From L.A. to Tokyo: Tips for Successful International Project Management

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The past century has shown the world just how quickly and expansive globalization can grow. As much as it is true for the growth in international politics between nations, it is also true for the businesses that operate between them. But managing a business that operates outside its own country’s borders, and more importantly managing the projects that arise in those businesses can pose quite a challenge if ill prepared or ill informed. While most businesses that have been operating internationally for a decent amount of time have undoubtedly discovered and experienced these problems first hand, many of them, in addition to businesses looking to break into the global market may not know what problems to expect or how to solve them.

The most important problems that every business should foresee when dealing with any sort of international collaborations are all so minute that often times, they get overlooked. For these examples, we will look at a hypothetical company that is headquartered in Los Angeles but frequently works partners in Tokyo, Japan.


The most important aspect of international dealings is one party having to adapt to use the language of the other. A language difference in itself is rarely forgotten about, but its subtleties are. A company wishing to engage in projects with teams overseas should be aware of their counterpart’s cultural norms. For example, the improper use of a post-name salutation in Japanese can inspire a feeling of rudeness that can cause major troubles in the subsequent dealings. However, most of the time a team member in another country will not be speaking in their native language, so it is best to be courteous and considerate to them by speaking and writing clearly with minimal slang or technical jargon, and to allow forgiveness in errors of language when able.

Cultural Difference

Directly related to language differences are the cultural differences. The importance of understanding the differences between the two party’s cultures can mean the difference between success and failure when it comes to completing a project. While most things will not cause catastrophic damage to the integrity of the team, it may cause small hiccoughs in the process, which can delay projects and lower productivity. For instance, not understanding that it is customary to constantly take notes during business meetings in Japan can cause an American who is unaware of this and is meeting with a Japanese person, can get distracted and think that the Japanese person is not paying attention, or being otherwise disrespectful. The same is true for the opposite, if an American does not take notes for a meeting, a Japanese person can think they are underperforming or the American is rude. Research the cultural business practices for whatever place you are seeking to engage in an international project with.

Time Difference

A hugely important issue in dealing with international locations that are thousands of miles apart is the time difference. It is crucial to understand that there is a 14 hour time difference when dealing with say L.A. and Tokyo. It is one thing to have an emergency meeting scheduled either really late or really early for one part of a team, but scheduling all meetings during inconvenient times for one side is generally a bad idea for productivity aside from being just plain rude. Also in regard to punctuality, understand that not everyone values it the same, while keeping a scheduled meeting waiting for 5-10 minutes may be acceptable here in the United States, it is generally unheard of in places like Japan. Make sure to keep your scheduling promises since in other countries, that is exactly how they are seen, as promises.

Titles and Responsibilities

While titles generally hold the same weight and respect with most of the more advanced countries in the world, sometimes team members in other locations will not have the same value for titles like ‘team manager’ etc. It is best to give some leeway in cases when working with teams who wish to just get the job done rather than delegate arbitrary jobs and responsibilities. As for responsibilities, it is a good idea to go over every team members’ job so that everyone explicitly know what is expected from them rather than letting them imply what is needed. For example, most Japanese workers like to know what exactly is expected from them, and because of their culture, may not inquire about it if they are unsure, so it may fall on the manager to make sure they completely understand all parts of the goal.


Remembering to follow these tips, as well as adopting applicable project management software, will ensure that you’re ready for whatever challenge managing an international project might throw at you.



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