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Critical Success Factors for International Projects

Critical Success Factors for International Projects

Bennet P. Lientz

University of California, Los Angeles

In international projects there are differences between various projects due to politics, culture, regulations, and other factors. Yet, at the heart of every international project there are often  more similarities than differences. Often, the differences are evident in symptoms of problems or issues and in the details of implementing solutions to such problems. Many project fail because they focus on the differences rather than the similarities. In Lientz and Rea (1) an approach for dealing with project issues was laid out. In Lientz and Larssen (2) over 120 common problems for IT projects were discussed while in Lientz (3) over 300 issues affecting projects of all types were addressed.

International projects have much in common. These include technical, management, performance, measurement, project structure, and  project direction issues. A long term goal of project management has been  to gather and apply lessons learned from one project to others. Yet, if management views a project as unique or different due to the specific country situation, then many times the lessons learned are neither gathered, nor applied to other concurrent or future projects.

This discussion leads to the following critical success factors for international projects.

  • There must be a recognition of similarity over difference in international projects.
  • A firm should gather problems and issues that have occurred in past and current projects. These should be organized into databases that are accessible to all.
  • The issues database should be used as a checklist from project conception  onward. This will aid in the prevention and repetition of problems.
  • Before each stage or phase of work in the project the lessons learned that apply to the work should be identified and applied to the work.
  • Tracking the management of issues and problems has proven to be a better metric for project progress than percent complete and other traditional metrics.
  • There should be a central coordination  point for the databases. This could be the Project Management Office (PMO).
  • Lessons learned should be gathered during the project--not at the end of the project. At the end of the project there is a lack of energy and enthusiasm  to develop lessons learned. Also, memories are not fresh.

It has been the author's experience in over 60 organizations in 20 countries that the above approach will produce the following benefits.

  • Project planning is improved. Many issues in a project can be prevented in advance.
  • Applying lessons learned will also prevent issues as well as their impact and severity.
  • The issues and lessons learned databases can be employed as useful tools in project identification, definition, and selection.
  • Implementing the above factors takes will, energy, and guts as opposed to money. Hence, it is usable by organizations of any size with any budget.
  • Project problems tend to identified earlier, resolved earlier, and thereby leading to a greater chance for project success.

What do you as a person or organization hope to accomplish with projects over time? The answer is cumulative improvement. It is the same with societies and civilization. If this goal is not achieved, then the chances of project success diminish. The same issues and problems continue to recur. Lessons learned are forgotten. From experience if you create, maintain, and grow the databases of issues and  lessons learned, then you will find that:

  • The issues database and  number of issues will stabilize. There will be fewer new issues.
  • The lessons learned will continue to improve and become more detailed.

The author and his co-author applied this to travel in Larssen and Lientz (4). In this book we presented the issues and lessons learned applied from travel to over 120 countries over a 40 year period.

1.  Lientz, Bennet and Kathryn Rea, International Project Management, Elsevier Science, 2002.

2.  Lientz, Bennet and Lee Larssen, Risk Management for IT Projects, Routledge, 2006.

3. Lientz, Bennet, Project Management: A Problem Based Approach, Palgrave, 2012.

4. Larssen, Lee and Bennet Lientz, Travel Fun, Travel Smart, Travel Well, self published, 2011.

Dr. Lientz  is Professor Emeritus of the Anderson School, University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author or co-author of over 30 books and 50 articles in project management, strategic planning, information technology, and related areas. He has consulted with over 90 companies and government agencies in 35 countries.


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