Monday, December 22, 2008

Preliminary findings

2nd order: In the following I am going to present some of the preliminary results after the first ten interviews.
The first part contains an analytical framework which I extracted out of the interviews by summarising some guiding distinctions.
The second part specifies general propositions located within this framework providing a set of rules, which may help to manage projects in a cross-cultural complex context.
The third part further elaborates these propositions in form of hypothesis for the special context of Dubai.

1. A framwork for mapping culture
By purpose I left the definition of culture, respectively cross-culture in the context of project management open to my interview partners. Abstracting what they came up with I constructed the framework shown in Figure 1:
  • The project team is embedded in a certain cultural environment, which comprises the culture and people outside of the project team. One could refer to it as the Leitkultur (core culture). For example, in the case of Dubai this culture is Arabic and Muslim.
  • The project team itself consists of team members, each having a specific background and being socialized in their own Leitkultur (core culture), which influences their everyday behavioural patterns.
  • When it comes to the personality of the team members, I found another distinction between cosmopolitan and ethnocentric types. The first prefers to mix with different cultures and backgrounds and perceives cultural differences as a challenge, while the latter rather sticks with people of his background and perceives cultural differences as an obstacle.
  • Furthermore, the project team is influenced by and imbedded in an organizational culture. I could identify two predominant cultures there: Mono Culture Organizations and Multi National Culture Organizations. The two differ in terms of management style, decision-making capacity, staff empowerment, responsibilities take-over, etc. The first one is characterized by decision-making of a few people, mostly the founder group or family. The decision-making capacity of the individual manager is therefore rather limited. In contrast, in Multi National Culture Organization modes of interaction are rather participatory. Also, larger organizations can be mono cultural. An indicator might be that the executive board comprises just one nationality. Career opportunities in Multi National Culture Organizations seem to be better developed, too.
2. Propositions for managing Triple-C projects
The following propositions are rules that according to my interview partners seem to work in practice for managing projects in a cross-cultural complex context. The propositions are marked with alphabetical letters and located within the framework (see Figure 2).To be clear in one point, following all propositions does not mean that a project is going to be successful. Social behaviour is always context related and one context never resembles the other to 100 percent.

Set-up Phase

  • a. Guarantee connectivity:
    The set-up of the project team has to guarantee the connectivity with the cultural environment. That is, the project team should at least partly reflect the surrounding culture in terms of cultural background or experience of the team members.
  • b. Limit the size:
    The size of the project team should not exceed 20 members or in this case be split-up in decentralized subunits. Up to a size of 20 people, mouth-to-mouth conversation and coordination is still possible.
  • c. Avoid clusters:
    Avoid cultural clusters within the team. Instead, go for a good mix of nationalities and cultural backgrounds. A team of mixed cultures will increase complexity; however a team with clusters will blockade a smooth functioning altogether.
  • d. Create an atmosphere of awareness:
    Awareness is probably the most important competence to be developed in cross-cultural project teams. Awareness has to be internalised by each team member. Don’t insist on doing the things in a certain way with reference to your own cultural background or the notion "it has always been like this".
Operations phase
  • e. Primacy of organizational culture:
    When it comes to operations the primary working culture should be determined by the organizational culture not the local or Leitkultur.
  • f. Milestones and budget:
    Bottom line the most important pillars to guarantee a proper project management are milestone and budget plans. Successful project management needs to follow up both.
  • g. Success factor number one: communication
    Almost all of the interviews indicated that successful project management starts and ends with communication. According to them communication seem to be the most important instrument and success factor. Communication training may therefore be one crucial success factor that is often in its consequences underestimated.
  • h. Be prepared for excuses:
    Culture is going to be used as an excuse not to do things. In most of the cases this is just a subterfuge. This point is again closely related to awareness, but I want to expatiate it because it seems to be of much importance.
Interfolding of phases
Although I distinguished between set-up and operation phase both phases cannot be separated from each other. In fact they are rather interfolded and have to be taken into account continuously and repeatedly. This is indicated by the circular arrows surrounding the propositions’ letters (see Figure 3). Each proposition is an ongoing process in the entire project – and fostering every “step” during the whole operation might guarantee its success.

3. Application Dubai
  • Interpersonal relationships are the basis for successfully managing projects in Dubai. Building trust is the most important task.
  • Verbal communication is more important than written communication. Needs and information should be brought up via the face-to-face conversations.
  • English is the working language, however most people working in Dubai are not native English speakers. This creates room for misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
  • Foster awareness building. The greatest mistake is to justify procedures with reference to your own Leitkultur (“We do the things always like this!”).
  • Dubai is an emerging market. Therefore, the environment is more variable which leads to greater uncertainty. Calculate with eventualities and prepare yourself for them. It can be of value to have a plan B, C, D, etc.
  • The administration is strongly influenced by its British-Indian history, which led to a according to the book approach. Be prepared that the administration will follow rigid procedures.
  • Local staff still seems to show a lack of professionalism in term of qualifications and competences of the people.

1 comment:

  1. The framework seems very much applicable to display and manage cross-cultural complexity in projects and project management.

    Two major challenges may be derived:

    1. Becoming aware of and managing the relation BETWEEN the project team's culture and its surrounding cultural environment

    2. Becoming aware of and managing the cultural diversity WITHIN the project team

    As to 1:
    Research on organizational culture so far has addressed the relevance of the balance between organizational and individual values as central characteristics of culture.
    The alignment of values and value systems is a prominent challenge discussed both in research and practice.
    However, in the context of cross-cultural complexity, the focus is much broader: Gaining awareness of cultural complexity and diversity is not realised focussing on the relation between the organizational and individual level, but focussing on complexity and diversity on the individual and team level, too. Hence..

    As to 2:
    Beyond the frame of an organisational culture, intra-project team or inter-individual cultural complexity influences the behaviour and actions of all individuals involved.
    Therefore, it seems valuable to take a look on the cultural complexity that sprouts out of the interaction of a project team and other individual in- and outside the organization (e.g., stakeholders).
    When it comes to the proposed "primacy of organizational culture", it has to be questioned if any working culture, the "way of working together", may be reduced to the organizational culture without taking account of the team members "Leitkultur".