Managing International Projects – Part 2

This is the second in a series of nine blogs that provide insight and tips on managing international projects.  In this blog, we’ll discuss issues and solutions associated with project scope definition.

Tips for International Projects

  • Test project outcome “facts” as if they were assumptions
  • Surface assumptions early and often
  • Look for constraints around cultural and regulatory issues
  • Document success criteria and share them with the customer
  • Seek “middle ground” resolution of multicultural issues

The information and recommendations in this blog reflect the Four Key International Variables as documented by O’Hara and Johansen in their book GlobalWork.

 Cultural diversity, distances and other variables greatly increase the potential for misunderstanding within international projects.  For that reason, the team must ensure that all stakeholders in an international project, including Customers, suppliers and project team members, clearly understand and support project outcomes and their accompanying success criteria, constraints and assumptions.

Information on events leading up to the start of a project could provide valuable information for addressing measures of success, identifying constraints or examining assumptions within one or more unfamiliar cultures.  Clarity on the need, opportunity or issue addressed by a project could provide useful cultural insights.  And, of course, clear identification of the project Customer is essential regardless of the cultural setting.

Particular attention should be paid to the following four Critical Planning Questions.  These should be tested frequently against the Four Key International Variables of Context, Power/Status, Time and Information Paths.

What criteria will be used to measure success or failure?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What cultural issues may influence project success/failure criteria?
  • Do specific individuals have unusually strong influence over the success/failure criteria?  Who are they?  Why are they important?  What multicultural patterns do they represent?
  • What cultural issues might influence successful adherence to deadlines?
  • How might multicultural information flow issues influence project success/failure?

What constraints will affect how this project is implemented?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Who around the world must be kept informed of project progress and outcomes?
  • What global resources, ideas, approaches and other conditions are usable or off-limits?
  • How should information be delivered to specific multinational individuals or groups regarding project progress or outcomes?
  • Are any of the constraints negotiable and if so, who should be consulted?
  • What international legal, customs, transit and other issues must be considered?
  • How concrete are project time constraints and how might they be influenced by multicultural perspectives?
  • Who might change the deadlines and why?

What assumptions are currently being made regarding this project?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What do members of different cultures on the team believe to be true about this project?
  • What is our plan to resolve differences about these beliefs?
  • What would be the likely cross-cultural impact if these assumptions prove true?  False?
  • How likely is our Customer to have multi-cultural assumptions about this project?  How will we test for these assumptions?  What impact might they have on team members’ multi-cultural views?
  • What is our strategy to manage these multi-cultural assumptions if they prove true?  False?

How will this project affect other people, groups or projects?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Whose work around the world might be impacted by this project?
  • What multicultural influences should be considered?
  • How do I know this?

Example:  Your project team, part of a North American company, has members from Mexico,Brazil,Korea,Switzerland,Germany and Canada.  Your Customer for an electrical engineering product development project is a Chinese company.  The Customer expects Phase I of the project to be finished in 30 days.

Deliverables include detailed production specifications.  The Customer insists that you add a nuclear physicist from his organization as an ex-officio advisor.  You test your team for assumptions and learn that:

  • The member from Switzerland doesn’t think the physicist is really necessary.
  • The member from Mexico wants to check with the leadership from his home organization committing to the 30-day deadline.
  • The member from Brazil doesn’t think the Customer is deeply committed to the 30-day deadline.
  • The member from Germany thinks a detailed background report should accompany the production specifications.
  • The member from Canada thinks a second physicist should be added from the Customer organization.

You hold a meeting to address these and other assumptions.  You post the assumptions on the walls and discuss each one fully, being sensitive to the different cultural perspectives.  You then put the team to work finding compromise resolutions to issues raised by these assumptions.  A criteria for these compromises is determination of Customer needs.  You then bring these concerns, and their recommended resolutions, to an informal meeting with a Customer representative whose multicultural views you have come to value.  He provides valuable insights that you later share with the team.


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