A key to understanding the challenges that face Italian project managers



First of all, Italy is an unusual European country.

As a matter of fact, whereas the culture of northern Europe in general involves a more rigorous and straightforward approach to life, as well as to business, southern Europe culture tends to be more flexible. While Italian culture is largely that of southern Europe, Italy itself nevertheless has a long and complex history that has made its culture unique.

Secondly, Italy is also a beautiful country: its cities and monuments, and its landscape, are world–famous.

Italians are known for their heritage of great art and artistic geniuses (e.g., Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci) and of world exploration (e.g., Amerigo Vespucci, Cristoforo Colombo, Marco Polo), as well as for film-making and acting (e.g., Fellini, Benigni) and fashion design (e.g., Armani). Italian people are known for their creativity, style, innovation, and their ability to withstand adversity.

When foreigners speak about Italy, one of most frequently used words is “miracle.” This is perhaps used to explain or describe the Italian people’s ability to find a solution to every new problem.

Italian style is also reflected in project management, even if in Italy the rules are different. For example, for Italians, communication isn’t a matter of words only: the attitudes behind the words, and how the words are communicated, can be just as important; face-to-face communication may be preferred to written interchanges; basic project management rules may often be broken; and change may be a daily occurrence (changes in scope statement, changes to the project team, changes in planning, etc.).

In another context, such attitudes and actions would likely result in failure, but not in Italy! Italian project managers are often successful in just such an environment.

Italy is unique, but does it really exist as only one Italy?

Italy is a unique extraordinary country, but doesn’t exist as only one Italy: every region, every city has some specific characteristics. This differences had origin in long Italian history and different domains and culture came from others people: for long time in the Ancient Rome, Italy (and Mediterranean area) was united, but during the Middle Ages, Italy consisted of various Kingdoms, which were often at war with each other:

  • The Regnum Italicum / Kingdom of the Lombards (sixth through eleventh centuries)
  • The Holy Roman Empire (ninth through tenth centuries)
  • The Kingdom of Sicily (eleventh through eighteenth centuries)

Following the Italian Wars (1494–1559), Italy was dominated by foreign kingdoms: France, followed by Spain, and then Austria.

During the Napoleonic era, Italy was a client state of the French Republic (1796–1814), but the Congress of Vienna (1814) restored the situation of the late 18th century, dividing Italy into 10 different countries. After the second War of Independence, in 1861 a unified Kingdom of Italy (excepting Venice and Rome) was formed. With third War of Independence, the Kingdom of Italy gained Venice. In 1870, the French defense of the Papal States was beaten and Rome was united with the Kingdom of Italy. In 1946 Italy become a Republic. This short Italian history explain as Italy was divide in since 6th c. AC to 18th c. AC, a very long period, while recently only 2 centuries is the period of united.

The Italian Economy Context

The economy of Italy was in 2008 the seventh-largest economy in the world and the fourth-largest in Europe, according to the International Monetary Fund. Italy belongs to the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations; it is a member of the European Union and OECD.

The country is divided into a developed industrial north dominated by large private companies and an agricultural, state-assisted south.

Italy has, according to The Economist, “the world’s eighth highest quality of life index, has a very high standard of living, and is the world’s 18th most developed country, surpassing other comparable developed countries such as the UK, Germany, and Greece.

Despite Italy’s concentration on the secondary and tertiary economic sectors, the nation is also an important agricultural (primary) exporter. In addition to this, the country exports and produces the highest level of wine. Tourism is one of the fastest growing and most profitable sectors of the national economy: with 43.7 million international tourist arrivals and total revenues estimated at $ 42.7 billion, Italy is the fifth major tourist destination and the fourth highest tourist earner in the world” (Economy of Italy 2010).

Northern, Central, and Southern Italy: Three Different Countries Within the Same Country

The following schema shows the Italian macro Regions by GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and per capita according to (purchasing power parity) in 2006:

Region GDP (mil €) GDP % People (mil) GDP per capita
North 833,085 55% 28 30
Center 345,613 23% 13 27
South 326,062 22% 19 17
ITALY 1,504,759 100% 60 25

by the Italian National Institute of Statistics.

The GDP per capita explains the great difference between northern and southern Italy: in northern Italy, it’s approximately double the GDP per capita of southern Italy.

The most important firms are usually based in northern Italy: the Turin-Milan area and the northeast (Trentino-Alto Adige, Veneto Friuli) famous for one million small enterprises.

SME – Small and Medium Enterprises

Recently the European Commission defined the European SME as:

Enterprise category Headcount Turnover or    Balance sheet total
medium-sized < 250 ≤ € 50 million ≤ € 43 million
small < 50 ≤ € 10 million ≤ € 10 million
micro < 10 ≤ € 2 million ≤ € 2 million

© European Union, 1995-2010

Italy has the highest concentration of micro-enterprises:


European Commission, Enterprise and Industry.

In Italy, about one in every two persons is employed in a micro-enterprise (<10 employees), and micro-enterprises comprise about 95% of all Italian enterprises.

The Italian Project Management Context

The Most Frequent Causes of Project Failure

The project management discipline is difficult to apply in a micro-enterprise. However, even in medium-sized and large enterprises, problems are encountered.

If we use the famous CHAOS report by the Standish Group (2001), we find that the most frequent causes of project failure are:

  • Incomplete requirement
  • Noninvolvement of user
  • Lack of resources
  • Lack of management support
  • Change of requirement
  • Lack of planning
  • Business change
  • Lack of IT management
  • Poor estimation of time

Based on our experience, in Italy, the most frequent causes are essentially the same, with a slight change in order:

  • Incomplete requirement
  • Change of requirement
  • Noninvolvement of user
  • Lack of management support
  • Business change
  • Lack of resources
  • Lack of planning
  • Lack of IT management
  • Poor estimation of time

In our opinion, the “Italian style” and Italian context influence the historic and common difficulty of defining comprehensive requirements, such as the easiness with which they manage change initial requirement. The Italian economic context contributes to pushing up the role of “business change” cause, while the “Lack of management support” cause is the first among the causes in which “lack of” plays a part, reflecting a chronic Italian problem: the poor management class and poor management culture. Of course, we have points of excellence (i.e. Bocconi Milan University and others Italian famous Universities), but in general we have great deficiencies in management area. In example, Francesco Varanini to the question “why the Olivetti isn't again?” answered “a cause of managers lack.”


European Commission, Enterprise and Industry. SME definition. Retrieved on 12th March 2010 from http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/policies/sme/facts-figures-analysis/sme-definition/index_en.htm

Italian National Institute of Statistics (n. d.). Conti Economici Regionali. Retrieved on 12th March 2010 from http://www.istat.it/dati/dataset/20071004_00

Spairani, F. (2001). Etica e management: il potere contro il successo. Milan, Italy: Franco Angeli.

Standish Group. (2001) CHAOS Report. Retrieved on 12th March 2010 from http://www.standishgroup.com

Varanini, F. (2008). Perchè l'olivetti non c'e' più? Retrieved on 12th March 2010 from http://www.bloom.it/vara154.htm

Economy of Italy. ( 2010). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Retrieved on 12th March 2010 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Italy

© 2010, Olvers Di Prata and Cristiana Ercoli
Originally published as a part of 2010 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Milan Italy



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