Last Updated 14 May 2021

Global Project Management

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Global business practices are becoming increasingly common both for large multi-national organizations as well as small domestic businesses. Many businesses outsource work to other countries or contract people of organizations globally to complete project work or provide offshore services (Eberlein, 2008, p. 27).

A better understanding of how to manage global projects is important to the body of knowledge about project management. The purpose of this study is to explore the similarities and differences between domestic and global project management. The research questions used to guide this study are 1. In what ways are domestic and global projects similar and different?  What are some mediating variables that contribute to global project failure or success? Domestic Project Management

In the United States the Project Management Institute (PMI) project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) and the Association of Project Manager’s (APM) body of knowledge (bok) are used as guides for planning and controlling projects (Burke, 2001). According to the PMBOK a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. Temporary means that every project has a definite end. Unique means that the product or service is different in some distinguishing way from all similar products or services” (PMBOK as cited in Burke, 2001, p. ). All projects share the same basic components:a project manager or single individual responsible for the outcome of the project, a beginning and an end, ( distinct phases, budget of allocated financial and physical resources,  unique set of activities specific to the project, fast tracking to getting product or process completed before the competition, and  identification of team member roles and responsibilities (Burke, 2001).

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The role of the project manager is “to set up a management structure which not only meets the needs of the project, but the needs of the organization, the needs of the stakeholders and the needs of the individuals working on the project” (Burke, 2001, p. 1). Projects range in size and scope from small domestic projects to large multi-national global projects. The first, and often critical task of the project manager is to identify the stakeholders of the project and what their needs and expectations are in relation to the urpose and the scope of the project (Kerzner, 2003). According to the PMBOK, there are nine components that the project manager must consider:  integration,  time, quality, scope,  cost,  human resource management, communication,  procurement, and risk. This involves the project manager articulating what has to be completed in order for the project to be a success. This includes outlining how long the project will take, how much it will cost, what resources are needed, and what technical or subject matter experts are needed.

Prior to implementation, the project manager works with others on the project team to develop a plan and how it will be implemented. Throughout the planning, implementation, and completion phases, the project manager is responsible for managing techniques and tools used as well as integrating, monitoring and maintaining the process and personnel from concept to completion of project objectives (Burke, 2001). Project integration involves the planning, execution, and control of the project and how the inputs from different knowledge and technical experts will be coordinated (Kerzner, 2003).

Project scope management involves ensuring that all the tasks required for the project are defined, the resources required are identified, and controlling processes are in place (DeLone et al. , 2005). Project cost management includes understanding budget allocation and restrictions and planning how resources will be used, cost estimates and budgeting, cash-flow and control. Project quality management involves indentifying and maintaining the necessary conditions to ensure quality assurance and control during all phases of the project life cycle.

Management of project personnel is also an important responsibility of the project manager. Project human resource management involves identifying, recruiting, and maintaining a project team with the right mix of technical and knowledge experts (Kerzner, 2003). Project communication management involves creating a work environment that facilitates the proper communication channels for the collection and dissemination of information related to planning, implementation, and completion of the project.

Project risk management involves identifying risks and incorporating processes and procedures to mitigate against risks to the completion of the project. Finally project procurement management involves identification and implementation of processes that facilitate the planning and procurement of resources and necessary documentation for completion of the project (Burke, 2001, pp. 8-9).

During the project life-cycle, project managers are responsible for oversight of such tasks or processes as work breakdown structure, critical path methods (calculation of all the activities from start to finish to determine the duration of the project), resource smoothing, earned value, and configuration control (Burke, 2001). Many organizations are turning to management-by-projects approach because it provides flexibility, decentralized management responsibility, a more holistic or global way of conceptualizing problems and solutions, and problem solution processes that are goal oriented (Burke, 2001, p. ). One benefit of management by project is that it allows for the inclusion of temporary, part-time or full-time workers as team members. Another is that this approach has been endorsed by the International Project Management Assoc iation (IPMA) (Burke, 2001). This is important for global project management scenarios. Global Project Management Global project management often involves program management in which a project office is designated to mange a large capital project that is subdivided into smaller project teams each with a specific goal to achieve as part of a larger plan.

Often the project manager will be involved with one or more of the following, either personally or through designated representatives:  recruitment of project team personnel,  human resources and personnel issues,  identification of economic factors related to the project, computer or other technical systems to be used,  legal contracts or other required documentations,  sales and marketing issues if applicable,  and costs (purchasing, sales, and employee) (Burke, 2001, p. 5).

Finally, the project manager either serves as the technical expert or identifies and includes on the project team the necessary technical and knowledge experts required to complete the project. The project manager is key to the success of any project. The project manager sets the overall tone and creates the environment in which the work is to be completed (Delone et al. , 2005). The project manager must contend with and integrate the different expectations of outside forces that influence the project development, implementation, and completion.

This includes stakeholder goals and expectations as well as the immediate client or sponsor requirements for the project (Delone et al. , 2005). It also includes understanding how the project fits within the economic cycle, market requirement, and the competition. In addition, the project manager must complete the project within the culture and structure of the organization or organizations while adhering to any rules and regulations governing the industry (Espinosa et al. , 2003).

