Managing International Projects – Part 7

This is the seventh 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 communication.

Tips for International Projects

  • Establish and maintain an information distribution network
  • Use teleconferencing and video conferencing to augment personal contact
  • Respect time zone differences when scheduling meetings and responses to requests
  • Assign multi-cultural accountability for tracking performance indicators
  • Plan for the absence of key people at important meetings
  • Use the informal communication network when implementing project changes

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.

Effective communication is simultaneously one of the greatest challenges in managing international projects and one of the most effective tools in ensuring success in such projects.  All four of the Key Variables of International Projects impact communication, with information paths being especially significant.  Informal communication can be an important factor in project management within high-context cultures, where great emphasis is placed on the sharing of information face-to-face through networks of long-term relationships.  Formal communication can figure prominently in sharing of project information within low-context cultures, where emphasis may be on the substance of messages rather than on how or from whom they are delivered.  Distribution Networks should be reviewed regularly for cultural appropriateness.  Information recipients should be polled to ensure they are receiving the information they need and want, in ways they consider appropriate.  Time, distance and media availability issues must be managed.

In the same way, proposed changes within the project should be monitored carefully for multi-cultural issues.  Actions should be developed that help support change initiatives.  Strong influencers, especially within high-context cultures, should be managed carefully.

How will we ensure that project team members get the information they need on time?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What are the unique communication needs for this international project?
  • How can the Four Variables of International Projects help us identify and manage these needs?
  • Who is accountable for identifying these needs and establishing plans to meet them?
  • Who are the strong influencers for the project and what are their multi-cultural communication requirements?
  • How do delivery issues, such as distance, global time differences, media availability (i.e., e-mail, video teleconference, etc.) impact development of a strong project communication network?

How will we promote appropriate formal and informal communication?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What do the Four Variables of International Projects tell us about the formal and informal communication needs of key project players?
  • What are the informal communication needs of stakeholders from high-context cultures?
  • What are the formal communication needs of stakeholders from low-context cultures?
  • What unique information paths must be identified and managed for formal and informal communication?

How will we know that changes to the project plan are being recognized and managed?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • How are change needs entered into the multi-national communication system?
  • How is effectiveness of change communication being monitored?
  • Who is accountable for identifying and managing gaps in the communication system?
  • What are the unique multi-cultural communication needs of strong influencers?

Example:  The Korean supplier of several key design prototypes for your project is consistently late with deliveries.  The project team regularly e-mails updated information to this supplier, including schedule changes.  The missed deadlines are causing problems with your Project Customer, a deadline-conscious Canadian firm.  You appoint a study team with multi-cultural representation to meet with the Korean supplier and seek remedies to the delivery problems.  During an orientation meeting, you brief study-team members on the Four Variables of International Projects, reminding them that Korea is a high-context culture.  As a result, members of the supplier organization may have strong needs for personal, relationship-driven communication.  You also suggest that the team carefully map information paths through the organization.  The study team reports that the e-mail messages to the Korean supplier organization aren’t consistently getting past senior middle managers to the necessary project planners and designers.  New communication systems are designed.  Several key people within the Korean organization are designated to be responsible for personally communicating scheduling information to appropriate individuals down to the operating level.

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