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Project management has become a leading field in the business world. Organizations worldwide now understand the essential role that project management has in relation to their company success. Regardless of the size, at some point every organization will develop and implement new services, products, and processes to remain ahead of the competition. These new enterprise concepts increase the need for organizational accountability and leads to a higher focus and demand for operational proficiencies and effectiveness. It is important to understand the terms surrounding this field. A project is short-term group activity designed to produce an exclusive product, service, or result. It has a defined scope and resources along with a defined beginning and end. It is not a routine process, instead it is a specific set of procedures designed to accomplish a single goal. There are various types of projects including traditional, distributed, international and virtual. Traditional projects consist of a large majority of team members being employed with the same organization in a single location. Team members working in numerous locations are on distributed projects while international projects involve teammates located across country boundaries. Virtual projects are comprised of team members distributed geographically and employed in different companies. According to Project Management Institute website, project management is defined as, “the application of knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. It is a strategic competency for organizations, enabling them to tie project results to business goals which in turn will allow them to better compete in their markets (PMI).”
Project management processes are separated into phases which include initiating, planning, executing, monitoring/controlling, and closing. Project management knowledge concentrates on these areas of focus including integration, cost, human resources, stakeholder management, scope, quality, communications, time, procurement, and risk management (PMI). The focus of project management is developing new methods to run projects efficiently, within the desired time schedule while remaining within budget without comprising on quality. Global project management encompasses all the functions discussed but on a much larger scale. Global projects are defined as a mixture of virtual and international projects, which includes individuals from different companies working in many countries around the world. An example of a global project would be project team members working on a pharmaceutical project formed from a partnership of seven organizations that work in five locations including a quality team in Germany, the headquarters in South Africa, laboratories in England, and a development team in France. The global project team is composed of individuals with four different native languages including German, French and English. Global project teams are complex because there are several different country cultures and time zones involved. There are many globalized companies with offices all across the world; therefore project teams can consist of team members both locally and in foreign countries. Project managers have to be equipped to handle such a diverse and difficult responsibility. They have the responsibility of ensuring that the project is executed and completed to fruition.
Pertaining to global project management, ethics are particularly imperative in gaining the support of the project team. Ethics are defined as the rules or standards of conduct governing the members of a profession and the moral values, beliefs, and guidelines that an individual upholds in their life, in the workplace and personally to ensure right from wrong (PMI). Values are the fundamental beliefs or principles’ regarding what is just, good, and right. Morals are the values that are essential in a system of beliefs. Business ethics exist to ensure organizations refrain from demoralizing the integrity and longevity of its business. Therefore, ethics also denotes a challenge to address factors that lack the ability to be completely measured and comprehended, to ensure present and future company success. While the need for ethics may appear to be a moral issue bound in subjective reasoning, ethics are a chief concern for any organization regarded as a stable company built to last. Global project managers are faced with countless ethical issues daily. The key concern is global project managers are typically not provided with the proper training regarding ethical issues. The educational foundations merely focus on the technical or professional knowledge. Ethical issues that are not properly resolved, specifically issues associated to the work environment; result in a decrease in the efficiency and productivity of team members. Ethical issues are focused around working relationships between team members. They may diverge based on region or culture as they are centered on the norms, values, thoughts and beliefs of the individual. There are no set rules and regulations outlined to provide clear and concise guidance in handling ethical issues. There are various components of managing a global project. While managing a global product team, revenue maximization and employee motivation are often vital. Conversely, a global project manager and the project team members must adhere to fulfilling their ethical and corporate social responsibilities to be ethical, responsible employee and corporate citizens. Project managers are normally evaluated on how well they complete a project and their capabilities to remain on schedule, within budget and scope. Global projects can take the global project manager out of their comfort zone of the local laws and customs that they are accustomed to. Often times there are practices that may be accepted in foreign countries that are not permitted in the United States of America. For example, making payments to a foreign government official to acquire licenses, police protection, or permits can be viewed as a bribe or as simply expediting the process to get things handled efficiently. In such instances, it is beneficial to have an established set of guidelines in place to refer to. Some organizations have a code of conduct or a best practice reference while others do not. While additional references may not be in place, global project managers must rely on their experiences, rule of law, and moral and ethical obligations. It is imperative for them to approach challenging matters with carefulness and conduct their affairs within the proper ethical and legal framework.
There are numerous ethical issues global project managers encounter. In global project management work has to be completed across various time zones. The violation of basic rights of workers is a common ethical issue. Global project managers are often met with strict deadlines which can lead to demanding work schedules. They have to balance different interests, company cultures, working practices, and most communications over a distance. International project teams involve the collaboration of individuals from different country cultures and languages, often times with the added intricacy of the locations over various time zones. Project managers should not abuse their authority by violating employee’s basic rights. With the time differences it can become easy to engage team members after office hours to maintain deadlines especially when working with team members across the globe. Working long demanding hours exceeding the normal workday can decrease the motivation level of team members. Global project managers should put procedures in place to mitigate this ethical issue. Although it may be necessary for international team members to work outside of their normal working hours, global project managers should manage a schedule were different team members’ are required to work early or work later to accommodate the international time restraints. Another ethical issue is adhering to employee safety standards. Project managers should observe and follow the health, safety and environmental standards that most countries have established. They are often faced with the decision to scale back on safety standards as a measure of reducing project costs. While it is unethical, project managers have determined that the consequences of not imposing safety standards can be much more expensive to the business than following them. A global project manager that upholds proper safety standards can prevent a project from absorbing outstanding costs ranging from rectifying minor mistakes to serious injury or in extreme cases, death.
