Establishing Best Practices in Cross-Cultural Project Management

By Mark Jones

The real estate development and construction industry is no stranger to volatility.  Managing a large-scale construction or renovation project can be daunting for any company, especially when building in a different country. Navigating the various processes, government regulations and construction trade differences inherent to specific countries can pose significant roadblocks for companies as they embark on global projects spanning many markets.

In order to remain competitive in the marketplace, there are opportunities to deploy project management expertise outside the comfort zone of your own country or region. Here are some best practices and guidelines to successfully overcome the challenges posed by cross-cultural expansion and development.

Define Goals, Objectives and Roles Upfront –  The clients’ goals and objectives and the project manager’s role must be clearly defined up-front to ensure alignment and avoid conflict during the project. Client preferences and protocols vary depending on the region. Some are most interested in cost management, while others would benefit from strategic guidance and a holistic approach to managing the full project. It is also crucial to reconcile nuances of terminology during negotiation discussions to ensure that everyone is speaking the same language. Regional distinctions between North America, Europe and the UK can dramatically impact the outcome of the entire project. Something as simple as the definition or spelling of a word may seem of little consequence, but there are variations to even the most fundamental terminology and meanings can easily be confused across geographies.

Master the Construction Trade Differences, Such as Unionization – One major factor that continues to pose a challenge is unionization. The construction industry is significantly more unionized in North America than in the U.K., and project managers will not only need to know how to manage construction teams but also how to work with the union representatives. To have a better understanding of the local practice and customs, attending local construction associations’ information sessions can be crucial in understanding local rules and processes. The local unions themselves are helpful when negotiating pricing and tendering rules and the major contracting organizations that have union alignments can be helpful knowledge pools too. Most of all, a good project manager will need to be skillful in getting the required local union rules to work within the context of the overall project, budget and schedule.

Understand the Governmental Rules and Regulations – It is essential for project managers to have comprehensive knowledge of the legal, contractual, health and safety regulations of the region or locality. Local regulations and legal practices will guide the project manager when considering specific processes. Health and safety regulations can differ drastically across markets with developing countries having less stringent health and safety regulations than developed regions. Understanding funding sources, banking legislation, loan requirements and federal and state legislation cycles are all very important to getting projects delivered.

Mark Jones has 19 years of experience within the construction sector with clients in the institutional, infrastructure, mining, hi-tech, and commercial sectors.  He is currently a director for Turner & Townsend based in Toronto, Canada.

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