Book Review – International Project Management

International Project Management

This review is reprinted from the July edition of Project Management Tipoffs, the project management & recruitment issues newsletter from Arras People. Enjoy!

Author: Kathrin Köster
Publisher: Sage
Size: 392 pages

I’ll get this out of the way at the start, this is a textbook, and is stated to be aimed at advanced business or engineering students, and practitioners. Having been a student once, a CPD advocate, and a project management practitioner, I have to say this book does indeed satisfy both camps – this is to its credit, and in some ways leads to some of its limitations.

As with many textbooks, the aim is to give a broad overview of a subject, which can then be supplemented by further reading and learning tasks to embed the knowledge, and to allow students to challenge themselves. This is what allows good students to excel and demonstrate a wider reading base, whereas others may just read the book and ‘get away’ with the basics. This book lends itself well to the former style of learning, identifying key topics, and pointing students towards further reading.

The book covers a wide range of topics (discussed below), but also purposefully leaves out many areas (this is understandable as one book cannot cover everything), and it is stated that other books cover these areas (alluding to wider reading). From a practitioner’s point of view, this book gives an excellent overview of key elements of international project management – however, I felt the book lacked detail in areas, and this was sometimes a little frustrating. Köster has attempted to provide a wide-ranging book giving explanations, guidance and tools for every aspect of project management, alongside interjecting the elements of international working – I would argue that it may be trying to do too much in one book. Having said this, Köster has made an excellent contribution to a field of project management which hasn’t been widely documented as far as I am aware, and this is certainly a worthy contribution to the realms of international project management.

The book is structured around the APM Body of Knowledge 5th edition, and covers a wide range of topics, starting with an introduction to international project management, including what is project and programme management, stakeholders, differences between ‘standard’ and international projects. For me, the interesting read throughout this book is the emphasis on location (geographically dispersed) and culture (national, organisational or functional), and how these impact on our approach to project management. Further discussion of project diversity, dynamics, resources, complexity and risk are all made trickier due to the international nature of a project. This certainly rings bells in my experience in managing teams split across the UK and Russia, and the need to be aware of cultural differences, and how different teams and individuals view the world, operate and approach project work and working together.

Further chapters cover topics such as project structures, risk, planning, organising, implementing, controlling, leading, communicating, co-operating and learning in and from projects. These are all bread and butter to most project management practitioners, but this book gives a refreshing new view, particularly in light of international working. The book covers a good range of discussion regarding standard tools to help project management planning, implementation and control (WBS, Gantt, network diagrams, stakeholder analysis, risk management etc), as well as positioning their use in the context of an international project, highlighting and emphasising where issues may arise due to the nature of working internationally. Köster spends quite some time discussing the cultural context, cultural frameworks, and how tools can be used to better understand and address cultural issues in stakeholder and project management approaches. Key elements a project manager need to have include organization skills, technical skills, communication skills, and, as this book stresses, cross-cultural skills. These are lessons we can learn from and utilise in any project, not just internationally, as we pull on a wider pool of talent.

Where this book differs from other project management texts is the recognition, active assessment and management of the impact of working across boundaries – physically, mentally, emotionally and culturally. A project manager needs to be acutely astute at managing a project, made more complex by the nature of international working; sometimes we can focus on the tools and forget about the people and how they work – this book reaffirms that projects are about people, and are only as successful as the project teams, management and collaborative work. This book helps to highlight these issues and organises solutions around a structured project management process.

The book is easy to access and read, and successfully balances discussion with examples. The book covers a great deal, and it also leaves out a great deal, but as Köster states herself, there are other books available that cover this.

I would suggest this book is a good introductory text for students of project management looking to gain an insight into international working (supported with further reading recommendations, tasks, a companion website, lecturer resources, questions, answers etc). Likewise, I would recommend it to project management practitioners (working internationally or more localised), as the book contains a wealth of information and is excellent in contextualising considerations focused around diverse cultures (be it nationally, organisationally or functionally).

This book is a worthy contribution to project management literature which can teach us a great deal, and is a good starting place for those involved in or leading international projects, or those looking to be better rounded in terms of project management practices.

Dr Ed Wallington runs GeoCognita, having worked previously as a Programme and Business Development Manager. Ed has also undertaken research projects with the aim of understanding issues and requirements, investigating options and delivering solutions to support and enhance management and business decisions at strategic and operational levels. He has written a number of publications for academic and professional bodies, see his publications page for further details.

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