Why is multi-cultural experience highly desirable for world-wide project managers.


In those three stories below, I’d like to demonstrate how multi-cultural experience (or the lack of) can affect large WW projects regardless of industry. As I hope you will agree, cultural, religion-related and ethnological patterns should be taken into accounts with any large scale projects.



 Story nr. 1 – WW based IT giant IT corporation, team based in EMEA, US and India. I was in charge of a team supporting an sales-supporting software tool that was deployed in EMEA, the technical infrastructure was located in US and the IT support team was based in India. During one morning (GMT+1 time) things went really bad, the tool was not accessible and it was the wrong part of the month for an outage. Knowing the stake, I approached the India based IT support team and asked for the problem to be fixed. After a moment of hesitation … the answer or my Indian liaison was : “Sure, we’re right on it, my friend”. Hours passed and the tool was still off-line. I called my liaison again and got a similar answer: “yes, we’re working hard on it”. Satisfied, I waited patiently for the problem to be fixed. As the noon time approached, I called to India again. This time an another person answered the phone … as the shifts changed in Hydrabad and my liaison was already home. The new guy seemed a bit confused and strangely not talkative but none-the-less he assured me again that the problem will soon be fixed. As the afternoon came to be, I contacted my US based superiors (as it was already morning in the certain US time zone) and asked to escalate the IT fixing process. The answer from US was astonishing … there was a problem with the connection to the data center in US and our India based IT teams were off-line for the who day. “What?” I thought. Conclusion … as it is very impolite to say: “No, we can not fix that” in certain situation in India, my Indian liaison rather considered a not-the-truth answer as a better choice rather to admit that there is a problem with the connection to US. Would I be more experienced with Indian culture, I would read the hesitation and vague answers right … instead of forcing my Indian co-workers to choose the less offending answer. 


Story nr. 2 – multi-national based large construction company, HQ based in Germany, building a water dam somewhere in China, average daily count of workers on the site – 1000+. The PM responsible for the project was waked one morning and told: “Well, you see, our works stopped working”. “Why?” was the surprised answer of the PM. “Well, apparently, there are bad ghosts on the construction site” was the answer. “What?!” was the PM gasping. A rumor among the local workers said that the site was occupied by bad ghosts and workers would not resume work until they will be banned by a feng-shui master. One day of work was lost till a feng-shui master was found and persuaded to visit the site. After his examination was finished, he made the ruling … “there must be a hole in the dam so that the bad chi energy can flow away”. “What?!” gasped the PM, “a HOLE in a dam?”. Another 2 days of work were lost until a work-around has been found and local worked resumed their work. Conclusion … local beliefs and folklore must be taken into account. Would the PM be more experienced with China culture, a cooperation with a feng-shui master would be considered from the start. Bonus … let’s imagine you have to explain your German superiors that you have lost 3 days of work of 1000+ workers because the construction site was occupied by bad ghosts.


Story nr. 3 – multi-national based large construction company, HQ based in US, building a sky scrapper somewhere in India, average daily count of workers on the site – 500+. The PM responsible for the project was waked one morning and told: “Well, you see, our works stopped working”. “Why?” was the surprised answer of the PM. “Well, there is apparently a couple of holy cows on the construction site and none of local workers will touch them or drive them away. Our vehicles can not enter the construction site”. “What?!” was the PM gasping. This time, there was no work-around, there were holy cows on the site and none that would even think about driving them away. As the solution is not the key element of this story, eventually a solution was found in 4 days. Conclusion … local faith can have an immense impact on things. A PM with enough local experience would ask a local monastery to help with the problem. Bonus … let’s imagine you have to explain your US superiors (based in Texas) that you have lost 4 days of work of 500+ workers because of a couple of cows.


Speaking in general, a PM with multi-cultural experience can provide a huge benefit to projects that are stretched across continents and as outsourcing and globalization are now-a-day’s trends, count of projects that could be considered as WW is rising rapidly. Smooth cooperation with local employees where cultural patterns differ from those of the project owner can be assured only with the help of an PM with the proper experience in both technical aspects of the project as well as local environment where the project is about to be executed.