In June, I delivered a keynote address at the Euroforum PMO Symposium in Berlin. I presented the results of ESI’s second annual Global State of the PMO; some of our findings really resonated with the audience, especially our point of view on what the “Next-gen” PMO looks like. Download our survey report and let me know your thoughts as well.
As is often the case with such conferences there are many experienced and top-notch speakers so I rarely give my pitch and leave; I stay to hear as many of the speakers as I can. Although I’ve been in this business for 38 years, I know I still have a lot to learn (and not just about project management!).
One of the speakers at the event, who was part of a panel discussion, was Dr. Michael Kötting, Project Portfolio Manager from the BMW Group. Dr. Kötting is a practitioner spending his days working hard to advance BMW’s skills and competencies in project management, chosing the right projects, and getting them “out the door.” In other words, a real practitioner.
When the topic turned to project management and cultural concerns on teams Dr. Kötting asserted “cultural issues do not exist on projects.” That’s it; that’s what he said.
And he said this to more than 100 project professionals hailing from the U.K. and a large number of European countries (in other words, a cross-cultural audience of experienced professionals). This comment so shocked the audience, even he couldn’t believe no one offered a countervailing view, or even asked him to clarify his remark.
Dr. Kötting went on to say that he had worked on four continents with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, languages, religions and cultures. He said that the root cause of problems in projects is not cultural differences; it’s because people don’t understand the requirements. He claimed that if you made it very clear to the people who are doing the job what the requirements are they will get it right so it makes no difference what their cultural backgrounds are.
I thought about his remark long and hard. In fact, I’m still trying to sort it out. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to talk to Dr. Kötting after the panel discussion but if I ever run into him again I’m going to spend some time asking him these kinds of questions: Do you think we make too much out of all this cultural business? Do we focus too much on trying to be so knowledgeable of everyone’s cultural characteristics and peculiarities that we are doing ourselves a disservice? Should we spend more time worrying about whether the requirements are clear and less time worrying about offending one of our teammates because of some hand gesture or suggesting they eat foods that are prohibited in their culture?
What do you think? What would you ask Dr. Kötting (other than to let you test drive a new BMW?)