Project Management

One of the learning experiences from my MSPM program has been our research on the knowledge management practices in effect at FAA, GWU and Wachovia Bank. It was our earnest effort to show how knowledge management efforts will contribute towards the success of projects and programs undertaken to provide operational effectiveness or to build competitive advantage. We examine the efforts underway at these organizations; list the common problems with evaluating the value of expert and tacit knowledge vested with project participants and suggests ways to discover, share, store and publish this immense wealth of information to better the prospects of project success. At stake is the prospect of losing organizational memory and proactive problem solving abilities if no knowledge management initiatives are undertaken. The onus to deliver projects on time and within budgets depend on how effectively the organization can mine the past project knowledge and deploy it effectively to address project issues. Of immense importance is the urgent need to have an effective strategy to build a knowledge repository and provide easy access and means to analyze this information. Unhindered stakeholder support, functional synergy of organization, culture and technique, integration of people, processes and technology and building trust and confidence are some factors that will help build a strong knowledge sharing platform. In accord, I state the quote from Lew Platt (HP CEO, 2005)-

If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive.

Link: Comparison of KM Practices

Reflecting back on my MSPM program, I wanted to share this handbook which is a stellar artifact, an outcome of the best efforts of multiple MSPM graduates of 2006 class. The Handbook is the culmination of the vast project management knowledge harnessed from the intellectual talent of MSPM graduates who toiled hard in completing the program with flying colors. It is an ideal addition to anyone who is in the PM domain and needs a quick reference to the best practices and industry standards in order to conduct their strenuous tasks. The nuggets listed will serve and expand the knowledge horizons of the practitioners of project management. The extensive real world experiences put into explaining the five project management process groups and nine knowledge areas will complement one’s skills in any project management field. The extensive coverage on organizational culture, knowledge management and changing dynamics of global project management is unique as it reflects upon the experiences of managers and relies on academic research.  Lastly, the handbook addresses the issues with achieving PM3 maturity and provides recommendations on setting up an effective PMO. Check out the link to the handbook here – PM Handbook (Capstone project – MSPM program at GWU).


Risk management application provides the ability to identify risks, determine characteristics of risk emergence, allow measurement through control systems, and apply enhanced project management methods for improved achievement of project and stakeholder goals throughout the life of a pipeline project. Risk reduction and risk management both are the key to improving project management and developing success metrics.

Listed in the excel sheet are some of the risks that I’ve identified for Daniel Sports Company. Daniel Sports is a growing company which supplies cricket bats to customers in greater Washington DC area. The company imports the readymade bats from Barbados and makes use of student labor for receiving, and delivering to clients. I have classified them based on project specificity and context and assigned them a probability, impact, risk exposure, mitigation approaches and contingency plans. Listed below are the risks identified: After identifying all the potential risks, I quantified the risk based on probability of occurrence and impact and then proposed strategies for responding to risk and finally a plan to monitor them. I’ve assigned only 3 scales 1 being VH (very high), 3 being MH(medium) and 1being LH(lowest).

Scale Probability Impact
VH (1)









Probability-Impact matrix

Project Specific factors

Delivery/operation risk: The ability to overcome the risk of delivering and operating the project as conceived.

Technology risk: The ability to overcome the technological risks of the project.

Financial risk: The ability to overcome the financial risk of the project through to final completion and operation.

Procurement-contractual risk: The ability to overcome the risks associated with the procurement of, or contracting for, the execution and operation of the project.

Project Context Factors

Political risk: The ability to overcome the political risk of the project, including local, state, and national political opposition and code and regulatory impediments.

Environmental risk: The ability to overcome the environmental risks of the project.

Social risk: The ability to overcome the social risks of the project.

Economic risk: The ability to overcome the economic impact risks of the project.

Identifying key risks associated with the achievement of all project objectives in terms of cost, time, quality, environment and safety is very critical for any project success. A properly planned risk management plan will help reduce the likelihood of risk from occurring and put the project on the path to successful delivery.


This a classic case that is predominantly faced by global project managers who work with culturally diverse project teams with whom they share no similarities. According to PMBOK, a global project manager must require an ability to communicate, facilitate, negotiate, plan, budget, organize, motivate, manage, measure, monitor, think laterally and make decisions, which are predominately social activities. So before venturing out on any project a global PM must do a complete scan of social, economic, political, cultural and technological factors so that he is better prepared to mitigate challenges posed with global projects.

