During last Saturday’s book launch for Sidestep Complexity in Amman one of the participants asked an interesting question.  He asked “do the principles you outlined in your book apply to organizations regardless of geographic location or regional culture?” He then went on to explain that he had seen many management principles that seem logical for the United State or Europe that perhaps may not be applicable for local culture.

The short answer that I gave during the session was that project management principles in general apply to most organizations, most of the time, regardless of location or regional culture.  This is the stated position of PMI as articulated in the PMBOK Guide. While I strongly support this position, we have to also recognize that there are nuances that have to be taken into consideration. For example within my book I discuss the importance for project management practitioners to learn about the specific corporate culture of the organization they are working within.  I explain that each organization has a specific culture and within SMBs there are unique challenges that have to be understood.  So, the way that project management is adopted and applied has to fit within that organizational culture.

This explanation does not conflict with PMI’s position or the framework set in the PMBOK Guide.  The standards teams recognize that when it comes to adoption of the profession there has to be a certain amount of customization and tailoring to ensure success in this adoption.  I would equate that to a discovery process as part of a blood transfusion.  If a human needs blood, we have to figure out what type of blood they have before we administer the transfusion.  Similarly, when it come to project management, we have to conduct due diligence on the organization to ensure that the adoption of project management helps the organization rather than hurts it.

Another important perspective that needs to be understood is that the practice of project management requires a combination of hard and soft skills.  There are technical elements to developing an Earned Value calculation that is the same no matter what the region or organization.  That is part of the hard skills of the profession.  This is similar to math, 1 + 1 is 2 any time of day and any place or earth.  However, when it coms to the soft skills of communications and leadership, this is where the practice of project management has to be tailored to meet the needs of the local and organizational culture.