Thursday, November 20, 2008

7th Interview: Finger on the spot the major difference between the West and the Middle East

1st order: My 7th interview was with the executive director of a local owned program management office in Dubai. He is from origin Iraqi lived 20 years in London and has probably the same amount of years experience in project management.
Cultural differences in management
I have been told that bottom line the most striking difference is in delivery. While the Middle Eastern attitude is to get the things done, the West has a process orientation. That means in the Middle East you have a launch date, which has to be fulfilled no matter what comes around. Radically speaking it doesn’t matter how just that. The Western approach is to a 180 degree different. The focus is on multiple phases: initiate, plan, execute, evaluate. Each phase is processed one after another. Assuring efficiency and quality is the major goal. Additionally, scope and change management is of importance to set the framework.
Cultural differences in relationship
The second point to be recognized is that business in the Middle East is based on interpersonal relationships, not on professional relationships like in the West. Personal relationship builds trust and trust is considered to be the most important property (see also 6th Interview, section: challenges for triple-C PM in Dubai >>>)
Where to go from here? Merging the best of two worlds
According to my interview partner the importance of a proper project management has recently been appreciated in Dubai. This is the result of a deep learning effect in terms of money squandering and a deficit in operations. Therefore he had the mission to set-up a program management office (PMO), alleviating these weaknesses but still being adaptable to the cultural circumstances. Knowing the differences in culture he had the vision and focus to merge the best of two worlds: “the can-do-attitude” of the East and the process-orientation of the West. He took the in detail elaborated Western project management approach and distilled it to the maximum, extracting the essence in reference to the Middle Eastern culture, which is milestones and budget. The PMO was set-up with the objective to “deliver in time and budget”. This development follows two phases: plan and operate. Heart of the PMO is a communication framework upwards to the Executive Committee and downwards the project managers. Additionally a project management toolkit including coaching, mentoring, trainings, etc. was brought to life. The setup is not affiliated to a specific sector. In fact the projects come from very diverging sectors such as real-estate, IT, finance and banking, insurance, telecommunication, etc. Currently the second phase of operation has been started with the launch of Project Management Lite: a set of processes and a supportive infrastructure.
The difficulty of the whole endeavor lies in a successful cultural change from the “old” schemes of Middle Eastern dealing with projects to the new ‘best-of-two-worlds model”, I have been told.
In terms of complexity the projects are enormous by scope, number of suppliers, quantity, etc. According to my interview partener, clear communication is the nuts and bolts to manage this complexity. However interestingly when referring to last interviewee’s remark on decreasing in complexity, I have been told that the project initiation phase is less complex than compared to the West (argumentation see 6th Interview, section: decreasing complexity >>>), while the project execution phase is by far more complex.

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