Dragons, Camels and Kangaroos – A Series on Cultural Intelligence for Programme and Project Management Managing Projects in China – what could possibly go wrong?


Article 4 in the series ‘Dragons, Camels and Kangaroos’

By Bill Young 

Melbourne, Australia and Beijing, China

This article is written to assist those planning to pursue joint venture projects or establish their own enterprises in China. It mainly relates to the resources / industrial / manufacturing sectors, highlighting common misunderstandings and practical ways of navigating to successful outcomes.

Blending two or more organisations within the same national culture, as occurs with company Mergers/Acquisitions (M/A) or Joint Ventures (JV) is challenging enough to ensure effective alignment and integration. But conducted across a transnational environment with substantially different cultures greatly increases the challenges. This article considers a Chinese and Western cultural context but similar principles apply to almost any project or business environment that brings two or more parties together from different cultural backgrounds.

China’s business operating environment differs in many ways to those in Western countries. Shaped by its distinct national culture, history, demographics, legal structures, economic transitioning, and the significant influence and authority wheeled by Government, are just a few of the many points of difference. They provide a complex, high risk business or project landscape to navigate. The multiplicity of issues that can result from such differences readily expose business ideas / ventures or projects, to problem entrapment. Their natural discord contributing to the many international joint venture failures in China.

The business allure 

Western businesses tend to see China as a cheap location to establish manufacturing facilities but a large number of them make the erroneous assumption that the basic or most important drivers for how business is done is similar to their own experience, and the only significant differences are in language and geographical location. The cost of doing business in China has been increasing rapidly over the past five years with dramatic increases in the price of materials and labour across the board. For example, process chemical plant design and build cost in China can be anywhere from 70 – 90% of that in Western countries. When things don’t go to plan though, as often happens, the costs in China can be far higher. Such unanticipated issues can decimate Project budgets at an alarming rate.

Establishing realistic expectations on both sides requires considerable business maturity and wisdom. It is all too easy to be optimistic. And the optimism applies universally not just to the Westerners entering China, but the Chinese receiving them, and also the Chinese doing business in other countries. 


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About the Author

flag-australiaflag-chinabill-young-bioBill Young

PhD, MBA, M.Eng, B.Eng, CPPD, FIEAust, FAIPM.

President of the Asia Pacific Federation of Project Management (www.apfpm.org) (2010 – current).

Past President (2007-11) Australian Institute of Project Management.

CEO (1985 – current) PMS Project Management Services P/L

Director (2005 – current) of Professional Solutions Australia Limited

Based in: Melbourne and Beijing: <[email protected] >. 

Bill has worked for 31 years in engineering, business, and project management responsible for a diverse range of chemical processing and mining developments. He has worked in Australia, Europe, Asia, North America, and Africa.

After completing a number of Projects in China since 2005, he moved to China with his family in 2009.  He is a consultant and entrepreneur, and a Professor (part time) for the School of Mechanical & Electronic Control Engineering, BeijingJiaotongUniversity.