Managing International Projects – Part 8

This is the eighth 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 risk management.

Tips for International Projects

  • Conduct risk assessment periodically
  • Look for risks specific to each culture represented
  • Insist on periodic issue summaries
  • Build cultural awareness into your risk management scenarios

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.

Risk Management is one of the most important elements in managing international projects.  The Four Variables of International Projects can help project teams identify many of the risks they are likely to encounter in the international arena.  A Risk Management Plan is useful in high-context cultures, where communicating is best done on a personal more informal basis and in low-context cultures, where concrete data is valued.

The Four Variables can be used for establishing preventive actions and Risk Management Scenarios to assure that issues don’t happen, and for planning contingent actions to manage issues that do occur.  Potential risks aren’t always readily evident in international projects.  The Four Variables can help surface some of these hidden challenges.

What issues could impede progress toward the project outcome and how serious and probable are they?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What multi-cultural issues might be surfaced within this project by applying the Four Variables of International Projects?
  • Is there enough cultural diversity on the team to provide in-depth risk identification?
  • How can the Four Variables help identify the seriousness of possible risks and probability of them occurring?
  • How well is the team probing behind the obvious in identifying possible international project risks?

What can be done to prevent each key issue from occurring and what can be done if each key issue arises?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • What is the team’s plan for preventing risks surfaced by the Four Variables of International Projects?
  • What is the team’s plan for managing those risks if they occur?
  • How do distance, communication challenges and other global factors impact the team’s risk management planning?
  • How will these challenges be managed?

Have the risk management elements been built into the project plan?

Supplemental International Testing Questions:

  • How well have the international risk management elements been built into the project plan?
  • Are the Four Variables being kept in mind in communicating the risk management action elements?
  • How well have the cultural implications of the risk management action elements been assessed and communicated?

Example:  A South American Customer has asked your firm to help in designing a new product for consumers in their country.  Team members selected for their awareness of the Customer’s cultural perspective have met with Customer representatives.  In addition, a Customer representative is a member of the project team.  Much data has been assembled on the Customer’s needs, constraints and success criteria.  Assumptions have been examined—for the Customer and for team members.  Even so, you as the team leader, are still concerned about possible risks within this international project.  For this reason, you bring the team together to brainstorm possible risks beyond those already identified.  You take a few minutes to brief team members on the Four Variables of International Projects, with special emphasis on context and power/status issues.  You are glad you held the session.  It turns out that information paths inside the Customer organization are extremely complex.  In addition, the information needs and information paths inside a number of  your supplier organizations are also quite complicated.  Moreover, two new individuals are identified as strong influencers in the Customer organization.  You create a multi-cultural  sub-team to develop prevention and contingency plans to manage these risks.


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