What is international project management?

International project management(IPM) is the management of projects that involve multi-national resources and teams working together to attain the project goals. With globalization, businesses tend to be no longer confined within their national boundaries. They expand internationally to achieve the basic goals like:

  • Increasing their market share
  • Reducing the overall cost by leveraging international talents and resources
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Examples of International Projects

  • A Singaporean company building a manufacturing unit in India, with a Spanish partner; value chain organizations in Germany and Brazil; and a government agency in Vietnam.
  • A Belgian charitable organization providing emergency medical services to people in Gulf countries; five other countries outsourcing food and pharmaceuticals; doctors from the US and donations from Asian countries. 
  • An Italian organization constructing a hospital in Australia with funding from an Asian country.
  • An Indian IT company launching its platform in a European country, getting architecture provided from Spain and code from Pakistan. 

You may, at this point wonder – international projects are after all projects with similar goals. How does the involvement of people from different demographics make it any different from the domestic projects? 

Images

For now, I would say that international projects require a specific set of tools and techniques that are not quite the same as domestic projects.

Read on, to get insights on international projects and their management.

“The global scale creates an environment of very rapid change. You will most likely have work completed as you are sleeping. The project manager needs to be aware of time zone differences, different holidays around the globe, vacations in different cultures and many other rapid changes on the project”

Michael O’Connor, strategy and project management director at Medtronic and instructor of the Global and Cultural Competency course at CSS

Working Challenges for the Countries

Countries in the international projects can experience many differences while working together:

  • Culture
  • Time Zone
  • Politics
  • Law
  • Accounting Standard
  • Language 
  • Local practice
  • Processes
  • Resources
  • Holidays

While running an international project, a project manager cannot ignore these aspects of differences for the working teams across the world.

Cultural differences, among these, stand out, as they are the most complex features to deal with in a compound working environment that involves multiple countries.

For example, there is a huge visible cultural polarity between India and America. If a project manager of a project involving these countries slurs over this contrast, he/she may invite considerable risk or failure.

An example of cultural differences in international projects is – countries that value long-term projects(like the Chinese) vs ones that value gig/contract jobs(like the Americans).

If a project includes both of these countries, certain aspects need to be considered and catered to, on priority, while running the project.

“Culture is a collective programming of the mind that distinguishes one group or category of people from another”

Geert Hofstede

Most people are so heavily seasoned with their own culture that they fail to empathize or even appreciate the flavors of the other cultures crossing their way.

This leads to a foul work environment and finally may lead to an overall project failure.

After performing a careful study of several cultures, researchers have come up with some great tools and mechanisms to compare different countries based on cultural similarities and differences.

Of the many frameworks, ‘Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions’ stands as the most convenient and popular one. Let us study it more in detail.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

dimensions

According to this framework, countries can be ranked based on the below six cultural dimensions. Each of these categories is then scored on a scale of 0 to 120 :

  1. Power Distance
  2. Individualism vs Collectivism
  3. Masculinity vs Femininity
  4. Uncertainty Avoidance
  5. Long vs Short term orientation
  6. Indulgence vs Restraint

Power Distance

Power distance refers to the distribution of power among the various sections of the society. 

A society with a high power distance index has a visible power gap between the senior stakeholders and the rest of the members.

In such a society, people usually accept a hierarchical order in which everyone has a place that needs no further justification. 

A low index of power distance, on the other hand, means a flat curve for power distribution, and everybody has a say in the project.

Individualism vs Collectivism

A project with a high score on individualism means you need to focus on each individual’s aspirations and needs. Whereas, blurring the individual demands, a high collectivism index signifies an emphasis on group goals and achievements. 

In a culture of high individualism, it is important to engage each head in substantial work. In a culture focusing on the latter, you engage only with the key personnel who delegate the work to the rest of the team.

Masculinity vs Femininity

A country with high masculinity has most of the decision-making members that are male. Their decision is welcomed more, compared to the female heads. 

In a business context, ‘masculinity vs femininity’ is often considered synonymous to ‘tough vs tender’ cultures.

An example of a masculine country is Japan. On the other hand, Scandinavian countries like Norway and Sweden are considered highly feminine.

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance refers to making a background such that any kind of uncertainty in business can be avoided. 

Rules are set up to avoid uncertainty. A culture with a high degree of uncertainty avoidance parameter refers to the lesser acceptance of unorthodox norms.
They mostly believe in following the set rules and are less tolerant of changes. 

A culture with a lesser uncertainty avoidance score is more flexible to changes and adapts to them if the business demands so. 

Long vs Short-Term Orientation

Some countries prefer long-term projects with long deadlines and partnerships. Asian countries mostly fall under this category.

Short-term projects are favored by countries like America and Morocco and they do value gig jobs and contract work contrary to their long-term counterparts.

Indulgence vs Restraint

This is a comparatively new one added to the existing Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions. The extent to which people try to control their desires and impulses is related to this dimension.

A greater control means restraint and such culture follows strict social norms, whereas a lesser grip on people’s emotions and gratification of needs is indulgence

You may at this point ask, all this is fine, but how are the cultural parameters related to international project management? Read on.

How can Cultural Dimensions Help in International Project Management

In the initial phase when you decide on the countries for an international project, cultural analysis of each country helps to choose the most cohesive combination.

Also, choosing any country becomes easier if you base your choice on the cultural score in a particular dimension. 