A careful analysis of this case reveals a gross lack of cross-cultural knowledge, personality stereotyping, miscommunication and poor decision making ability. The level of cultural awareness shown by Fred was not high enough to identify some of the more prominent cultural challenges, which were also consistent with the cultural dimensions showing the greatest gaps. Recent research has shown that it is not only important to try and understand the local culture, it is also important to identify the differences between that culture and the project manager’s own. During this process, the manager must be fully aware of the differences with cultural dimensions of environment, action orientation, emotion, language, space, relationships, power, thinking and time. The greatest problems and challenges reported were associated with the four cultural dimensions of thinking, power, time and emotion.

In terms of culture and diversity, the following factors are of great importance. They have to be understood in great detail, must appreciate the dissimilarities and leverage them as opportunity to build a culturally diverse team capable of achieving the project goals.

  • Universalism vs. Particularism

Fred seems to share the belief that rights of the organization prevail over rights of a specific friend. In a predominant particularistic society like Japan, the rights of a friend i.e. employees is taken to be more important than the rights of the larger community.

  • Individualism vs. Communitarism
    Fred belongs to a highly individualistic culture where people are expected to make their own decisions and to take care only of themselves and their close family whereas the Japanese Communitarism societies are firmly integrated into groups which provide help and protection in exchange for a strong sense of loyalty.

    Specific vs. Diffuse
    Fred seems to be very specific with whom to build contacts and less explicit of what he or she expects from the work relationship.

    Neutral vs. Affective
    Fred was inadvertently neutral and reluctant to show what he felt while the Japanese being affective prefer to show spontaneously how they feel and to act accordingly.

    Achievement vs. Ascription
    Fred believes in achievement, a social status resulting from the individual´s success in building up a life of his / her own while the Japanese believed in ascription social status dependent on one´s descent, sex, age, or affluence.

    Time Orientation – Past, Present, Future
    Japanese culture is rooted in past and bases its future on past events while Fred comes from a culture oriented towards the future.

Internal Control vs. External Control
Fred has a predominantly mechanistic view of nature, people are seen as influencing the environment and not vice versa. Whereas the Japanese believe in an organic view of nature, meaning men / women are subjugated to nature´s dynamics & forces.

I will base my solutions on the analysis above since it reveals the fundamental root cause for the failures encountered so far by Fred.

  1. I. You are Fred, what should you do now?

Solution: The Japanese assignment is a big career jump for Fred that comes packaged with tremendous benefits and a promotion as managing director of Tokyo operations. This is an incredible deal and Fred has to make best use of this opportunity. Apart from the dissatisfaction from his wife and ongoing setbacks at office, Fred had not lost the game totally. He still can turnaround the situation and can position himself as a successful project manager as he proved before. So, in my opinion Fred should undertake this challenge and work hard to resolve the pressing issues at office and at home. Since Fred left the United States without much orientation or understanding of the Japanese culture, he had to face difficult situations on an on-going basis. He felt helpless and thought he was interacting with people from outer planet, could not openly communicate and understand their motives or thought processes. All this happened due to lack of cultural awareness, work ethics, and too much indulgence in task-orientation and not relationship building. When communication modes cross, miscommunication, unintentional messages, misunderstanding and frustration often result.

Fred in order to salvage himself out of this mess must work hard and take time for looking at possible differences and their consequences during the Start-up phase. Learning about cultural differences takes place at several levels: at the organizational, project level and on a personal level.

Typical activities could be:

