Managing International Projects – Part 4

This is the fourth 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 plans, schedules and budgets.

Tips for International Projects

  • Pay close attention to multi-cultural issues impacting milestones
  • Allow for exchange rate fluctuation on international financial transfers
  • Allow additional time for steps involving delivery of materials through customs
  • Identify and assign actions that ensure support of strong influencers

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

Plans, schedules and budgets need special attention in international projects to ensure that concerns surfaced by the Four Key Variables of International Projects are addressed effectively.  Each step on the Network Diagram should be tested against the Four Variables.  Where concerns arise, additional risk prevention or contingency elements should be added as part of the Network Diagram.

The cultural diversity of the project team can be especially valuable in the Network Diagram testing process.  Team members must listen carefully to what colleagues have to say about the cultural needs of Customer and supplier representatives, strong influencers and other project players.  When problems occur related to the Four Variables, the team should immediately seek help from those with appropriate cultural insights, inside or outside the team.  Time and Power/Status issues should be monitored in international projects.  Customer and supplier views of deadlines are likely to vary according to cultural context.  The close relationship between money and power in organizations means the team should carefully test the cultural appropriateness of all budgeting decisions.

To implement this project, who should do what, by when?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • How well has the team tested for the multi-cultural impact of proposed actions?
  • What measures are in place to manage potential multi-cultural issues arising from action plans?
  • Has the team considered potential multi-cultural issues in estimating time duration for the action elements?
  • What prevention and contingency plans are in place to manage such time-related issues?

What actions should be taken to ensure support of strong influence stakeholders?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • Has the team tested for the presence of strong influencers, using the Four Key Variables of International Projects as a guide?
  • What plans have been developed to manage the involvement of strong influencers representing a variety of cultures?
  • Do those responsible for implementing the strong-influencer plans have the multi-cultural awareness needed to do an effective job?
  • What prevention and contingency plans are in place to manage the emergence of unexpected strong influencers across the life of the project?

What are the costs associated with this project plan and schedule?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What prevention and contingency plans are in place to manage multi-cultural cost-estimating challenges?
  • Do our procurement plans consider possible multi-cultural context, power/status, time or information path issues?
  • Does our cost planning consider multi-national currency exchange, tax, import/export and other international legal or monetary challenges?
  • What are our plans to handle such challenges if they occur?

Example:  A project for a Customer with branches in six countries on three continents has generated a number of challenges, especially in estimating time and cost for individual activities.  Time commitments for action step completion seem to have different meanings in different global areas.  Costs seem to rise in unexpected ways in some countries and regions.

Fortunately, the team leader has international project experience and is familiar with the Four Key Variables of International Projects.  He knows things are seldom what they appear to be when dealing with a variety of cultural perspectives.

For that reason he asks lots of questions about action elements, especially those involving time and costs.  He knows there will be unexpected problems, no matter how much advance planning was done.  When unexpected problems arise, he immediately pulls together team members with insights into the cultures involved.  When such expertise isn’t available on the team, he finds the right people from other parts of the organization, or from outside the organization if necessary.  The team keeps an especially close watch on cultural issues that might emerge around project milestones.

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