International Project Teams: Soft skills Germans shall bring in to be successful in Japanese Project Teams

by Bachelor of Arts Irini Varvouzou (Author) Magdalena Zasepa (Author) Benoit Budiman (Author)

Term Paper 2010 37 Pages

Business economics - Business Management, Corporate Governance


Table of Contents

Table of Figures II

1. Introduction
1.1. Problem
1.2. Objective
1.3. Structure

2. International Project
2.1. Definition of International Project
2.2. Phases of International Project
2.2.1. Project Definition/Initiation
2.2.2. Project Planning
2.2.3. Project Realization and Project Controlling
2.2.4. Project Closing

3. Culture
3.1. Definition of Culture according to Geert Hofstede
3.2. Dimensions of Culture according to Geert Hofstede
3.2.1. Masculinity versus Femininity
3.2.2. Power Distance
3.2.3. Uncertainty Avoidance

4. Soft Skills
4.1. Definition of Soft Skills
4.2. Kind of Soft Skills
4.2.1. Social Competencies
4.2.2. Methodological Competencies
4.2.3. Personal Competencies

5. Analyzing the Japanese and German working environment
5.1. General Overview about Culture in Japan and Germany
5.2. Masculinity versus Femininity
5.3. Power Distance
5.4. Uncertainty Avoidance
5.4. Critical Acclaim

6. Detailed Analyzes of Soft Skills used in a Project of the two Cultures
6.1. Social Competencies
6.2. Methodological Competencies
6.3. Personal Competencies
6.4. Critical Acclaim

7. Analyzes of upcoming Conflicts and possible Approaches for Solution
7.1. Examples of Conflicts, its Reasons and Form of Appearance
7.2. Important Soft Skills to work successfully with Japanese team members
7.3. Critical Acclaim

8. Outlook towards the future Development

9. Bibliography

10. Table of Internet Sources

Declaration in Lieu of Oath

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Manifestations of Culture

1. Introduction

1.1. Problem

Over the years soft skills become more important when dealing with humans. Those skills will not only be considered by employers in the selection process of a new employee, but are also crucial when trying to successfully accomplish an International Project. The success of a project depends on the cooperation of the project team. Already in national projects misunderstanding and conflicts arise. In international teams this danger is bigger due to cultural differences, which – besides of big distances and different time zones - bear different patterns of thinking and acting, languages, norms and values. An example is a telephone conference between a German and a Japanese staff. The German is informing that he is still waiting for the figures of the last quarter and asking when he will receive them. The Japanese is answering that it will be a little bit difficult. The German is telling that he can understand his situation and points out that he requires the figures by end of this week. The Japanese is answering that he will try. The conclusion of this communication is that the German cannot understand that the Japanese is not able to supply the figures. He feels to be taken not seriously. On the other hand the Japanese cannot understand that the German does not understand that he is not able to supply the requested figures. He feels stalemate and under pressure. That is a typical example of a German-Japanese communication error - the direct versus the indirect communication stile. In German we tend to hear what indeed has been said. Difficult means difficult and is solvable, if you are only willing. In Japan difficult can eventually means difficult, but in the most cases it means infeasible. In order to avoid, handle and solve such cultural differences within International Project teams and thus to ensure a successfully accomplishment of a project the possession of soft skills is getting more and more important in today’s world.

1.2. Objective

The objective of this paper is to demonstrate how culture has an influence on the success of International Projects and how soft skills can avoid and solve resulting problems exemplified on Japanese and German projects.

1.3. Structure

Subsequent to this introduction an overview of International Projects will be given, while explaining the term and phases of International Projects. Furthermore the term culture and the dimensions of culture according to Geert Hofstede - especially the cultural dimensions masculinity versus femininity, power distance and uncertainty avoidance - will be defined in chapter three. The term soft skills and the generic competence areas will be explained in chapter four. In chapter five an overview of the German and Japanese culture in reference to the working environment and cooperate culture will be provided. Besides this overall description, a closer look of the used soft skills while working in German or Japanese project team will be given in chapter six. In chapter seven some upraising conflicts will be shown, examples of reasons and appearance will also be provided as well as possible solution for Germans to work successfully in a Japanese project team. Concluding, a final outlook and some hinds to future developments of cultural background, behaviour due to globalization are made.

