Skip to content

Program Management with an International Focus

February 17, 2016

Effective leadership is evident through various traits such as supporting your team, confidence, integrity, and inspiration, just to name a few; but effective communication may arguably be one of the most important skillsets needed for a leader to be successful. While communication is a necessity, it can also pose some challenges, especially when working on project comprised of international team members. In this blog, we tap into mastering communication success with an international focus.

Originally posted on Think IT

Managing a business has challenges on its own, but what about when you bring international aspects into the mix? We all know how different each culture can be and how challenging it may be to interact with other cultures successfully. So how do you find commonality within the business? At our Project Management Office meeting last week, it was suggested that mastering communication is key in finding success with this challenge. Below are ideas that group members gave to help make this communication process easier:

Group 1: What are some of the challenges a program manager may face in managing the program to deliver the defined business value?

Coherent Communication

  • International communication plan accounting for remote project shareholders
  • Alignment on common vocabulary
  • Cyclical feedback loop
  • Understand contract between company and employee, by company
  • Distinguish between acknowledgement vs. agreement, by culture
  • Cultural approach of work ethic
  • Setting expectations and creating trust

Alignment with Business Drivers and Goals

  • Share team success

Improved Project Definition

  • Alignment of strategy across international deliverables
  • Decomposition into small pieces to understand work
  • Understand efficiency drive across international boundaries

Group 2: What are some of the similarities and differences a program manager may experience while maintaining an international program vs. a local program regarding effectiveness and efficiency?


  • Recognition (equality)
  • Understanding team load and priorities
  • Getting to know team members
  • Understanding government regulations 


  • Communication styles
  • Holidays/work time
  • Time zones
  • Expectations across cultures

Group 3: What are some of the modifications to methodology and approach a program manager may need to consider when managing an international program?

Granularity of Focus

  • More frequent check-in to get to correct level of detail
  • Understand cultural differences; different work/life balance situations require leadership involvement

Relationships with Team

  • Communication with different cultures
  • A ‘head nod’ doesn’t always mean ‘yes’, just that someone understands; need to keep asking questions to ensure everyone understands what is being asked
  • Work with team – how are you going to address conflict?
    • Explain expectations up front

Governance: Leadership Involvement

  • Need to adapt/adjust to time zone/time differences and to meet international timelines


  • Set ground rules up front and stick to budget
  • Not a “bottomless pit” of funds available

Group 4: What program management approaches, arrangements, and practices should be employed when operating an international program?

Management Approaches

  • Communication plan (cultural norms)
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • International calendars (holidays)
  • Establish team rules

Management Arrangements

  • Face-to-face meetings at different locations
  • Team building

Management Practices

  • Tools and “technical” connections – common communication tools
  • Security policy

Ultimately, the group discussed that in order to effectively communicate, you first need to understand the differences between the parties involved. Once you know the differences, you can work towards finding a common understanding and a process that satisfies everyone’s needs. In the end, international projects can be difficult, but they don’t have to be!

Have you had to manage a program with teams working internationally? What are you suggestions for making the process run as smoothly as possible? Share with us below! 

Some description

Posted By: Renee MacLean


No comments yet. Be the first!

Your Comment:

*This will not be displayed.