Saturday, July 13, 2013

Role of Culture in Project Management

Let us consider the example of Germans, Chinese, Japanese and the Indians.

The Germans are extremely detailed in their approach; control oriented and has exemplary planning and execution skills. Germans have specialized skills and the person who installs a server will most likely not install the database in it. There division of roles and specialization in their areas are visible in their cars and their soccer formation. This cultural aspect is also displayed in their expectations from projects.

The Chinese over the years of Communist rule are like the bees. There is a queen bee and then there are worker bees. They are extremely good at taking orders and execution within a given time frame. I think they are the fastest in getting a project off the drawing board and converting into reality.

Japanese are more calm and collective in their approach. This is displayed in their products and their approach towards planning and execution. They are cautious, calculated and future oriented. There is a general aim for harmony in whatever they do.
Indians are good at multi-tasking. One man can do multiple things. This is a useful feature in projects which throw up sudden challenges but it also hampers the quality of output. Another important aspect is the discipline of sticking to deadlines. Indians are extremely fluid and a commitment for Monday can easily mean Friday.

When we talk of Project Management; the first thing that comes to our mind are Gantt Charts, MS Project sheets, start and end dates etc. We think of how many people will be required to do the job, how long will it take, how much will it cost, how are we going to control the entire show so that the Project is executed as per schedule. Let us not forget that the singular factor in projects is people. They are the ones who plan, control, monitor, execute and deliver. Thus, in order to become successful in any project it is vital that we understand the culture of the people for whom the project is being executed and that of the people who are responsible for the execution.

7 Aspects Where Culture Plays a Serious Role
There are atleast 7 good reasons why project managers should focus on culture and take it into account in any project big or small.
1.      Vision – Culture manifests itself in the Vision that we create for a Project. Take the example of a random flyover. Where some people aim for short term solutions others use it as one of the building blocks for future constructions and town planning.
2.    Dedication and Accountability – Our attitude towards a project is dependent on our culture of dedication. In certain cultures, people require very little supervision and are diligent in their approach. They believe in coming forward and sharing their views rather than waiting on the side lines to be directed what to do. Many cultures promote independence and leadership capabilities from childhood. In others there is an attitude to shirk responsibility and turn a blind eye towards any deviation.
3.      Planning and Buffers – This is a very clear area where culture plays a dominant role. Germans would be very specific whereas Indians will add relaxed buffers since down the line people might not stick to the schedule.
4.      Execution and Reporting – Cultures determine how each step of the project is executed and honestly reported to the next person in the chain. Often, dishonest people would cover up lapses and shift the onus on someone else.
5.      Quality and Acceptance – One of my European bosses had once raised a query on why a particular mesh had slight rust. It was not even a critical part but his eye for detail and his standards of acceptance of quality forbid him from accepting anything substandard.
6.    Analysis and Post Project Learning – Advanced cultures promoted learning and value the lessons of each activity thus ensuring that the same is never reported. There is a show on National Geographic about air crashes. Each unfortunate crash is followed by detailed analysis and learning. It often leads to change in standards and parameters. The same is required in any project. Simply building the house is not all. What were the obstacles? Why did they crop up? What did we do to address the issues? What should we have done differently?
7.   Resource Utilization and Wastage – Projects are often mired by delays and cost overruns. It is because the people who plan make inaccurate assumptions and waste resources in the process. Then all kinds of buffer are loaded onto it. Thus, where something could have been done in 3 days, according to the plan it is being done in 6 days and we pay for 3 extra man-days.
Oft overlooked the success or failure of a project is dependent on the type of people who are at helm and their culture, values and beliefs.
Jack Welch said Culture drives great results.

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