Cultural Challenges in Managing
PAUL C. DINSMORE, PMP, DINSMORE ASSOCIATES
MANUEL M. BENITEZ CODAS, CONSULTANT
A backhanded “V for victory” sign is an uncomplimentary gesture in Australia. In Brazil, the American “A-OK” sign is also offensive. These are lessons that some presidents, diplomats, and businesspeople have learned the hard way. Awareness of such cross-cultural subtleties can spell success or failure in international dealings, whether in diplomatic relations, general business, or the project arena.
Projects conducted in international settings share these sometimes embarrassing communications pitfalls and others as well. They are subject to cultural, bureaucratic, and logistical challenges just like conventional domestic projects are. In fact, project management approaches to international ventures include the same items common to domestic projects. Under both circumstances, successful project management calls for performing the basics of planning, organizing, and controlling. This also implies carrying out the classic functions outlined in the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) of managing scope, schedule, cost, quality, communications, human resources, contracting and supply, and risk, as well as the integration of these areas across the project life cycle.
Understanding culture is the starting point for planning for the challenges that face international projects. The American Heritage Dictionary defines culture as, “The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all