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A Global Stage: International Project Management

24th April 2015 | Gary Straw

Author Gary Straw outlines the risks and opportunities of international project management, and advises on forming a preliminary risk analysis.

A Global Stage: International Project Management

If we are undertaking something that has an international dimension, we might be sufficient in setting out initial frameworks, but there is a risk that we have the wrong emphasis or are adopting the wrong framework. Muriithi and Crawford (2003) highlighted the wariness in Africa of adopting concepts of western origin; a number of reasons for this were cited, including an underlying resistance following political independence and also that there was strong evidence that western methods were partially or wholly inapplicable. They argued that this was associated with human behaviour and highlighted the need to recognize the cultural context.

There are many lenses or perspectives that help to frame the challenge and therefore to facilitate or support the deployment of the right approach. As the context and objectives change from project to project, we find that we need to continually modify our approach, and this implies that there may not be a single ideal one. This should not come as a surprise, but emphasizes the danger of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach to managing projects.

The notion of ‘international project management,’ can suggest problems, issues, conflict and risks. Key topic areas would include stakeholders, culture, ethics and aspects relating to geography and nationality. Culture is inherently part of the study of strategic management’ cultural and international differences present challenges to students of international management; in order to undertake international business, we need to understand multinational organizations, international strategy and core functions such as production, marketing, finance and HRM. In order to deliver international projects, we need to understand some or all of these.

Culture is a component of several of the aforementioned topics. It could be the sole focus in a study, where we evaluate its impact on communication, negotiation, learning, motivation and change management, but this could also include a consideration of leadership and the need to understand how to conduct business in a particular regional area; this in turn could reflect the particular aggregation of people in terms of ethnicity (a social group that has common national or cultural traditions). This is a complex landscape.

In order to develop the core elements of a framework, let us consider a couple of examples of project management. In Understanding Project Management, I look into the ‘lessons from Jindal’s Bolivian failure,’ (Gateway House, 2013) where in 2007 the Indian company Jindal Steel and Power Ltd had secured a contract for an integrated mining and steel project in Bolivia intending to invest $2.1bn, but by 2012 terminated the contract citing issues over the supply of gas. Disputes between Jindal and the Bolivian government escalated (The Wall Street Journal, 2012), leading to an arbitration judgement in 2014 (Bloomberg, 2014).

Gateway House (2013) identified four areas that contributed to the failure as:

  • Complex political relationships;
  • A misjudgement of political power;
  • Disproportionate size of investment raising unrealistic expectations;
  • A failure to evaluate the scenario sufficiently.

They also emphasized that a ‘thorough political and risk analysis is necessary’ and also remarked that ‘understanding local politics and culture is critical.’

This is an edited extract from Understanding Project Management: Skills and Insights for Successful Project Delivery, by Gary Straw, out May 3rd from Kogan Page and available to order now. You can order a copy at 25% off the retail price when you use the code UPMN25 at checkout on www.koganpage.com.


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