Finally, and sometimes neglected, the project manager must be mindful of the political forces that can affect the completion of the project, both internal to the organization as well as the external environment (Burke, 2001, p. 6). These factors are static and the manager must be able to deal with uncertainty, change, and risk within the project environment. In a growing global business environment, projects often involve international partner and project teams composed of members from different geographical and cultural areas (Eberlein. 008). Global project managers are faced with a different set of challenges than faced by the domestic project manager. “Conducting projects in different countries, with their unique legal and political environment, security issues, economic factors, and infrastructure limitations and requirements, increases complexity far beyond that of projects executed in domestic settings” (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 1). Many of the issues discussed in relation to domestic project management are applicable to global project management.

However, in addition to the PMI and PMBOK in the United States, there are others organizations that provide project management guidelines such as the Association of Project Managers (AMP bok) in the United Kingdom, The AIPM Competency Standards for Project Management in Australia, the ISO 10006 Guideline to Quality in Project Management, South African unit standards, and the International Association of Project Managers (IPMA’s BOK) (Burke, 2001, p. ). The purpose of these resources is to provide a body of common knowledge that can be used in domestic as well as international projects Compared to the PMBOK used in the United States, the APM bok from the United Kingdom employs a broader approach to project management, utilizing 55 knowledge areas compared to the nine knowledge areas of PMBOK.

The APM bok: Incorporates not only inward focused project management topics (such as planning and control techniques), but also broader topics in which the project is being managed (such as social and ecological environment), as well as specific areas (such as technology, economics, finance, organization, procurement and people as well as general management). (Burke, 2001, p. 8) Global project management involves an understanding of the industries and types of projects that are used in the countries involved in the project (Burke, 2001).

When involved in global project management, a key issue is ensuring a common understanding and competence of project managers who come from different project management certification of licensure programs Delone et al. , 2005). Project managers and team members will have to work out a common business language and set of common practices and procedures that will be adhered to during the planning, implementation, and completion of the project. This is especially important when dealing with different legal systems and requirements of the countries involved in the project (Burke, 2001, p. 10).

The Influence of Culture to the Success of a Project Global project managers must effectively deal with differences in language that could be barriers to communication and understanding. Cross-cultural differences can also pose challenges when cultural conventions are violated. This lack of attention to language and cultural will show up at any point in the life cycle from planning to the completion stage in the form of differences in quality standards adhered to by technical and knowledge experts as well as misunderstandings over goals and task requirements (Henri & Sousa-Poza, 2005).

Differences in labor relations, governmental agency involvement must also be addressed when forming a project team and setting the project deadline (Freedman & Katz, 2007). A critical mistake a project manager can make in working with an international team is neglecting cultural variables than can pose a risk to planning and execution. For example, assigning a high-risk project to a team composed of members from a risk-averse culture (e. g. Germany, Japan, and China) may result in excessive time spent in the planning and risk assessment phase of the project life cycle, changing processes, procedures, and performance aspects to mitigate against low probability risks that results the wasting of time and resources, and negative attitudes about the success of the project (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 2)

In countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and some African nations, the successful completion of time-intensive and time critical projects can be jeopardized by a culture that places an emphasis on being patient and bending to the will of fate. It is therefore vital to review such cultural characteristics in the context of a project’s priorities, considering alternatives where appropriate” (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 2). Who the stakeholders are in a global project are also important considerations. While this is often neglected in domestic projects, the negative repercussions pose a greater threat to global projects (Freedman & Katz, 2007). To mitigate against the negative risks associated with a global partnership, it is important to establish shared goals and objectives from the start.

This is often a difficult process because of cultural differences between the countries involved. While all cultural differences cannot be eliminated, identifying and mutually acknowledging these differences can help decrease misunderstandings and insults that could threatened the completion of the project (Freedman & Katz, 2007). Therefore, a project manager involved in any international partnership would take into consideration several factors that start with an assessment of the cultural values of the country and organization from which some of the team members would be recruited.

Questions that the project manager would ask include:  How complex is the project?  How complex is the project infrastructure?  What are the key risk areas of the project? How time-critical is the project?  What are your long-term objectives? Which cultural barriers will you have to address? Once the team has been established, time should be taken to clarify and align the technical and knowledge competencies required by team members as well as the intentions and expectations from both the domestic and globally based team members for how the project will proceed.

Since communication may be more difficult when working with a global partner, it is incumbent on the project manager to take the extra time to clarify and confirm information shared between project team members and key stakeholders in the project (Delone, 2005). This process will help the project manager identify and deal with differences in values that might threatened effective collaboration (Freedman & Katz, 2007). Project team leadership can be influenced differently in domestic and global project management. Approaches to leadership that work well in domestic projects may fail when working with culturally diverse team. For example, there is a hierarchy of communication between workers, supervisors, and leadership that are strictly adhered to in some countries (e. g. , India and Japan) that is not a part of the organizational culture in the U. S. Ignoring these cultural conventions could lead to project delay or even failure (Freedman & Katz, 2007). In addition, some cultures are highly authoritarian, group-oriented, and use indirect communication; these cultural practices are different from U. S. practices that tend to be more egalitarian, individualist, and use direction communication.

