Shorter version was published by SK Khor at PMI Network Magazine Nov 2006.
The 2nd Annual International Mastering IT Project Management Conference ( www.mitpm.org ) held on 1st ñ 2nd August 2006 in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia was completed successfully with PMI Chair, Mr. Iain Fraser delivered an high impact keynote on Project Management As Strategic Partner which attracted regional media and Project Management Practitioner in Asia Pacific region. Influential Communication has been choose as Pre-Conference Seminar topic due to its importance during the process from Strategic to Execution.
SK Khor, PMPÆ , Asia Pacific Chair of PMI IT & T Specific Interest Group takes the opportunity to seek views of the some leading Western and Eastern based Project Managers in Asia Pacific region. It is interesting to find out among the 200 plus individuals conference delegates with various views in the importanceís of project communication. Some said it is a reflection of Project Managerís values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, culture, religion, etc. Some said just to ensure the contents of Project Plan has been communicated to all stakeholders and manage expectation
WEST MEET EAST
Communication Techniques, Issues and Challenges
The 2nd Annual International Mastering IT Project Management Conference ( www.mitpm.org ) held on 1st – 2nd August 2006 in Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia was completed successfully with PMI Chair, Mr. Iain Fraser delivered an high impact keynote on Project Management As Strategic Partner which attracted regional media and Project Management Practitioner in Asia Pacific region. Influential Communication has been choose as Pre-Conference Seminar topic due to its importance during the process from Strategic to Execution.
SK Khor, PMP® , Asia Pacific Chair of PMI IT & T Specific Interest Group takes the opportunity to seek views of the some leading Western and Eastern based Project Managers in Asia Pacific region. It is interesting to find out among the 200 plus individuals conference delegates with various views in the importance’s of project communication. Some said it is a reflection of Project Manager’s values, beliefs, thoughts, feelings, culture, religion, etc. Some said just to ensure the contents of Project Plan has been communicated to all stakeholders and manage expectation.
Decision and conflict resolution
Tony Mills (Tony), a British origin Airport Systems Specialist who has been residing and engaging projects in Asia during the last 16 years has observed that most large projects in Asia are very hierarchically based, even small decisions often have to have the sanction and blessing of Management, decision by committee is often the way the client will move forward, sometimes this lengthens the decision making process. Often the actual decision making is with one or two key figures versus the Western approach is to provide empowerment at the appropriate level and only to escalate when circumstances or the situation requires high level management approval.
Mr. Lee Nan Phin, PMP, senior partner of Asia ICT Project Management based in Malaysia has a different observations. He said, some Asians prefer not like to debate heavily over certain project issues because of the reasons of protocol and “saving face” practises must be observed. Commonly seen also is during the project conflict resolutions, some like to forward the problem upwards for decision in order to respect the protocol or some just refused to confront their peer in order to maintain good ‘Guan Xi’. On the other hand, Westerners in his project will confront and debate the project disagreement but will make decisions at the designated level. Even more interestingly, in many cases, an Asians may know the answer but do not want to be seen as the one making the decision. Mr.Lee added.
Language and Body Language
Tony has also observed the usage of dual language is common for projects in many Asian countries. In China for instances primary documentation is in Chinese and then translated into English. The rule is that the Chinese version takes precedence in the case of dispute. Therefore it is extremely important when a non Chinese vendor is involved that the translated documentation reflects as precisely as possible the meaning of the local language; Westerner should try to use Simple Technical English to ease the translation into the local language and improve accuracy.
Juergen Oschadleus,PMP ,South African origin based in Australia has learned that people nodding their heads, a characteristic often attributed in Eastern culture does not necessarily signify agreement, only that they have heard. E.g when a foreign contracted workers kept saying ‘YES’ while shaking his head violently from side to side when asked by the local technical lead he has understood the project requirement. The challenge here is never to assume we understand other people’s intentions, including their body language.
