GaryLuck gives an insight into how to build managers’ confidence in handlingprojects across international boundariesMost managers are responsible for managing projects. Their job title mightmake no reference to their project responsibilities and their professionaldevelopment might never have included training in project management, or inhard or soft skills, yet, they are commonly found in positions of leadership inmajor technology or change initiatives. Sometimes they manage a trained projectteam, or they are reliant simply on their general management skills. The challenges faced by modern managers are made even more complex by thefact they are increasingly called upon to operate in multi-project,multi-partnered, multicultural environments. Project environments are increasingly international and multinational interms of markets, stakeholders, customers and suppliers. Managers typicallyhave to build, manage and motivate new teams across cultures, often where theyhave no formal authority. It is small wonder that delivering on time, within budget and tospecification, seems an ever more unattainable goal for many managers. How canbreakthroughs be achieved in the success rate of projects? Is it simply areality of modern business life that projects fail or overrun on time andbudget? Does the complexity of an international project environmentautomatically reduce a project’s chance of successful delivery? Dynamic environments Success or failure of a project can determine the success or failure ofcompany strategy. The outcome of a project can often be determined by theleadership styles adopted in the early stages of the project. It isincreasingly accepted that strategy is a dynamic process. So too, are projectenvironments. The unforeseen events, developments and opportunities that emerge in aproject life cycle will be multiplied by many factors in a multicultural,multi-partnered, multi-project environment. From our experience, it is clear that projects where team members embracewide cultural diversity are likelier to encounter higher levels of uncertaintyand lower levels of agreement. Instead of a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to project management, managersshould be encouraged to heighten their awareness of diversity and address itthrough appropriate styles of management and leadership, so that the tensioninherent in the diversity results in creative outcomes. The model below, adapted from an idea by Ralph Stacey2 is used to helpmanagers consider the styles they need to adopt for their project, and isparticularly beneficial in a multicultural project environment. A typical project with high levels of agreement and certainty is where theoutcome of the project is already known and predictable, such as the buildingof a new factory. Projects of this type resemble a jigsaw puzzle – where the picture is on thebox and even on the jigsaw itself, but might still be quite complex to puttogether. While we accept there will be some areas within this type of projectthat are uncertain and with low agreement, the overall objective of the projectis more certain. In this type of environment, a project leader will find iteasier to plan, monitor and control outcomes. Conversely, in some projects there are low levels of agreement and lowlevels of certainty. This type of project resembles more of a problem than apuzzle, and the nature of the problem may not even be known. In this scenario, a project leader needs to be more facilitative. Ifundertaken in a multicultural environment, a project leader must create anenvironment of trust, openness and collaboration. They must engage people todefine the problems and co-create the solutions. If achieved successfully, stakeholderswill find experimentation stimulating, and bottom-up change can be created. While perceptions may lead managers to believe their situation correspondsto a ‘top right’ position (on the diagram below), by an innovative combinationof technical and softer skills, new knowledge can be co-created, moving theprojects into the familiar arena of plan, monitor and control. ‘Soft’ project management skills can be used with great effect throughoutthe project process. When Ashridge Consulting works with organisations, its prime purpose is totransfer consulting skills such as facilitation, principles of working withchange, conflict resolution, influencing without authority and individualexecutive coaching, to build high-trust relationships and a learning community.This approach creates sustainable learning and ensures the learning loop iscompleted. Reasons for uncertainty Research has demonstrated that uncertainty in projects can arise from: – Difficulty in estimating task time – Student syndrome (not starting the task until the last minute) – Parkinson’s law (work expands to fill the time available) – Unsynchronised integration of dependent tasks – Bad multi-tasking All of these reasons for uncertainty are addressed by Dr E H Goldratt’s3critical chain methodology, which creates a common language suitable forcross-cultural teams. It not only produces collaborative ways of producing arobust project network, but provides visual ways of accurately monitoring theproject’s status . This methodology has a proven track record of reducing the time of projectsby up to two-thirds. In strategic terms, this often involves introducing a newproduct into the marketplace faster, reducing large-scale set-up times infactories and boosting the strategic implementation ability of theorganisation, thereby gaining a competitive advantage. Cross-cultural communication Good communication that enables all teammembers to understand and learn is essential to a project’s success. Barriersto understanding are too often created, even within a single culturalenvironment, if the learning styles and preferences of various team members arenot taken into account. For example, if a project manager explains theproject’s content, or the ways of working on a project, in a highly theoreticalor technical way to a team member whose learning style is more experiential orpractical, there is likely to be a barrier to understanding. This is likely tobe experienced even more frequently when linguistic barriers compound the difficultiesin understanding. A strong antidote to theoretical approaches that run into communicationproblems, particularly useful in cross-cultural environments, can be the use ofexpressive forms. These can be used to promote the understanding of current reality vital toany project scenario. Stories and artistic representations can often buildpictures more effectively than formal language. For example, a cross-cultural team within a multinational client as recentlyworking to understand and describe the project environment at the company.Storytelling, drawing, body-sculpture and poetry were all used to portray ascenario, which emerged in a far more meaningful and broadly understood formatthan could have been created by any word-bound analytical approach . Given that the present is the stories we shall one day recount, this more‘whole self’, playful approach should not be discounted. It breaks downcultural barriers and facilitates good communication. Every learning stylewithin a cross-cultural team can be engaged by these more experiential ways ofworking, because they have to think, participate, experience and then reflectupon their learning. Cross-cultural understanding Apart from appreciating problems caused by linguistic barriers and multiplelearning styles in cross-cultural groups, the project manager has to befamiliar with the less visible aspects of cross-cultural work that cancomplicate the project. Many such examples are cited by Fons Trompenaars4, asoften projects involve multi-stakeholders, including suppliers. The type of situation that might arise is a case where a contract is signedbetween an Arab supplier and a US contracting firm. If the individual whosigned the contract leaves the US organisation, the Arab supplier may considerthe contract void. Clearly, this would be counter to the understanding of theUS contractor. Similarly, there are different cultural views about where decision-makingpower lies. The United Arab Emirates, in line with Poland, the US, Sweden andCzechoslovakia, is likely to believe it is vested in the individual. This is instark contrast to France, Italy, Spain and Japan, where people believedecision-making power is vested in the organisation. Project managers must heighten their awareness of these issues in theirparticular cross-cultural working context. Multicultural project working will be created by a diverse group ofparticipants in the forthcoming Ashridge PMA programme, on 7-11 July 2003. Asubsequent programme will start on 3 November. For more information, see www.ashridge.com/pma or contact GaryLuck on 01442 841183References1. Guide to Strategic Positioning in The Strategy Process,Mintzberg and Quinn, Prentice Hall, 1997 (reference to Mintzberg on figure 1)2. Stacey, Ralph D, Strategic Management & OrganisationalDynamics, Financial Times Pitman Publishing, 2nd Edition, 1993 (reference to this in figure 2 and in text above)3. Critical Chain, Dr EHGoldratt, 1997, North River Press,Mass. USA4. Trompenaars, Fons, Riding the Waves of Culture:Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business, London, The Economist Books, 1993 Comments are closed. Previous Article Next Article Triumph over complexityOn 1 Jun 2003 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos.