project goals and avoid potential risks of miscommunication, multicultural projects must have flexible leaders who promote a common, accepted framework. These four executives believe project management is the appropriate model.
ILLUSTRATION BY OTTO STEININGER
I bring Australian biomedical products to a global market, from start-up through the commercialization process. I am most active at the early, risky stage of the process, so project management is essential in the commercialization of biomed technology, and it's especially relevant in my specialization: medical devices. Medical devices have a faster pass-to-market than, say, pharmaceuticals, so the faster and more efficiently you move down the critical paths, the better your chance of succeeding.
Australia holds only one to two percent of the biomedical market, so from our point of view, we've got to be global from day one. For us, we look at international collaborations not as exotic but rather as a “must do,” something that is just as straightforward as domestic alliances. I work a lot with the United Kingdom, India and the United States. Also, for success in our market, seeking bicultural, bilingual team members gives us a huge advantage in understanding and addressing the requirements of the global market. Out of all our team members based in Australia, none of us was born here: We represent Sri Lanka, India, New Zealand, the former Yugoslavia and the United States.
Project management is Esperanto, or the closest ideal we have to an international language: The standard tools of project management are the common language that organizes the input of people with different perspectives. In our business, it's not just culture, but also working with people in different industries and disciplines—market strategy, engineering, bio-materials, finance, product design, bio mechanics, medicine, surgery, etc. Project management tools provide a continuous focus on the critical path. What we do in medical devices represents the convergence of multiple disciplines: When you are working on collaborative projects across different continents, it compounds the need for a common framework that drives you to complete milestones and objectives.
Utilizing project management makes all of this possible. We're more likely to have the confidence of international investors and strategic partners. We can communicate more effectively to potential stakeholders. Project management has incredible currency and the field should promote its value in the current globalized economy—many businesses, of all types, have project teams that work in different continents at the same time. In SpineMed, it's not unusual for the companies to have a project team in Europe, one in India and one on another continent, and they're all working on the same product. We preferentially work with companies amenable to this approach because then you're not limited to just thinking about products in the context of your own culture.
Neoris has 11 offices in seven countries throughout the United States, Spain and Latin America. The digital solutions we develop for our customers span several industries, so our projects vary widely—business process improvement, software development, enterprise resource planning, enterprise application integration, outsourcing services, and so on. Other projects require specialized or diverse skills to develop an innovative solution for the customer.
One of the biggest challenges in cross-cultural project management has been the implementation of a solution known as “company way” for one of our clients. This requires working off-site with program managers in Mexico and staff in several countries, such as Spain, Egypt, the Philippines, Venezuela and many others at the same time.
Our strategy for dealing with such challenges consists of two pillars. One is the implementation of our PMO, which has a pragmatic function to provide administrative support and effective project tracking. The PMO was implemented successfully internally and is the keystone for how we manage the project portfolio of our outsourcing customers. Two is the development of a common framework based on and certified by international standards, such as the Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®) and the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), that reflect the totality of our processes and methodologies. This allows us to obtain and maintain global consistency while keeping the local flexibility we need to grow our business.
Overall, program and project management have been an important part of this process and have helped us create real cross-cultural teamwork by measuring the quality of our services, assuring customer satisfaction and establishing a common language that is independent of the project type. We have seen this come to fruition during the last year, when we performed project management workshops at a global level with most of our managers and senior managers. The workshops have improved our capabilities and the project management people skills needed to support the Neoris framework.
We firmly believe in project management, so much so that we are working on a global Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification program initiative. This initiative will enable us to further improve our project management skills and create what we call “cross-cultural knowledge hubs,” working cores that are made up of people who can manage a program or project worldwide and are knowledgeable both of our company's and the industry's standards independent of their office location or culture.
HP is an international company with 140,000-plus employees worldwide, half of whom are outside of the United States. We are very dependent on working across the world. It's our survival, the key to our success.
We cannot be a U.S.-centric organization. When our revenue is broken out by region, only 37 percent comes from the United States; 40 percent comes from the Europe-Middle East-Africa (EMEA) region, 16 percent from Asia Pacific, and the last 7 percent represents Latin America and Canada. We have to be able to work in a multicultural environment. Our global PMO office has to support driving that revenue around the world.
Project management is a common language that transcends culture and other languages. With industry standards like those in the A Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide), it doesn't matter whether you're talking about design, process or whatever, because it all means the same thing. The growth of the project management field—the number of people getting training and acquiring the PMP credential—shows that project management transcends language and cultural barriers. One common methodology is something everyone understands. They understand the flow and the approach, and that gets beyond words.
Depending on who your stakeholder group is, you most definitely have to consider culture. When we roll out applications in different countries, we have to consider each country's values. When there is a standard method for how to execute your project, it makes this process more efficient. One of our fastest growing areas is the Middle East, and if we ignored the culture or didn't know how to go to market in that region, we wouldn't have been successful there.
It's very common for us to have one project team made up of folks from all of our regions. The more you drive project management maturity and discipline, the more you can focus on the task at hand. You get high-performing project teams because less time is wasted on miscommunication and lack of familiarity with process. Having that efficiency goes to the bottom line because you're more agile, more efficient and you're staying ahead of the competition.
Project HOPE Switzerland currently implements health programs in 12 countries, mainly in the western Balkans and central Asia, so working across cultures is the nature of our work. The primary purpose of our projects is to transfer technical skills and solutions to the health care systems of our local partners, such as ministries of health, institutes of public health and non-governmental organizations.
At our headquarters, we have a multinational team made up of people who are German, American (from the United States), Swiss, Danish and Chilean. This team directly interfaces with the teams in the field offices who work on the projects. One interesting issue we have as it relates to working across cultures is how local staff handles the feedback they receive from us. For example, some of our comments to field reports are posed to stimulate further problem-solving and analysis, and these comments frequently are answered as if they were questions with only one right answer.
Culture also affects the behavior of team members—whether they follow a team leader or take individual initiative, whether they take risks or avoid them, how they measure results and how they accept and follow deadlines. Project management provides tools to deal with these cultural differences: one structure, one approach and a common language and management culture. Project management tools and methods reduce the ambiguity that is created by a clash of various cultures, experiences and differences in professional training.
It is sometimes hard, as the training needs and specialization required for managing public sector projects in developing countries is quite different from private sector projects. But we continue to use project management tools in the planning and implementation of our projects, from the very beginning and at each stage. We want to learn from our cultural differences and integrate those lessons into our organizational culture.
PM NETWORK | FEBRUARY 2005 | WWW.PMI.ORG
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.