Managing International Projects
Project managers are organizers, are closers. They’re goal-reachers. More and more, working toward a goal means working across borders, and a good project manager knows the potential challenges and the right questions to ask. Pete Schestopol, PMP, an instructor for our Project Management Certificate, specializes in international project management. Here, he shares some tips for the savvy project manager that are helpful for any professional planning a project with an international scope:
In today’s global economy, it’s not uncommon for project managers to become involved in projects that cross international boundaries. Such projects are not limited to large Fortune 500 companies but can readily be found in small companies and “mom and pop” businesses.
These projects usually fall into one of three main categories:
- Contract/PM organization in one country with execution in one or more countries outside of the home country
- Contract/PM organization in home country using resources in other countries
- Managing projects with PM/organization in one or multiple countries outside the home country
While general project management principles can be applied to these projects there are multiple pitfalls that can seriously hinder or even kill the project. Here are just a few to watch out for.
Not communicating enough
Paramount among the common mistakes is the failure to plan for proper communications with project stakeholders in multiple countries. Things you might need to consider include planning for technology differences between countries, language barriers, large time zone differences, different working schedules and cultural differences.
Keep in mind that while overseas resources may speak multiple languages (e.g. English), their use of a second language is often formal, so idioms and colloquialisms should be avoided. Care should be taken to hold conference calls and meetings in time zones that favor the overseas stakeholders. While this may play havoc with the domestic project manager’s schedule, it’s a useful tool to help gain commitment to the project and enhance teamwork with the overseas team members and clients.
Legal fine print
U.S. project managers should also be familiar with the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, informally know as GATT. Familiarity with these laws and treaties should help the PM avoid tax and legal issues when dealing with overseas entities.
Care should be taken to include organization legal and tax resources and to consult with them early and often to avoid landing in “tax jail.”
Details, details, details
Other issues the project manager should plan for include currency exchange rates, allowed local currencies, differences in labor and privacy law, U.S. laws dealing with defense items, import/export law, dealing with customs, international shipping, multinational payment systems, contract requirements, cultural differences and tax implications.
While the PM is not expected to be an expert in all of these areas he or she should plan to consult with the necessary subject matter experts. The PM also needs to be familiar with the organizational practices and policies dealing with these issues.
One of my favorite answers to the question “What is an expert?” is this: “It’s someone who knows what questions to ask.”