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Essay: Project management with virtual teams and international projects

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  • Project management with virtual teams and international projects
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Technological advance has provided the necessary means so that organizations increasingly often make use of virtual teams, in order to gain competitive advantage. The members of this new type of teams must display certain traits and have specific skills in line with the characteristics of virtual teams and international projects. Establishing a model of personal and professional skills necessary for international virtual team members, could facilitate their selection process, helping to build efficient team, ensuring performance and thus achieving the objectives and scope of the international project. The paper, by its content, reach the targets, respectively the conceptual approach of international projects, representing their evolution, defining virtual teams characteristics and determine certain profile skills characteristics of virtual international project team members.

Key words: project management, virtual team, international project, competences.

JEL classification: M00

1. Introduction

Globalization phenomenon is the determining factor of the emergence and development of international markets for goods and services, characterized by rapid change and pressures concerning the need to increase quality and simultaneously reduce costs. International projects appeared in response to these constraints, so their success contributes decisively to the development and maintenance of their organizations in international markets. In the literature, the international project is defined as “a project that involves multiple locations, entities, organizations, and business units” (Lientz B., Rea K., 2003).

Despite that technological advances made available for organizations and project managers, complex virtual instruments designed to reduce distances, to increase information exchange and communication, “statistics show that 70% of the projects fails, defeating its objectives on time, budget and performance”(PMI – Project Management Institute, 2013). In these circumstances, we believe that the project teams are not working properly or are not sufficiently prepared to cope with the new environment in which the project takes place. Since 1995, Charles Handy predicted that the work will be defined as “what you do, not where you go”. “In fact, converging economic, technological, and geopolitical factors have led to a new model for work and a different understanding of the workplace. Today is the age of the international virtual team” (Brewer P.E., 2015).

There are increasingly more organizations which “no longer have assigned offices, and it is increasingly common to leverage telecommuting and virtual teamwork. Laszlo Bock, vice president of People Operations at Google, states that at least 50 percent of Google employees are working on virtual teams at any given time.” (Lepsinger R., DeRosa D., 2010)  Effective virtual teams are able to collaborate in ways that bring success to their organizations. (Brewer P.E., 2015)

In the literature published so far about virtual teams (Brewer P.E., 2015; Lee R. Margaret , 2014) and international projects (Binder J., 2007; Koster, Kathrin, 2013), a particular importance is given to the way in which the communication between virtual team members is unfolding, as the main element of the construction team, in the presence of multiculturalism. However, we believe that virtual team members in order to communicate and collaborate successfully, they must own or acquire specific skills that have to be established in the planning phase of the project in accordance with its purpose and objectives. As a result of bibliographic research, based on the characteristics of virtual teams and international projects, we identified the key competencies in order to build an effective international virtual project team.

2. International Project Management and Leadership

Grisham T. W (2011) considers that the international project and the standard project management, share common management processes, but this does not mean that “a project manager with only domestic experience can lead an international project”. Therefore he proposes a different definition for this type of project, thereby “international project management is the leadership of projects that are conducted in multiple countries and cultures” and he draws a clear line between leadership and management of international projects, believing that international project success will be ensured through 80% leadership (soft skills) and 20% management (hard skills). “Leadership involves providing direction and motivating others in their role or task to fulfil the project’s objectives. It is a vital competence for a project manager.” (ICB-International Project Management Association Competence Baseline, 2006). Instead, “many project managers still rely exclusively on the so-called ‘hard’ skills, such as planning, scheduling and controlling, to coordinate the projects.” (Binder J., 2007). Marando Anne (2012) also stated that “many project managers are not able to successfully lead projects due to a deficiency of the necessary management skills”.

In international projects, managers must be able to lead and manage projects from distance, relying on new communication technologies in a complex environment, which is characterized by different culture, religion, law, politics, mentalities, resources, time zones, languages. Managers are forced to lead multicultural teams, while withstanding the pressures regarding the constraints of time, cost, quality and stakeholders satisfaction. “Managers often discover that they are ill equipped to deal with the challenges presented by working with colleagues and clients from different cultures and managing projects from a distance.” (Goncalves M., 2005). Thus, they must give much more importance to 'soft' skills: leadership, communication, understanding of cultural diversity and interpersonal relationship. By means of these skills, international project managers will manage to overcome one of the most important challenges, namely, the creation of the project team on the basis of established standards regarding the competences of team members. “Leading people is the first job of a project manager, followed closely by communication skills. Managing the project takes third place in our experience”. (Grisham T. W 2011)

In addition, with the advent of the Internet, has been developed a new working environment – the virtual environment. “A virtual workplace is a workplace that is not located in any one physical space. It is usually in a network of several workplaces technologically connected (via a private network or the Internet) without regard to geographic boundaries. Employees are thus able to interact in a collaborated environment regardless of where they are located. A virtual workplace integrates hardware, people, and online processes.” ( This new environment added the 'virtual' characteristic to international projects, transforming them and imposing a readjustment of management processes, including the creation of international virtual project team, adding new challenges on the list of the project manager, and putting more emphasis on the 'soft' skills.

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