2. International Project

Over the last decades the number of international projects rises due to increasing internationalization of businesses and globalization of markets. Internationally operating companies have to adapt to the continuous changes of the global environment in order to have a competitive advantage and to remain successful in the long-term. This can be ensured through the execution of international projects.

2.1.Definition of International Project

An international project differs from the usual day-to-day biz. As per DIN standard 69901 it is a process/transaction, which is basically marked by its uniqueness. It is characterized by defined objectives, time, resources and budget restrictions, interdisciplinary cooperation, project- specific organization, relates to changes, is nonrecurring and something new[1].

2.2. Phases of International Project

The international project phases are divided into four steps. The first step is the project definition/initiation closely followed by the project planning. The third step is the project realization and project controlling, which finally will be followed by the project closing.[2]

2.2.1. Project Definition/Initiation

The project definition/initiation phase is the basis of the whole project. It serves for the preparation of the subsequent project planning phase. Following four steps belong to this phase.


illustration not visible in this excerpt

This stage begins with the project idea generation. The project idea arises due to a new idea, e.g. product innovation, but also due to a problem e.g. disproportional high production costs. It can be an internal project, e.g. adoption of a new DV-System or an external, e.g. building of a power plant on the real estate of the principal. A feasibility study examines, if the project idea can be realized within a project. Additionally a project risk analysis will be executed and shows, if the risks, which the project involves, are manageable. Lastly a cost-effectiveness analysis will be made, which demonstrates, if the costs are in appropriate proportions to the gains. After positive results of all those studies and analysis, the next step is to clearly and fully define the project objective in order to be able to make a first rough planning. The definition of the project objective is an important point as it has a precision, orientation, motivation and controlling function. The project objective must be defined clearly and comprehensible, it must be reachable and measurable. The next step within the project initiation/definition phase is the stakeholder analysis, which shows, which persons are affected or involved either directly or indirectly in the project.[3] Based on this analysis the project organization will be determined, which can be a line organization, line and staff organization or a matrix organization. It involves the nomination of the project leader and project members. Last but not least the project process will be defined in consideration of a roughly time, costs and resource planning. Concluding everything mentioned above will be summarized in a project order, which will be signed by the project leader and the principal. Mistakes made in this phase will have consequences to the remaining steps and will lead to the failure of the project.

2.2.2. Project Planning

Based on the gained information from the project initiation/definition phase the project objective, project organization, project process, time schedule, costs and resources will be made transparent, i.e. informed and detailed planned in the scope of a Kick-Off-Workshop.

The project planning orientates on the four so called W-Questions.

W-Question Task Result

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It begins with the work breakdown structure, which reduces the complexity and allows an overall overview of the whole project activities, which have to be done, thus to reach the project objective.[4] It hierarchically shows the main task (project objective), subtasks (task blocs, which result from the main task) and the work packages (detailed described, definable and assessable activities, which accrue for the team members). This structure is the foundation pillar for a target-oriented development and the basis for the further planning steps. After the definition of the WBS the timely and logically sequence as well the dependency for each work package will be determined. This can be done via a network diagram. Lastly the man-days as well as the project costs for each work package will be estimated based on experiences made in former projects. In order to have the entire control over the international project and to avoid that something unforeseen will endanger the success of the project a risk analysis will made. There exist two kind of risks, which can occur during the project process, e.g. sick-leave of project members, conflicts between the project members, etc., and which are product related, e.g. the acceptance of the product users decreases. This analysis can be done via the usage of the work breakdown structure and serves to create an additional emergency plan.

2.2.3. Project Realization and Project Controlling

The project realization is the most important project phase, which will be accompanied by the project controlling. In this phase the project in terms of the project planning will be realized and the project development will permanently be monitored and controlled via a target-performance comparison. The target-performance comparison refers to the schedule review, which can be made via a network and milestone trend analysis. It also applies to the man-days, resources and costs, which can be made via timesheets, accounting control and contract value recording. The target-performance comparison applies to the quality too. Through these continuous target-performance comparisons variances of plan requirements can be recognized timely, corresponding countermeasures can be taken and an effective project control can be ensured.[5]

2.2.4. Project Closing

The project closing phase arises, if the project objective has been achieved. It consists of the delivery of the project deliverables, the execution of the project closing analysis, the documentation of lessons learnt and the release of the project organization. In this last project phase the project deliverables, e.g. the product/service will be transferred to the principal. In this connection the deliverables usually have to take a User Acceptance Test. The transfer, acceptance, User Acceptance Test, lists of deficiencies, but also technical services will be documented. The project closing analysis includes a post calculation analysis regarding schedule, man-days, cost, performance and quality features variances. The maintenance of the economic calculation will be analysed in this sense too. In order to ensure for an effective knowledge management the lessons learnt and experiences made during the project will be documented and archived, thus to revert to experienced data when starting a new project.6 In the last step of this phase - the release of the project organization – the project personnel as well as the project involved resources will be reallocated to new tasks and projects.