  • Developing an understanding of each other’s cultural perspectives,
  • Must develop consciousness of the roots of cultural differences, to assess their impact, and to build structures, procedures and a working environment which promotes cultural synergy.
  • Breakdown hierarchical management style and concentrate more on relationship building. Avoid generalizations.
  • Finding out risks to avoid and opportunities to exploit,
  • Jointly defining project goals and schedule,
  • Defining an organizational structure for the project that takes cultural differences into account.
  • Delegation of authority, responsibility and power is central for motivating and engaging project teams.
  • Open up channels of communication, loosen control and solicit feedback from employees. Share business values with Japanese clients – of maintaining a peace and harmony rather than a candid exchange of opinions, arguments or confrontation. It was for this reason that the client sent their human resources head to develop that bonding initially.
  • Arrange for additional meetings two or three meetings to understand the honest opinion of the other party. Agree up front on the rules of engagement and policies to do with managing mutual expectations and managing changes.
  • Fred was trying to implement task-driven project management style in relationship-oriented cultures, since he was more concerned with schedules and results than creating time and opportunity for building personal relationships with other project participants. He should concentrate more on harmonious relationship building exercises.
  • Eliminate uncertainty from employee tasks and responsibilities. Japanese prefer uncertainty avoidance.
  • Understand the different perceptions of fundamentals of project management, especially time. Seek honest feedback about timelines and readiness before thrusting tasks on employees.
  • Establish clearly defined roles and structure. Have social interactions with employees, better understand their preferences and perceptions deviate from individual achievement and instead recognize group effort. Make effective use of American employee who can understand and speak fluent Japanese.
  • On the home front, he can hire some domestic help with sound English speaking skills who can act as a language interpreter, has rich local knowledge of shopping for groceries cheaply; can provide insight for outdoor activities and social events.
  • Hire a language expert as coach who can train both Fred and his wife on Japanese language skills, customs and generally acceptable “behavioral” skills.

II You are Dave; Fred called you to discuss the situation. What should you do now?


Dave has strong faith and trust in Fred’s abilities as a successful manager. It was this confidence that made him offer this challenging assignment. Fred has a proven track record of successfully managing projects earlier and so should approach Dave with lots of optimism. He should not be weathered by the initial setbacks and instead should provide confidence and faith in meeting the project goals. Some of these actions include:

  • Keep Dave abreast of the developments taking place in the Tokyo office. Provide him a detailed report of the progress made so far and the obstacles he has been facing.
  • Inform Dave of your sincere efforts to win the new client deal and the lack of response from the client.
  • Let Dave know of the cultural polarization existing in the Tokyo office and his inability to break the communication barriers
  • Make Dave aware of the lack of formal training in Japanese culture, language and work ethics. Talk to him about the social isolation faced by his family and the difficulty in procuring basic grocery items.
  • Request Dave to provide a global coach who can assist him with understanding the cultural differences, negotiation tactics and advise him of “do’s and dont’s” in Japanese culture and society. This can be useful for his wife too.
  • Update Dave on the process improvements being made at organization and personal levels to improve communication, his efforts to learn and respect the cultural differences and his efforts to breakdown cultural challenges he is facing now.
  • Seek complete support and backing from Dave, any additional resources who have been in such situations for knowledge sharing and any kind of external help which might help him in his efforts to lead successfully.

The above efforts will reinforce the confidence in Fred and Dave will definitely acknowledge and appreciate the efforts being made in this direction.

  1. II. Turn back the clock to when Fred was offered the position to Tokyo. What should have been done different, and by whom?


As evident from the case, Fred seems to have lacked any exposure to cultural diversity going by his recent project accomplishment in San Franciso. So Fred’s beliefs on cultural dimensions were in direct conflict with the Japanese and he had no clue about it.  The initial analysis discussed in this paper clearly shows how from the get-go Fred was unfit to manage a culturally diverse group of individuals.

So when he was offered career promotion and benefits, it was a deal he could not refuse. He had some resistance from his wife, but finally accepted the offer assuming that the assignment would not be so difficult.  So in haste he had to make arrangements for the transfer move and he had no time to learn about the Japanese culture, traditions, work ethics and their perceptions towards management. His only source of information was the encyclopedia. His family too was abruptly disrupted leaving no time to build expectations from this new move. All this eventually turned into a big frustration for Fred. His efforts to establish the new business was in vain and he received no co-operation from the Japanese staff. He was helpless and desperate to find answers to his situation.

From the onset when he was offered the position, a lot could have been done to overcome the grief he was in. Some of my suggestions include:

  • Fred could have delayed his posting date until he felt ready to undertake this challenge. This delay would have provided him the opportunity to plan the big move, research and learn about the Japanese culture, request local expertise to help out with language interpretation, grocery shopping and exploring western social joints where they can spend some quality time without getting bored.
  • Fred must have undergone some training on negotiations and dealing with Japanese businesses. This could have helped him understand the client expectations and in building mutually compatible business values.
  • Fred must have thought of looking out for some part-time job opportunities in Tokyo for his wife Jennifer so that she is busy with her lifestyle in Japan. He also could have arranged in advance for some American cable channels at home so that they stay in contact with happenings at home.
  • Fred must have held some initial consultations (over phone or virtually through we conferencing etc.) with overseas staff so he has a feel for their priorities and commitment.  He should have contacted the American staff with Japanese skills so that he can understand in depth the work ethics of his Japanese counterparts.
  • Fred should have developed a clear understanding of the various cultural dimensions and how his beliefs fit or differ with those of the Japanese. He must be aware of the dimensions of environment, action orientation, emotion, language, space, relationships, power, thinking and time.
  • Fred must do a complete scan of social, economic, political, cultural and technological factors so that he is better prepared to mitigate challenges posed with global projects.