Culture and Business Practises
Large complex projects in Asia typically involved government participation. It is important for you to envision the project environment that the civil servants may work under different rules and constraints as compared to the project team members from private sector.
For each new project engagement, Mr Lee will perform stakeholder analysis thoroughly and understand the project environment well from several aspects such as underlying culture, general way of doing business in that country. He often obtained help from the Sales team to get initial general pointers. Mr. Lee will also seek to understand the Client’s Organisational structure and where the clients Project Manger positions sits within the structure and what power and constraints that they may have.
Jurgen will go further to read books on culture and history before entering to the country where the project will take place. In particular, what do the people believe, how do they socialise, and what sport or other past times do they participate in. Jurgen believes this can help to build up points of common interest and allows him to work from a base of shared values. He will also try to identify any specific actions, gestures or topics that might cause offence, and then avoid those as far as possible.
As Western Project Manager, Tony doesn’t feel he needs to do anything significantly different when he needs to communicate with either a Westerner or Easter based team member. However, he will always try to apply the below five Critical Success Factors which equally importance to his projects.
- Attitude: He will portray the right attitude, neither arrogance nor subservience. Flexibility is an important card to be played at appropriate times
- Discipline & Work Ethics: He will impose discipline and to be a role model for his own team.
- Listen: He will really listen and do not be formulating the next argument in his head until he has heard the client’s representative out. He will avoid the common mistake of his Western co-worker who think they know better so they are not really listening.
- Communicate : He is constantly improving his written and oral communication skills in order to communicate clearly and succinctly and often trying to use simple and plain English.
- Patience: He will approach the project with Patience. Many things will appear initially not to go the desired way because the client needs time to appreciate the Western PM recommended way, even to the point of doing it wrong their way first.
We have seen many white papers, research and presentation in the PMI community attempts to address challenges, issues and lesson learnt faced by Western based PM in Asia. I decided to do the reverse. I took the opportunity to seek advices from the Western based PM on tips for an Eastern based Project Manager to earn himself the opportunity to manage a project of his field of expertise in the West.
Jurgen believes a strong Project Management credibility and track records will be the top of the evaluation list in his countries such as South Africa and Australia. He also advise them to master the official project language such as English, because, rightly or wrongly, their competence will be judged in large part by their ability to communicate at all levels of the project stakeholders and is critical for success.
Once in the country, it is also important to integrate into the society; by all means, maintain your own traditions and culture at home, but don’t isolate yourself from your new community. And, of course, network widely. Most of the job opportunities are not advertised, they are referred, so use every opportunity to build up a network of contacts in the country you plan to move to, and let the network know of your interest, skills and availability. Jurgen added.
In additional to above, Tony stressed all Project Manager must have a combination of the soft skills such as Patience, Listening, Discipline, Communication and above all Right Attitude in order to earn himself/herself the passport to manage projects outside his/her home grown country.
All projects will face some sort of Communication Issues and Challenges regardless of its geographical location, mother-tongue or cultural background of Project Manager. In most cases, your knowledge and commonly practised communication techniques used elsewhere can still applicable with some additional listening effort if your project is operated in multi-languages environment and be extra sensitive if you are new to certain underlying culture and business practises.
In conclusion, It is very difficult to give finite precise answers on how to avoid communication issues and challenges within Asia as it consists of so many diverse nationalities, cultures and ethnic traits. The political, social and religious environments are also many and varied. As someone ‘Being There, Done It’, what I commonly practises included to meet with the group collectively and the team members individually, in order to get to know them as people. Identify the dynamics between them early on.
At the end of the day, effective and influential project communication is about relating to people; that requires getting to know them, respect them and care about them as truly unique individuals. Once I have a clear grasp of the local “Rules of Engagement’ I will have to establish better understanding and trust with my counterpart and hopefully this will ease majority of the communications barriers between the parties considerably. Good luck to your next Project in Asia.