International project management means more than only to communicate in a common language and over a huge distance. In spite of modern communication devices like e-mail, internet and video conference the execution of international projects bears a lot of problems besides only distance. In an international project the project members are from different countries, having different cultures, languages, conducts, patterns of thinking, values and norms. Such cultural differences are crucial factors, which have to be taken into account, when working in an international project team.

3. Culture

Culture can be defined in many several ways. This paper refers to the definition as per Geert Hofstede.

3.1. Definition of Culture according to Geert Hofstede

Geert Hofstede defines culture by dividing culture into culture I and culture II. Culture I in closer sense refers to education, art and literature and culture II in broader sense is named as the software of the mind or the collective programming of the mind, which distinguishes the members of one human group or organization from another[6]. This is the most important definition to which he refers and which will be explained in this paper in detail.

Culture as the software of the mind includes patterns of thinking, feeling and acting. Culture, which will not be inhered, but learnt and derived from the social environment, must be differenced on the one hand from the universal human nature, which is inherited and on the other hand from the individual personality, which is inherited as well as learnt[7]. Culture, human nature and personality build the three levels of the uniqueness in the mental programming of a human. The ability to feel threat, anger, love, happiness, the need for community, game and movement, the ability to observe the environment and to discuss with another humans about it, belongs to the universal human nature. These feelings will be determined by the culture. The individual personality is combined by the personal experiences, which a person is making and by the impact of the culture. The patterns of feeling, acting and thinking vary in respect of different cultural levels. Geert Hofstede distinguishes between national, regional, religious, gender, social class and organizational levels. This paper will refer to the national level. Cultural differences can be recognized by symbols, heroes, rituals and values[8]. The attached shown chart, which is created in form of an onion, is showing the ranking of those manifestations. Their ranking shows their visibility. Symbols are words e.g. the language, gestures, pictures or objects e.g. flags. As symbols are visible and are often imitated by another culture it has been set as the first shell. Although they are visible their meaning can only be recognized by the members of a culture[9]. The second shell are the heroes which serve as ideals of a culture an which whose they can identify[10]. Heroes can be alive, death, historic or virtual people. The third shell is the rituals. Rituals are collective behavioural patterns. They are needless, but due to social reasons necessary for a culture e.g. the way of greeting, social and religious ceremonies.

The core builds the values. Values are feelings with the tendency to prefer something in counterpart to something else e.g. good or bad, dirty or clean and nice or messy. As they cannot be recognized and identified directly they are located in the middle of the union. Values build the fundamental cultural differences as they will already be learned in infancy. Whereas symbols, heroes and rituals -named practices- are visible for the environment, but their meaning not[11].

Figure 1: Manifestation of a culture

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Source: Lokales Denken, globales Handeln, Hofstede, G. (2001), page 8


[1] cp. Wastian M., Braumandl I., Rosenstiel L. (2009), p. 11

[2] cp. Kessler H., Winkelhofer George A. (2004), p. 18

[3] c.p. Kurek R. (2004), p. 109

[4] c.p. Schels I. (2005), p. 102

[5] c.p. Gruner K., Jost C., Spiegel F. (2003), p. 90

6 c.p. Bea F.X., Hesselmann S., Scheurer St. (2007), p.674

[6] cp. Hofstede, G. (2004), p. 3

[7] cp. Leifeld U. (2002), p. 117

[8] cp. Miebach B. (2006), p. 341

[9] cp. Miebach B., Schmidt D. (2006), p. 52

[10] cp. Jong d. A., Visser M., (2002), p. 26

[11] cp. Reimann M., (2005), p. 37


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
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Catalog Number
Institution / College
FOM Duisburg
Projektmanagement Japan



Title: International Project Teams: Soft skills Germans shall bring in to be successful in Japanese Project Teams