These are some of the prerequisites which must have been met before Fred embarked on this exciting undertaking in Japan.

  1. I. Make a list of reasons when you would or would not accept a foreign assignment for one year or longer.


Reasons to accept a foreign assignment

If I put myself in the shoes of Fred, I would be terribly excited about this new assignment. Though my decision will benefit me the most, it may or may not have the same degree of acceptance from the family members. Here are some reasons to accept this assignment:

  1. A great career move – incredible compensation, benefits and the lure of promotion to a Managing Director position
  2. Opportunity to acquire and build new skills and experience of working in a global environment
  3. Exposure to deal with challenges in culturally diverse groups , interact with stake holders and clients from different cultural backgrounds
  4. Children will be exposed to diversity – a new school environment, new friends and adaptation to new culture and society
  5. Experience new culture, food and overall the excitement to be with doing the abnormal way.

Reasons not to accept the assignment

Though the assignment looks exciting and quite appealing, it comes with its own baggage of problems.

If I were to reject the assignment it could be for the following reasons:

  1. Disrupting family life and ending up scrambling to re-settle lives in a completely, strange new country
  2. Fear of failure due to lack of cultural awareness and hidden risks. May ruin the reputation and credibility built so far.
  3. Lack of preparedness and inability to put in new efforts and hard work to learn new language and culture
  4. Strong resistance from family members to relocate
  5. Inability to meet expectations of a smooth and decent life in the foreign land.

According to PMBOK guide, Project quality management includes “all activities of the overall management function that determine the quality policy, objectives, and responsibilities and implements them by means such as quality planning, quality assurance, quality control, and quality improvement, within the quality system”. Quality planning has quality policy, scope statement, product description, standards and regulations and other process inputs. But unfortunately in international projects, culture plays a critical role in influencing quality objectives. People’s perceptions about quality is not universally similar, instead they tend to differ from country to country and within a country among various regions and amongst various projects. So as a global manager, there is a greater need to understand these perceptions of quality devise standard quality processes and monitor them on a regular basis in order to succeed. The recent recall of Toyota has been attributed to lack of quality management owing to the company’s failure to integrate various quality check points due to global procurement from many vendors. Corporate governance was lacking and there was no standard message that was communicated across all subsidiaries within Toyota.

In a project context where you find differing perceptions towards quality, the Johari window is a tool that can be used to measure 4 different possible states with regard to knowledge of one’s culture, and the understanding of other cultures in the project team.


In the IPMA article , “Managing cultural boundaries in projects”, the author Susan Vonsild has clearly stated how when people of different cultures meet in projects, they will have differing perceptions of authority, responsibility and accountability; sense of urgency and attitude to planning, commitment, conflict, risk-taking and agreements, and contracts. However, few of us are completely aware of how our actions – and ways of thinking – are dictated by more hidden or in fact unconscious values. Those differences arise because of the specific cultural experiences we grow up with. For example the quality check for a completed task may just mean conducting unit testing for someone in one country while the same task may imply unit testing, application testing and system testing for another person in another country. So these perceptions need to change so that the global team can deliver the desired product according to the customer’s expectations. In order to achieve that objective, the global manager must do the following:

