# How International Projects Are Different

## How International Projects Are Different

Having discussed what international projects are, we can explore differences between standard projects and international or more complex projects. A number of topics will be discussed. This discussion will then be summarized by a table.

One good way to understand the difference is to examine a simple chart. A spider or radar chart is given in Fig. 1.1. In a radar chart each axis represents one dimension. This type of chart is useful in showing multiple dimensions. Keep it in mind and use it as you manage and work with international projects. Let’s look at the chart. First, consider the dimensions. There are eight of these. They can be divided into two groups. The first group is the first five. These are variables that describe the project. The second group (the last three) consists of impacts and effects of the project.

Factors

1. Number of locations

2. Extent of purpose

3. Range of project

4. Number of organizations involved

5. Dependence of the organization on the project

6. Risk and complexity

7. Potential benefits

8. Cost of the project

Consider the graph. Note that the international project totally dominates the standard project. We recognize that this is just an example and that you have to draw up your own chart. When you look at the chart, you see that there are differences in each dimension. Here are some comments on each factor.

• Number of locations . International or regional projects have more locations. They can be in different cities, states, provinces , districts, or countries .

• Extent of purpose . You may take on many small projects in the traditional mode. However, there is typically an overriding purpose when you work on an international level. The purpose tends to be wider and more complex.

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Range of project . This is also the scope of the project. There are typically more things to change and do in an international project.

• Number of organizations involved . In a standard project, there is often only one department involved. The situation is more homogeneous.

International projects are almost the direct opposite . You can have headquarters, regional headquarters, and local offices involved—all separate and individual entities.

• Dependence of the organization on the project . In a standard project, if there is failure, the people and the organization go on. However, international projects tend to be more visible. The project is much more important and more at stake with the international project.

• Risk and complexity . International projects have much greater risk and complexity.

• Potential benefits . The benefits of an international project are often spelled out at the start much more than a standard project. This is probably because of the following factors: (1) there is more at stake; (2) it takes more management attention to manage the project.

• Cost of the project . While many standard projects can be large and expensive, an international project almost seems to always cost more. There is more transportation, communication, and coordination. Greater complexity contributes to higher cost as well.

How can you employ this chart? Use it to show how international projects are more complex. You can then define alternative versions of the international project that vary in purpose and range or scope. Each alternative can then be charted and compared. This has proven to be very useful in doing trade-offs for an international project.

A summary of differences appears in Fig 1.2. Some amplifying comments are useful here. Not only are there more organizations involved, but also there are more complex power structures within and between organizational units.

While technology has advanced as we stated earlier, there are often still many legacy systems and individual systems in different locations. The only people who understand and can work or modify these are the staff at each location. This makes work on systems in the international project more complex.

Culture can be considered at both a societal and corporate level. Society level culture factors will be discussed in a later section. The culture of an organization at a specific location can be substantially different from that of the headquarters. Some of the reasons for this are: (1) the location was part of an acquired firm with a different culture; (2) the office reflects the personalities of the higher level managers; (3) training, promotion, and other human resource approaches may have been different.

In a standard project, you can get people focused on the project. Management is right next door so that people feel compelled to support the project. This is not the case in an international project. There are many more competing demands on the employees . They have their normal work; they may also have additional local projects.

Self-interest is one of the most powerful factors in projects. People get turned off on a project if they perceive that they will get nothing out of it. This is a prime reason for the failure of many ERP installations. To be successful, an international project must address the local self-interest of the managers and employees at each location.

Regulations and laws are often taken for granted in many countries. The law is the law. However, in much of the world, this is not the case. Laws and regulations are subject to interpretation. Look at China. In one study of the application of twenty laws, it was found that each province of China had interpreted the law differently. Thus, you not only have to be aware of the law or rule as it is written, but also what is really means on the street.