Is there a different way of managing projects in Asia?

In this podcast our senior consultant David Williamson with extensive project experience from working in Asia discusses the subject. David think that the differences are mainly to do with what he often call the soft side, the people side of projects.


David, you have extensive project experience from Asia. Is there a different way of manage projects in Asian than in, for example, in Europe.

That’s an interesting question and the answer is both yes and no. So there is no straight answer. There are situations where there are a lot of similarities and there are situations where there are a lot of differences.

OK. So what are the differences?

The differences are mainly to do with what I often call the soft side, the people side.of projects. Fundamentally running a project in Asia is no different from running a project anywhere else in the world. It’s the application of it in working with people in a different cultural or physical environment that makes the difference. People act, behave and work in a different way, that is a challenge. It’s on the people side.

Do you have any examples from people or teams?

Yeah, I think we could generalise in some respects, of course. But for instance when you work in a group, as a leader in a group it’s a completely different experience the Asian countries than here. And within Asia, Asia is a big place, and that’s what makes it challenging.If you work with a group in Japan for instance, it can be vey daunting if you put a question to a group of Japanese people. Generally you won’t get much response if you just put the question to a group of people. Because in the Japanese culture it’s very collective. So it’s really difficult for one person to put themselves forward with an action or an answer.

Whereas if you put yourselves in the same situation with a group of Indians in my experience, you get ten Indians around the tables you’ll get twelve answers. You’ll have no shortage of answers. Exactly the same situation but two completely different response depending on the cultures you’re working with. And you need to learn with those differently of course.

Is there any general advice if I’m a new manager running a project in Asia?

Yeah, you’ve got to be prepared to deal with the differences. You’ll have no problems on the technical side, I think, with the technical change environment or with the technicalities of project management. Or should we say, no bigger challenges than you’ll have in Europe. But you got to be prepared for the differences on the people side. The best thing is actually experience. But if you don’t have that experience, where do you start? Talk to people who’ve been there before, absolutely. Read up, but you’ll never get all the information necessary for what’s gonna happen, so you’ll have to be flexibel. Be prepared to think and re-think. And you need more time, so don’t be over-ambitious, I think, in terms of getting good results straight away. But give yourself and your team the time to prepare and understand each other.

The other thing is communication. Work with communication.There are two-hundred versions of the English language, so even communicating in English , where you think or assume that you’re using the same words or mean the same thing by them, you’ll discover that actually they can be misinterpreted too. So those are the big things, give yourself time and do the preparation, and work hard on the communication.

You’re responsible for Wenell Asia, so why do you like working in Asia?

The thing I like about working in Asia, because it gets to the essence of what project management is actually about. Project management is about managing uncertainty, and in Asia you get much more uncertainty. So it challenges you to think on your feet, to think again, to see the different perspectives. It’s very stimulating. It can be hard work, tiring. You have the physical environments which are different, you have the timezones, you have the food, the climate. So it’s challenging, but it’s stimulating. Thank you so much for your time.

Now, a final question — if I have a question and I’m preparing as a new manager to go there, is it okay to just drop you an email to have contact with you?

Sure. Email is probably the best way, because the travel I do, it can be difficult with the phone sometimes. So, an email to and I’ll have an answer. It’ll be good to hear from you.

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