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Developing international project managers

Bond University
March 18, 2011

Have you ever been frustrated by your project team because they don’t appear to listen or comprehend the task at hand, they don’t communicate effectively within the team, and seem to work on a different timeline to you?

International projects face these dilemmas on a regular basis, often at a much larger scale and with potentially greater project delivery consequences. This is due to the complex nature of cultural differences, acceptable business practices and differences in working environments. These can be managed, to a certain extent, with expertise and planning. Throughout our studies we have highlighted a number of core skills that are essential in developing the ‘international project manager’.

International project management is the capacity to organise, lead and manage projects that span international boundaries or are conducted outside of one’s home country. International projects encompass diverse and cultural components not generally encountered in home-based projects. They require a unique composition of skills and competencies that many organisations find difficult to acquire. While these skills and competencies are learnable, they require considerable on-the-job experience and mentoring.

To manage potentially complex international situations, project managers require a wide skill set including cross-cultural communication skills, effective leadership including distance leadership skills, well developed risk management skills, the ability to understand and negotiate contracts, the effective use of virtual communication technologies, along with understanding and promoting required international business ethics standards.

While many of these facets of project management are typical, what is not typical is the context in which they must operate with a diversity of cultural, legal, technology, and economic aspects, that complicates them.

International learning

The International Project Management course explores the typical challenges faced by project managers in today’s global climate. This ranges from topics such as project management competencies for international projects, cross-cultural issues, legal and economic considerations through to ethics and communication skills.

The course also introduces various technology options that can be used to facilitate international project collaboration among team members, such as teleconferencing and video conferencing for our international guests to provide lectures and facilitate discussions on pertinent topics, providing valuable insights into challenges and solutions experienced on a day-to-day basis.

During the course, theoretical and anecdotal concepts were reinforced through exercises, such as a discussion on cross cultural misunderstandings, which introduced the environmental, political and human issues inherent in international project management, and the supporting case study highlighted the complications that arise with transcultural personnel and their interrelationships.

From a student’s perspective, the varied delivery method emulated working in an international project environment where the use of technologies and collaboration across national boundaries is necessary. This provided invaluable experience and knowledge that can be adapted to the various industries and environments from which the students hail.

The breadth of industries and professional experiences available also allowed for free discussion and the development and exploration of scenarios that students would not necessarily have had the opportunity to explore without having worked in an international project environment.

For students already working on international projects, discussions with experienced practitioners and academics specialising in international projects provided new insights to address workplace challenges. These discussions, and the availability of a range of professionals from around the world, allowed the course to be flexible and somewhat tailored to the specific requirements and interests of the students, although grounded and stimulated by the theoretical framework of pre-session readings and assessment.

As with any project reliant upon technology for communication, there were occasions when unforeseen technological issues would arise. Various communications tools and technologies were introduced to facilitate course content delivery, demonstrating the need to have mitigation strategies planned and ready to implement as required.

The subject is delivered at the end of the Masters program and provides an opportunity for students to bring together all aspects of their learnings over the duration of the program and consider them under the broader complexities and contexts introduced by international projects. The course provides the necessary foundations and stimulates the required thinking for the ongoing development of new international project managers.

By Peter Gabriel, Samantha Higgins and Nicole Taylor, formerly students in the Masters of Project Management program at Bond University.

Bond University
Bond University is a not-for-profit private education provider located on the Gold Coast, Australia. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in subject areas such as project management.
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