Focus of blame or accepting blame is an additional project management ethical issue. If project failure occurs, it is considerably easier to find fault or shift blame to other individuals involved. Project managers may be tempted to transfer the blame to team members or additional groups involved to save the embarrassment and to protect their job. They may also contemplate withholding any indications that may implicate themselves as the cause of the project’s failure. Nonetheless, ethically, there should be no individual singled out as the source of project failure unless it is the project manager assuming the responsibility. Ultimately, the project manager is the person assigned the critical task and authority of guaranteeing the project is complete. Although the project manager has the duty of ensuring the project is completed, often times a task can fail in spite of the project manager’s best efforts. In these circumstances of project failure, the most ethical outcome is to allow the blame to fall on the team as a whole. Consequently, it is ethically wrong to blame project failure on any one individual. Project managers have an ethical accountability to accept when a project does not go as expected. Efforts should not be spent concealing evidence or shifting blame, instead global project managers must focus on seeking solutions to the issues and getting the project back on track. Additionally, while working with contracts, there are usually several conditions and requirements between the two parties involved. Occasionally, these terms may infringe on ethical principles and standards. This is a known ethical issue that is common in areas such as defense contracts for the United States Army. For example, a defense contract may specify that project team members can only be of certain races or origins to be eligible to work on the project. It is debatable to determine if this would be ethical or unethical. Some may view it as ethical with the intention of ensuring the security of the nation’s undisclosed initiatives and assignments, while others may view this as an unethical instance of discrimination of ethnicity or race. For that reason, prior to signing a contract with these types of terms and conditions, organizations should make certain to ask specific questions and have the willingness to submit to such conditions even if it means removing individuals from the project team and replacing them with others as the stipulations of the contract states.
Another key ethical issue facing global project managers is conflict of interest. A conflict of interest transpires when a group or individual has various interests in a project that could potentially compromise the integrity of the project. For example, a global project manager accepting a proposal from an organization owned by a relative, although other bidders submitted bids that may be lower and deliver more enhanced services, such a decision would cause the project manager’s integrity into question. They can also finalize deals for their own benefit instead of in the best interest of the organization or even fraudulently using fictitious records to show expenses that have not occurred. Also, project managers should select team members for a project not on their own personal preferences but solely based on their skills and abilities. Ethical concerns can also derive from project managers selecting their own relatives or friends as a part of the project team. It is important for the project manager to not show favoritism or show prejudice towards other employees. It is their responsibility to support the team by ensuring each team member’s voice is heard. A project manager that displays prejudice based on religion, gender, ethnicity, race, or other standards not only compromises the integrity of the project, but likewise portraying such behavior could potentially cause the company to have a discrimination lawsuit. Biasness is common in every industry or business which can disrupt the working environment. It is imperative to identify any bias when the interests of teammates conflict regardless of the temptation to go with the easy choice.
Another example of an ethical dilemma that project managers handle is receiving gifts from an existing contractor they had currently employed. The contractor gives a costly gift thanking the project manager for his business and looking forward to doing business in the near future. Their contract is up for renewal and other vendors are competing for the business opportunity as well. Project managers are then faced with ethical decisions such as accepting the gift and remaining silent, returning the gift, or disqualifying the contractor from contract renewal. These decisions can be even more difficult when they conflict with meeting requirements from impractical customers, demanding senior leadership and difficult stakeholders. Another instance would be a presentation created by the project manager to be provided as a project update at the upcoming customer meeting. In the presentation, the project manager points out the expectation of project delays and the inability to meet a few of the customer’s requirements. The executive reviews the document and edits out the issues and delays stating that it is best only highlight the positive aspects of the project. As the project manager they have to decide whether to give truthful information regarding the project, ask to be omitted from the meeting, or simply go along with the executive’s edit. These examples show a variety of ethical dilemmas some decisions may be relatively clear while others might not be as direct. Global project managers are repeatedly tested as they struggle with these unclear areas among conflicting selections, concerns, outlooks, and beliefs.
In conclusion, organizations that used to operate in merely one country now have the capability to operate worldwide. Companies implement new products and services and have to continue to reinvent themselves to remain in competition with other companies. As the business expands globally and new processes are established, global project management becomes a necessity. Global project management consists of working on an international or virtual project with team members both locally and also from foreign countries. Organizations have set forth code of conduct and guidelines for their employees as a reference to handle certain issues. However, there are gray areas in dealing with certain circumstances that may leave the project manager unclear as to how to handle the situation. They face different time zones, different cultures, different values, and ethical standards when managing a global team. They often have to be mindful when working internationally that United States customs and practices may differ from another country. It is the global project manager responsibility to ensure the project is completed efficiently but also must be aware of the diversity involved when dealing with such a task. There are many ethical issues in global project management including admission of wrongdoing, shifting the blame, making decisions on contracts, violation of basic rights of employees, ignoring safety or health standards, being biased, showing favoritism or prejudice, selecting the wrong team members for personal reasons, and having conflicts of interests. Global project managers have to use their own personal experiences, moral standards, beliefs, and values to guide them through ethical dilemmas. As there are many facets to becoming a global project management it has been proven to be a growing necessity in any thriving organization.
- Binder, Jean. “Global project management: communication, collaboration and management across borders.” Strategic Direction 25.9 (2009).
- Helgadóttir, Hildur. “The ethical dimension of project management.” International journal of project management 26.7 (2008): 743-748.
- Kerzner, Harold R. Project management: a systems approach to planning, scheduling, and controlling. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.
- Kerzner, Harold R. Project Management-Best Practices: Achieving Global Excellence. Vol. 14. John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
- LeClair, Debbie Thorne. “Integrity management: A guide to managing legal and ethical issues in the workplace.” (1998).
- PMI. Project Management Institute, Inc,. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.
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