Managing risk in international projects

A woman looking at a computer monitor with international map and charts on the screen.

How do you turn a risk into a strength?

For an international project management leader, it’s not easy finding a way through the complexities of regulation, procurement, regional monetary systems, and customs that span several countries. A project will stall in one country and then another—sometimes all at once.

“You’re usually dealing with a project that involves at least three countries so you’re having to plan, execute, and deliver on milestones for your organization that are in alignment with customers and users in various places,” says David Bakhtnia, BSEE, MSEM, a certified technical and professional consultant and change management and Agile coach.

But, it’s just these kinds of complexities that make international work so compelling.

“We help project leadership to think outside the box,” Bakhtnia says.

International project managers focus on the high-level solution to work around the obstacles that inevitably crop up.

To get leadership buy-in, you have to create a plan for turning risk into a strength,” Bakhtnia says. His experience is rich with stories of slaying the impossible setback by risking a whole new strategy.

“This is the most satisfying part of a project,” he says, about finishing early and on budget after taking a new risk.

In his Managing International Projects course, Bakhtnia presents one of his real projects to the student teams so they can collaboratively troubleshoot different management scenarios. Students work together to understand the big challenges. They talk about cultural and personality differences, language, varying perspectives, customs, regulations, and, of course, the challenges of project ownership and ego. Who ends up owning the brilliant concepts (intellectual property) of a project that is created collaboratively in multiple environments? Who gets to patent the pieces of the puzzle?

An international project requires a sense of inclusivity.

“Age, background, color, beliefs, financial and social standing—we include everybody,” Bakhtnia says. “It requires an open mindset. As long as we exclude empathy and inclusivity in our team, no project is going to succeed. The people differences—that’s the biggest impediment. People make assumptions about others and may overlook the brightest engineer in the room.”

He coaches his students to manage these differences and obstacles.

“In the classroom, people are working together, role playing, game playing, laughing, and sharing information. We learn while we’re having fun.”

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