Cultural Comparison of the United States and China from the Project Manager's Perspective

17 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2015

See all articles by Jeffrey Ray

Jeffrey Ray

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC); Swiss Management Center (SMC) University

Date Written: July 15, 2011


Knowledge of cultural impacts helps project managers understanding of cultural perspectives of all stakeholders. Since cultural differences can become organizational performance barriers, it is important to consider how cultural dimensions can affect decision making. This paper uses the model developed by Professor Geert Hofstede to make a cultural comparison of the major cultural dimensions that influence how work can be planned and executed in China, as compared to the U.S. Several Chinese cultural norms and value systems are found to be relevant and must be considered when planning project tasks to be performed by Chinese team members. The Chinese Doctrine of Mean (DoM) emphasizes that harmony is “most precious” in relationships and encourages contending parties to compromise.

Recent U.S. management practices tend to advocate the use of horizontal organizational structures to facilitate project communications, in contrast to the strong superior-subordinate relationships emphasized by Chinese vertical management structures. Complexity in U.S. projects is handled by forming cross-function integrated product teams (IPTs) so subject matter experts in different disciplines can collaborate. The Chinese culture, in contrast, stresses family and kinship relationships when conducting business. Group members are linked by close personal relationships to work with Chinese organizations. Also, the evaluation of people based on their standing in the family, as opposed to how well they perform, is not consistent with U.S. project management practices.

Finally, in the U.S. project managers tend to be task-oriented, rather than boss-oriented. To the Chinese, the most important criterion for evaluating and respecting other people is the person’s hierarchical position. Thus, an obligation to a project manager to complete a task would be a subsidiary consideration. This paper concludes that cultural training may be required to get Chinese team members to overcome these institutional norms and fully participate in project strategy sessions, as well as for task execution. U.S. team members similarly need cultural training to understand the significance of the cultural differences so they can adapt their communication approaches accordingly. By defining the industry standard for conducting project management activities, the Project Management Institute (PMI) is facilitating international adoption of a set of consistent project management methodologies. This makes other countries, such as China, aware of acceptable practices, and even helps them to overcome cultural barriers that interfere with effectively implementing the adopted management processes.

Keywords: cultural comparison, Geert Hosfstede, China, U.S., United States, cultural dimensions, perspectives, doctrine of mean, superior-subordinate relationships, kindship relationships, group relations, standing in the group, institutional norms, PMI facilitates international adoption, project management

JEL Classification: D23, D71, D74, F02, F14, F23, M12, M14

Suggested Citation

Ray, Jeffrey, Cultural Comparison of the United States and China from the Project Manager's Perspective (July 15, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey Ray (Contact Author)

University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) ( email )

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Swiss Management Center (SMC) University ( email )

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+41 (0)41 500 16 22 (Phone)


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