  • Understand the client’s requirements for quality and then meet those requirements. Define the meaning of quality that defines the characteristics of quality on your specific project and works universally. Pay attention to the distinction between the objective and subjective aspects of the quality definition.
  • Create a “transcendant” culture for their organization that sits above regional or national culture. Ensure that excessive perception gaps do not exist between management, supervisors, and stakeholders. Try to bridge the gap by holding virtual meetings, discussions and open feedback.
  • Define the detailed components of the transcendental framework with some defined locally.
  • Identify business methods or practices that unify people in the face of cross-cultural diversity. Appreciate cultural diversity, specifically values and beliefs, and underlying assumptions
  • Recognize that local cultures are really expressions of how people think, work and act with respect to each other. Tap into that and accordingly establish quality standards.
  • Use cultural diversity to meld together into a global presence that presents a consistent ‘corporate image’ recognizable everywhere. Also accept local diversity, respect it and look for other sources like gender, age, differences in personalities and institutional environments
  • Individual and team activities and the attitudes of people toward service of customers must align with the local culture to achieve harmony in the alignment with the external stakeholders: customers, suppliers, partners, and local governments.
  • Establish Governance so that you make sure people follow quality standards in the framework defined. Develop metrics to measure progress of quality initiatives. And establish performance benchmarks that measure cross-discipline and cross-divisional perceptions as a baseline for cultural change
  • Conduct training so that all team members have the necessary skills to understand, apply and monitor the quality standards. Communicate goals and objectives in a consistent manner throughout the quality planning phase.
  • Coordinate information exchange and work progress with team members. Keep employees motivated and engaged.  Ensure communication is clear, concise and open so that all views, opinions and ideas expressed are acknowledged and discussed in a candid way.
  • In instances where perceptions don’t change, then change has to be introduced through external stimuli. Adequate reward and recognition systems must be in place to encourage adherence to quality framework. Anyone exceeding the set standards should be recognized and rewarded so that it sets an example for others to follow.

By placing emphasis on understanding and respecting cultural roots, a global PM must assume a delicate balance in communicating project goals and quality objectives and at the same time must exert influence to change their deep rooted perceptions. This can go a long way in creating an effective quality plan which will ensure the success of any global project.


Everyday we hear stories of IT projects gone berserk and I have personally witnessed many IT project failures in my recent lifetime. This is an earnest effort on my part to explain why projects fail and for what reasons. It is such an irony that the very folks who fail are the ones who get rewarded for such specious, deceptive and fallacious achievements. I can narrate stories about projects which from the “get go” have inherent problems but are overlooked by the most incompetent, visionless leadership. Projects are such sacred endeavors that in order to succeed you have to have a holistic approach to realize your objectives. It demands dedication; motivation and a keen interest to succeed, which in my opinion lacks in every project. I will have a series of articles where I will blog about project failures. These articles will be very simple, straight forward and right to the target. The first one in this series deals with leadership, a critical component in the success of any project. A project before being undertaken has to be examined from a macro perspective for:

  • Whether the project aligns with the organizational goals
  • Does the project provide significant benefits in terms of cost savings, improving quality, enhancing customer interaction, improving customer satisfaction etc.
  • Cost-benefit analysis favors the need to take up the project
  • Involves the use of technologies and solutions which are scalable, reliable and performance driven

Leadership Crisis

Most projects fail because of ineffective leadership. This is visible through:

  • Lack of vision and understanding of the organizational goals
  • In competency to drive the project
  • Inability to lead, motivate and inspire
  • Engagement in activities which mislead and falsify real progress
  • Indulge in blame game to save themselves from accountability
  • Unfair in favoring selected few with whom they share vested interests
  • Misuse their authority to condone and control others


In addition to leadership failure at the top tier, we have managers (the so called technical/functional leads) who lack in the following skills:

  • Have no vision and do not take criticism, feedback and input from others
  • Don’t have basic management skills especially communication, people-management and facilitation skills
  • Are insecure that others might supersede them
  • Micro manage teams and lead to chaos and lack of commitment on the part of team members
  • Unfairly promote and favor individuals with utter disregard for merit and performance
  • Are gutless and always consult higher management for every decision making
  • Live in a delusion that they are the masters of technology and can undertake any project without even doing a feasibility study
  • Assume that what they do can be done by others at the same pace.
  • Have no respect to the individual aspirations of the team members
  • Tend to control everything and make it secretive in order to have a firm grip and keep their jobs secure (make their existence a necessity for the organization)
  • Do not have the competencies since they lack diverse experience in their careers
  • Deliberately create hurdles or en grain fear in order to promote their agendas
  • Profess the blame game and always find a scapegoat to hide their failures and inefficiencies
  • Are authoritarian when it comes to implementing policies. This is a way for them to target specific individuals who oppose their motives or are a threat to their existence.

I will continue to extend this discussion with few more thoughts.

Today, while I was looking for some articles on IT management, I found some excellent articles posted on Tech Republic about project management. I thought I will share this with others. Check the link below:

Tech Republic blogs on PM