For example, for a short-term project, if you approach China (which values long-term projects more), you may not succeed in getting a conversion of your proposal. 

Also, if you are heading to start an international change project, choosing countries with low uncertainty avoidance scores would be wiser as they would be ready for changes. 

A Comparison of Few Countries

Let us check out some countries and their cultural dimensions.
This will give a clearer picture of how comparisons are done while analysing the cultural front of the participating countries of a project. 

graph IPM
graph 2

As is evident from the images, both China and France score high on power distance. While Denmark scores low.

So if you are dealing with the high scorers, you will find a strong sense of leadership and power among the top position holders in the hierarchy. 

The US has a high level of individualism. If you are working with them, you need to be careful about treating each member with equal importance.

Denmark has a low degree of masculinity. This means females take the lead in the decision-making processes. Men have more responsibility at home and quality of life is great here. 

Uncertainty avoidance level is high in France, which shows that the French people like to adhere to the rules and norms and are not very flexible to changes. 

As stated before, China values long-term bonds and America is more into short-term engagements.

So choose your countries wisely, based on their score on long-term orientation and the project duration.

Making a Career in IPM

International Project Management involves the below – 

  • Planning
  • Budgeting
  • Supervising

Executing these items needs a basic IPM skill that can be learned through various courses. We will discuss this in a bit.  

Also, there are multiple career options in the IPM field. A career in IPM depends on the candidate’s –

  • Educational background
  • Professional Experience

Some facts about International Project Management

Median Salary (2019)* $73,349 (for all project managers)
Key Skills Excellent oral and written communication; organization; strong leadership; problem-solving
Work Environment Typically in-office with some travel involved to oversee field operations
Similar Occupations Administrative coordinators; business managers; operations managers; marketing coordinators
Source: *PayScale.com

What do International Project Managers do?

An international project manager plans, organizes, and leads international projects. An example can be with a new franchised shop outlet in a new country.

An international project manager is responsible for handling the in and out of the business while following the monetary and time constraints agreed upon in the agreement. 

Additionally, risk analysis and cost estimation are the add-on responsibilities. Also, great communication is the basic skill needed to do written and verbal communication with the teams and stakeholders. 

The following figure shows the ideal brain of an international project manager. Notice the balance needed between the left and right brain.

The right hemisphere is mostly engaged in holistic thinking, creativity, and soft skills. The left hemisphere, on the other hand, deals with logic, analytics, and hard skills. 

An international project manager exhibiting the correct balance between the usage of the two hemispheres of their brain, tends to be more successful. 

IPM value

Implementation of IPM

After identifying the cultural differences, you do the project implementation.

Since it is an international project, you need to put special efforts into handling the cultural differences, country law, finances, politics, language timezone, etc.

IPM has certain steps involved:

  1. Define the project
  2. Determine the project leaders
  3. Set up a hierarchy
  4. Define the project plan
  5. Execute the project

Since the project scope is wide and there are several stakeholders involved, a correct view of the project – objectives, roadmap, scope, cost, dependencies, challenges – is a prerequisite before diving into the real project.

As a next step, you determine the leadership positions needed to run the project smoothly at each point.

For each position, you pick the best personnel that fit the responsibility. You set up a hierarchy within the management, where everyone does his specific set of jobs.

A well-documented project plan in place is a must to proceed with an effective execution of the project.

Studying IPM 

There are several certificate and degree programs available for IPM, but these are not very common. The most followed ones are the undergraduate and graduate level programs. 

Students/professionals in the below fields can opt for IPM courses:

  • Business
  • IT
  • Consulting
  • Product development

The courses include the below topics on management:

  • Global entrepreneurship
  • Multinational marketing
  • International supply chain management
  • International negotiations

Students learn to pursue international business and management while utilizing the latest technology.

Click here to learn about project management as a career move.

IPM Certification

ASAPM – The American Society for the Advancement of Project Management – promotes the development of project management courses in organizations all over the world.

It provides a background to develop industry publications, recognition, and certification. 

There are several certifications available, based on the experience level of candidates. You can earn IPM certification as a project management associate.

Later with experience, you graduate to the rank of project manager, senior project manager, and gradually to a project director. 

Click here to learn about some of the best project management certifications.

International Project Management Day

Calendar

Celebrated on the first Thursday in November, IPM day has been celebrated since 2004, to encourage international-project-based organizations with recognition events within their projects.

This is done to demonstrate appreciation for the achievements of project managers and their teams. 

To Sum Up,

In this rapidly changing world, marketing yourself as a global citizen is a wise option to step ahead in your management career.

Increasing your market share to leverage global talents is possible by pursuing international project management courses.

These courses are available as under-graduate and graduate programs, and as online programs. 

Handling an international project needs a special skill set that can be learned over time through experience and more, through project management courses.

The people in international projects come from different cultural backgrounds and you need to gauge each culture on the basis of parameters like power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance etc.

Based on these calculations, you get an idea of the coherent countries that go well together.

Implementation of IPM or international project management involves certain steps like defining the project objectives, setting up a leadership hierarchy in the project, planning and finally executing the project. 

It is not mandatory to have a prior experience in domestic project management, but having one would add to your management skills. The best way is to take a course to learn about the nuances of international project management . 

Remember, the key success factors in the field of management are – communication skills, proper use of software, and general management techniques.

Learn these through the management courses and you are ready to fly into the future of management.

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