This can result in situations where project team members are confused about how to interact with others and how to approach project tasks, often leading to delay or project failure (Freedman & Katz, 2007). If problems or conflict does occur, a project manager who understands the cultural differences at play, can work with team members to develop strategies that help adapting behaviors to accommodate differences in expectations about leadership, decision-making procedures, work styles, and rule/tactics of negotiation (Freedman & Katz, 2007).

Some cultures expect their leaders to be more egalitarian than is common among US leaders (e. g. , Scandanavia, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand). When leaders are perceived as too autocratic, team members often will resent the leader’s actions and ignore a leader they consider arrogant and overbearing. On the other hand, some cultures expect the leader to be more directive and autocratic (e. g. , most countries south of the US, Russia, China, India, Mid East, and Far Eastern countries) (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. ). When a leader is perceived to be too friendly or casual with subordinates, team members will react to the project manager with confusion and distrust (Freedman & Katz, 2007). It cannot be understated the importance of project managers to accommodate their behaviors to the cultural and organizational expectations. “It is entirely possible to behave in a way that will be viewed as weak and ineffective in one culture and viewed as boorish and ineffective in another” (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 4).

Palvia and Vemuri (2002) stress the key role that trust plays in the successful completion of a project. This is especially relevant to global project management were trust is built and strengthened by a project manager who recognizes the language, culture, local customs of the international partners and teams members in addition to knowledge about legal or regulatory requirements (Kliem, 2004). Project managers also must be prepared to work with leaders in other countries who are not familiar with working in cross-cultural teams and are unaware of how to interact in these situations.

Project managers facile at “influencing, negotiating, and adapting their behavior to different people and contexts” (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 5) are best suited from global projects. These managers are able to build relationships and understand the important role that these relationship are to the success of a global project. These managers are able to tap into relationships formed with partner organizations to help resolve issues or expedite solutions.

Project managers who have difficulty in the following areas would be poor choices for leading a global project:  building relationships, knowingly or unknowingly ignores or insults foreign team members, have poor communication skills,  views foreigners as lazy, stupid, or unable/unwilling to adapt, unwilling to adapt his/her own behaviors, takes for granted the importance of coming to consensus on issues related to project tasks, times, and quality (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 6).

On the other hand, Freedman and Katz (2007) outlined several behaviors of the “uninformed” superior working for a foreign company that could threaten the collaboration, functioning, and success of a project. These disruptive behaviors include:  Delegates completely, doesn’t see any reason to get involved. “They work for us—you make that clear to them! ”?Asks if the project manager is keeping “banker’s hours” when he/she comes in later after being on the phone from 11-3 the night before. Sees no reason to be selective (except technically) in placing people on an international project. Selects high risk/high collaboration projects for international work. Assumes the time required is the same for international and domestic projects. Is unwilling or unable to change leadership style to meet cultural expectations. (Freedman & Katz, 2007, p. 5) Another factor that is different from domestic projects is that members on a global project team often are geographically and sometimes organizationally dispersed (Orlikowski, 2002). It is not uncommon for these project members to meet in “virtual teams” using telecommunications and information technology (Eberlein, 2008, p. 9). Bell and Kozlowski (2002) point out that the use of virtual teams add an additional layer of complexity to any program. The lack of personal contact hinders team development and constrains performance management. At present, “there have been few efforts to include the culture variable in the theoretical frameworks” (Gurung & Prater, 2006, p. 24). Conclusion Being the manager of a globally based project can be exciting and rewarding with the project manager has the knowledge and skills to deal with culturally diverse work situations.

In order to increase leadership effectiveness and the management of risk, uncertainty, and complexity, the project manager must become familiar with the guidelines for the project process that is common in the country where the project will be completed. In addition, cultural awareness and the ability to engage members of the team in effective communication that considers and respects cultural customs of the hosting country is critical to project success. Different countries respond differently to peers and those in positions of authority. A little “homework” about the culture and customs of the host country will serve the project manager well.


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  2. Burke, R. (2001). Project management: Planning and control techniques (3rd ed. ). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. DeLone, W. , Espinosa, J. A. , Lee, G. , & Carmel, E. (2005). Bridging global boundaries for IS project success. Proceedings of the 38th Hawaii International Conference on Systems Science, Big Island Hawaii, IEEE.
  4. Eberlein, M. (2008). Culture as a critical success factor for successful global project management in multi-national IT service projects. Journal of Information Technology Management, 19(3), 27-42.
  5. Espinosa, J. A. , Cummings, J. N. , Wilson, J. M. , and Pearce, B. M. (2003). Team boundary issues across multiple global firms. Journal of Management Information Systems, 19(4), 157-190)
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  7. Gurung, A. , & Prater, E. (2006). A research framework for the impact of cultural differences on IT outsourcing. Journal of Global Information Technology Management, 9(1), 24-43.

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