By Omar Zein

The cultural diversity within many major projects require those managing them to adapt their project management approach to be in harmony with the preferences and behaviours of stakeholders from these cultures; failure to do so can lead to misunderstandings about the project’s purpose and structure; significant difficulties in implementation and in some cases, to conflict or litigation. Omar Zein’s Culture and Project Management explores the cultural impact on projects and their management, providing the reader with an understanding of the main elements of cross-cultural theory within the project context. These include our perception of context, achievement, power and group dynamics; and how we approach ambiguity and time. He then identifies key aspects of project management where cultural sensitivity is essential (for example, planning, risk management, project communication and leadership) and offers a structured plan for developing what he calls ‘cultural tuning’ within a project environment. The book draws on the author’s research, his professional experience of working on transnational projects and his own background. His review of the different theories alongside examples and stories of their practical application, offers project managers a new and extraordinarily rich perspective into the likely dynamics of their projects. Making appropriate adaptations to standard processes, choosing what, how and through whom you communicate with stakeholders may be signal elements in the success or failure of your projects; Culture and Project Management will show where to start.

Available via Amazon here.

Reviewed by  Dr Geoff Smith

In his book Culture and Project Management: Managing Diversity in Multicultural Projects, Omar Zein presents a coherent examination of culture and project management that would be a useful addition to any professional library.

Omar introduces definitions of culture and quickly moves through this labyrinth of complexity to then apply elements of culture to the project team.  His ‘Six Steps of Project Management Cultural Tuning’ can be employed to complement Checkland’s Seven Stage Overview of Soft Systems Methodology (Mode One).  This would be particularly useful in assisting with the determination of the cultural feasibility of conceptual models when compared to the real world. The ultimate goal being project real world changes to improve team and project performance from a cultural perspective.  

I was particularly impressed by his insight into cultural orientations and the inclusion of Geert Hofstede’s Confucian Dynamism (immediate onsequences of short-term focus versus the longer-term).  However, the author did not elaborate to any great extent on the usefulness of this dimension on project management.  This would have added some additional depth and relevance for strategic project management (that is, particularly useful for Australian entities engaging in business with Chinese corporations or government).  Omar’s correlations between dimensions compliment the examination of polarities in complex project management.  Readers will be impressed by notes on the relationships (negative and positive correlations) and the dynamics of these correlations on the economic and project environments.

When examining the complexity of leadership, there is an absolute necessity to have a clear understanding of organisational and personal culture.  This includes values, beliefs, norms, morals, ethics, and principles.  Omar has addressed these cultural elements and provided a relationship with organisational structures (for example, functional, project, and strong matrix organisations).  Furthermore, his notes on sequential and synchronic manifestations as they apply to society, family, government, and the workplace are also very thought-provoking.  This work could definitely add value to project management.  Omar has woven a thread of cultural awareness through the project management environment.  His book presents an excellent introduction to some empirical studies, several cultural elements, correlations, project risk, communication, leadership, three organisational structures and their influence on culture/project management, and his ‘Six Steps of Project Management Cultural Tuning’.

Overall, the book is easy reading, expressive, and presents tools that can be employed in most simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic projects.  The author makes several statements in the ‘Afterword’ which should be read prior to reading the remainder of the book.  This book will compliment other project management readings and act to confirm many of the elements a project manager should already be aware of.

About the Reviewer

Geoff Smith has previously worked as a university lecturer examining a number of global cultural models and their application to organisational strategic direction, among other interests. He is very attentive to the strengths that a dynamic multicultural team can bring to a complex project.  Geoff ’s previous experience includes working in universities, the ADF (Army), and the Department of Defence/DMO as a Project Director. He strongly believes that complexity can be managed if you possess the right skills and knowledge. Project Directors must therefore be eager to develop these qualities.

Available via Amazon here.