Global Project Complexities

Global projects are more complex in nature than local project because additional factors are added to it, such as time zone differences, cultural differences, language differences and geographical distance differences. Distance is one of the major factors making global project complex. Distance has direct impact of communications. Lack of communication is one of the major reasons for PM failure. Distance also affects coordination and it does increases the amount of misunderstanding among project team members.

Geographical distance differences have a direct relationship with time zone differences especially in the East west direction. The further the distance the bigger the time zone differences. Time zone difference affects synchronous communication significantly. Project members therefore have to rely more on asynchronous communications which add extra delay to the project time. Asynchronous has it own advantages especially when there is a language barrier.

Language and cultural difference also goes hand in hand. However there are times two geographically separated teams will have similar culture but difference language. A good example will be Brazil and Mexico. In Brazil the national language is Portuguese while in Mexico the language is Spanish. However, both countries have very similar culture. Both countries are heavily influenced by the catholic religion, they both love music and entertainment and soccer is a more than a religion in both countries. However, on a global project involving the two countries language difference still come out. The language difference complexity is worse in situations when the there is no relationship between the languages of the various teams on the project such as English and Chinese. In these situations the language barrier is very pronounced. Synchronous communication is not helpful at all and the project members have to rely primarily on asynchronous communications. For global projects to be successful multiple means of communications are needed so taking synchronous communications out of the project will result in additional delay especially with feedback and clarification of confusing issues.

Cultural issues are much larger than language issues. Cultural issues affect many things such as believes, attitude, values, morals, ethics etc. What is ethical in one culture might be consider unethical in another. A good example is drinking or dressing. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 but 21 in the US. Bill Young the past president of AIPM (Australian Institute of Project Management) noted in (reference  5) that “50% of joint-venture project between Western companies and Chinese companies fail”. He then said understanding the cultural differences is one of the keys to the success global project not just between Australian and China.

If global projects are more complex than co-located projects why are companies doing global projects.  In (reference 4) a report by pwc they noted that most financial institutions struggle with the effective execution of large, complex global initiatives.  Others can comment on why global projects and how global projects can be successful today.

References

  1. http://auapps.american.edu/~alberto/docs/deloneespinosaleecarmel_hicss38_proceedings.pdf
  2. http://www.ics.uci.edu/~gmark/CSCW2002.pdf
  3. http://academia.edu/2815617/Global_Project_Management_Framework_A_Cartesian_Concept_Model
  4. http://www.pwc.com/us/en/financial-services/publications/viewpoints/assets/fs-viewpoint-global-project-execution.pdf
  5. http://www.thepmchannelnews.com/cultural-differences-in-project-management/

6 thoughts on “Global Project Complexities

  1. Even if a project is facilitated in a single location where everyone speaks the same language, works in the same time zone and has similar cultural backgrounds it should be understood that there will be differences amongst team members. Older team members may see things differently than younger team members. Males may see things differently than females. Your comments remind me that every project needs a good project manager to help manage these differences effectively.

  2. Global projects can be complex to manage, and I can absolutely relate to this. I work in a global company, and manage global projects. As you stated in your post, there are numerous barriers, and the project manager must successfully manage all these barriers. This is not an easy task and this is where I believe a successful project manager is distinguished from an unsuccessful project manager. A successful project manager needs to facilitate commitment to all major milestones and decisions, and clarify problems so that appropriate solutions can be found. Furthermore, the project manager needs to provide leadership and direction throughout the project in order to reach success.

  3. Although the global project is more complex, I believe as the trend toward knowledge dispersion grows and intensifies globally, it creates the opportunity for the global integrate approach. When a company is able to manage global projects, which can replicate the benefits of co-location while leveraging dispersed knowledge in order to build the competitive advantage. If global projects can deliver significant value and competitive advantage, reduce time to market and reduce costs. These global projects are a lever for integration, attracting and deploying knowledge from around the world, and promoting international learning and knowledge sharing.

  4. You pose a really good question. I think projects are turning global because Customer’s (and Suppliers) are becoming global. If I have a large Customer base in China, at some point I will need to run a project in China. The demand is clearly there as all international-reaching companies are working through this.

    As a secondary thought… When we all finally get good at running large global, multicultural projects, are we going to be able to take what we learn and apply it to our local-based projects too?

  5. Project management and the importance of effective communication has been a hot topic across a few of my current classes, which is what attracted me to read your comment about the complexities of global projects.  
    I’ve learned through both course lessons and hands on experience that when there are issues arising on projects, that a significantly large portion of them stems from miscommunication.
    Going more into depth with this, as you pointed out, “cultural issues are much larger than language issues.”   Given that so many companies today operate on a global scale, the severity of dismissing or disrespecting another culture’s “way of life” or simply their methods of doing business can prove to be fatal to the success of both companies involved. Investing in educating the reps of a company before having them become involved in these environments is instrumental to developing the necessary relationships.

  6. Global projects do have a lot of pros (reduced costs, improve operations or supply chain) as well as cons (cultural, geographical and language differences). As previous comments have pointed out, a project manager is successful at alleviating any differences that may come up when globalizing any project, be it big or small. I think it is important to globalize project management and become proficient with its challenges because we are becoming a more connected world were managing these barriers is a valuable skill.

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