IPMA International Project Management Association
30 November 2015 / 8:54

Projects and project management in emerging economies

This post summarizes the rich insights gained during the 3rd IPMA Research Conference at Stellenbosch, South Africa. More than 35 people from 15 countries joined the conference. Emerging economies from Africa, Latin America and Asia were present and exchanged their experiences with participants from Norther America and Western Europe. IPMA´s Research Conferences are very different to traditional research conferences. The overarching theme of the IPMA Research Conferences is “Theory meets Practice”, which builds on the mix of participants and perspectives. After a few inputs the participants were asked to split into sub-groups and start into an intensive dialogue. The dialogue focussed on differences in project management of developing and developed countries. The IPMA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (IPMA CoE)  as well as the IPMA Individual Competence Baseline (IPMA ICB® were used to discuss the differences.

Let´s start with some insights from the presentations: My opening presentation “Developing our society through projects and programmes – context, concepts, competences” highlighted the development of project management as a discipline, which is mainly seen as driver for the economy, but not directly for the society. We should consider the following ten levers for the development of the society: 1. Raising the awareness for projects & programmes, 2. Foster a project-friendly culture in the society, 3. Offering our support for the transformation, 4. Open standards, methods, tools, 5. Education, education, education, 6. Longterm thinking is decisive, 7. Diversity for creative solutions, 8. More research on good practices, 9. Adaptive approaches are superior, and 10. Pro bono support for those in need. Other presentations focussed on topics such as collaboration in projects, maturity in project management, project success, project management philosophy, sustainability and procurement approaches. All presentations high-lighted the differences between developed and developing countries and the ways for developing the society through projects and programmes. A publication next year will try to bring together all these views.

During the discussion it was made clear several times, that (non-)ethical behaviour is a challenge in emerging economies. Thus, we split into sub-groups and discussed how the IPMA CoE translates into emerging economies. Some of the findings were: It is not always the most competent worker that is being employed, because often relationships are more important than competence. Safety in the workplace is important, but in rural areas of Africa it is not easy to meet the conditions we would expect from a Western perspective. What is perceived as bribery in Western Europe may be seen as a gift for a relative or a friend in emerging economies. Thus, the interpretation or translation of a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct is very different in developing countries. Therefore, the IPMA CoE may act as a baseline, which might be adopted in Africa, Latin America or Asia and culturally aligned with the norms in the respective countries.

DSC00730We faced the same challenges whilst discussing the IPMA ICB Version 4.0. The competence area “Practice”, which mainly shows the methodology, tools and techniques being used for projects, programmes and portfolios, is much easier to translate and apply in the context of emerging economies. The competence areas “People” and “Perspectives” are very different between developing and developed countries. Motivation, education and professional behaviour may be very different to what we see in Norther America and Western Europe. We often heard the word “Ubuntu” which constitutes a philosophy that was made popular by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. It means “A person is a person through other people” and “we belong to each other, we participate in our creations: we are because you are, and since you are, definitely I am.” All relations in the workspace and in projects are based on that philosophy, which means a different leadership style and assignments. One example is a word we fell over during the discussions, a “ghost worker”. This is a person who gets paid but does not show-up for work. The payment is to honor relationship but not the achievement of work. In the competence area of “Perspectives” we discussed severe differences in legislation, norms, ethics, strategies as well as governance, structures and processes. Western concepts of project, programme and portfolio management may fail when implemented one to one in an emerging economy. It needs a culture-sensitive adaptation and implementation of those concepts to be of help in such an environment. The representatives of LatNet, the regional network of IPMA Member Associations in Latin America proposed to start with a paper on how to interpret the IPMA ICB for the countries in that region. This may be a starting point for a wider discussion around the world.


Research might help to dig deeper into the commonalities and differences as well as for finding ways to make the concepts of developed countries fit to those countries in need. The analysis and synthesis of culturally adapted concepts require a close cooperation between practice and research, as the difference seems to be in the details. The 3rd IPMA Research Conference was just a beginning, more work needs to be done in order to align both worlds better and help emerging economies to prosper.

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Reinhard Wagner

Author of this post

Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 30 years in the field of project- related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Air Defense, Automotive Engineering, and Machinery, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As a Certified Projects Director (IPMA Level A), he has proven experience in managing projects, programmes and project portfolios in complex and dynamic contexts. He is also an IPMA Certified Programme and Portfolio Management Consultant, and as such supports senior executives in developing and improving their organizational competence in managing projects. For more than 15 years, he has been actively involved in the development of project, programme and portfolio management standards, for example as Convenor of the ISO 21500 “Guidance on Project Management” and the ISO 21503 “Guidance on Programme Management”. Reinhard Wagner is Past President of IPMA and Chairman of the Council, Honorary Chairman of GPM (the German Project Management Association), as well as Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH.