Skip to main content
To KTH's start page To KTH's start page

Cultural differences slow down building projects

Published Feb 25, 2010

Problems are concealed and decision-making takes longer. This is how some significant differences appear between Russian and Swedish project culture in the construction sector. KTH alumna Helga Persson’s commended study on the subject contains a list of seven points that expanding companies should keep an eye on.

Helga Persson
KTH alumna Helga Persson

More and more Swedish companies are looking east and many of them are increasing their activities in Russia. But behind several successful projects within for example the Russian construction industry, a way of life is concealed whereby cultural differences make work difficult.

One of the most common differences is openness within project work. Several of the companies and organisations, which Helga Persson studied, indicate how problems that naturally occur in construction projects are often swept under the carpet, causing delays and obstructing the work.

“According to the Scandinavian view, ensuring that faults and mistakes are brought to light are the most important benefits of carrying out work in project form. But while the Swedish employee will raise the problems in order to be able to solve them and improve the project work, the Russian project member conceals them,” says Helga Persson.

The explanation for the Russian view is a remnant of the Soviet Communist period, when a citizen’s possibilities of benefits and career were based on the position you had in the workplace. If something went wrong, you could be punished very severely.

The results of the study, according to Helga Persson, are also transferable to other projects in other industries in Russia.

“However, construction projects have certain additional difficulties compared to other projects due to complicated legislation. There are also problems surrounding applications for building permits and the authorisation of building projects related to the activities to be conducted in the structure. It is therefore more important to actually examine the market, the political situation and how to proceed in order to obtain the necessary permission in the region in which you wish to become established,” says Helga Persson.

In order to get to the bottom of the problems and the solutions found in the project culture in the construction sector, Helga Persson has created a list, a so-called success pyramid. It contains seven points and, in significantly simplified form, is as follows.

  • Knowledge of projects and project management: Project maturity is low in Russia but the planning of projects is well developed.
  • Specific knowledge about the construction sector in Russia: The chance of successful project work increases significantly if you know the Russian bottlenecks and in particular the extremely complicated legislation surrounding construction projects.
  • Project culture and Russian society: Russia is a strongly hierarchical country and requires a more or less strong and infallible manager.
  • Russian Human Resource Management: There are major differences in Swedish and Russian views on initiative, fault and responsibility and to “bring problems to the surface".
  • Swedish-Russian projects: The Scandinavian model for project management often builds upon the employee’s own initiative. This makes it more difficult in the Russian-Swedish project as the Russian employee is often in great need of supervision and guidance.
  • Language and communication: As project work in Russia requires a strong and infallible manager it is of even greater importance than in many other countries that the project manager can make quick and competent decisions.
  • Knowledge of history: Russia’s peculiar history has shaped the Russian people, the Russian culture and the Russian company environment has perhaps had greater significance for success in Swedish-Russian construction projects than any other factor.

Helga Persson’s study is a degree project from her time at the Institution for Industrial Economics at KTH. It is based on a number of interviews with e.g. project managers and company managers in Russia as well as a field study at a Swedish construction company. She has received a prize from the Swedish Project Academy for the work.

For further information and a complete success pyramid, contact Helga Persson on +47 40 28 92 66.

Peter Larsson

Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Feb 25, 2010