Review ~ Managing Projects

A successful blend of business, communication and interpersonal soft skills with intercultural awareness-raising for high level non-native English speakers managing projects in culturally diverse or international work environments.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Jamie Lesley

managing-projectsPublished by Delta Publishing in conjunction with UK-based corporate trainers York Associates, Managing Projects is intended for learners at CEF level B2 to C1, and as such, is perhaps unsuitable for those not already at or moving towards a high level of English proficiency. It is principally viewed as a group learning resource but may also accommodate one-to-one teaching, as well as self-study. Its major selling points are its handling of cultural issues affecting work performance and communication, and its promotion of personalised goal-setting to monitor progress with learning diaries and action plans, both of which consolidate the learning process and encourage work-skills transfer. The book is one of a series of four entitled International Management English. It rests on the well-founded belief that to manage people and execute business plans effectively, non-native English speakers need access not only to appropriate language, communication and professional management skills, but also to a developed sense of intercultural understanding. Accordingly, these core competencies form the foundation of content in the eight units of Managing Projects in what is framed as a 48-hour/32-lesson course. The practice foregrounds speaking and listening through tasks that are designed to increase fluency, broaden the lexical resource, and cement a deeper appreciation of cultural considerations. It also offers strategies to help cope with the challenges of international project management more successfully.

Topics in the book run from kick-off meetings to closing stages of projects and explore a range of interrelated areas including project planning, time management, and pitfalls that can hinder operations and communication if overlooked. It examines techniques for presentations, negotiations, writing emails and teleconferencing. The units also target interpersonal or soft skills, such as those necessary for team building, influencing others (particularly when selling the value of a project to those affected or involved), giving and receiving feedback, and working towards conflict resolution. The content is well presented and the layout is user-friendly, with clear learning aims expressed simply but precisely at the beginning of each unit. The audio also makes good use of a range of native and non-native English accents.

Each unit is divided into four main sections (A-D), each of which provides a 90-minute skills focus. Section A, “Discussion and Listening”, serves as a general introduction to the topic. It draws attention to key concepts and language, which is explored in context and applied in extended speaking simulations. For example, Section A of “Unit 4: Keeping Projects on Track” begins with students identifying reasons why projects might be delayed and asks them to brainstorm solutions. They listen to project leaders describing different experiences of time management issues and how they resolved these problems. Students discuss these responses before completing a vocabulary focus to comment on project progress and describe changes to project schedules. Section A then finishes with a longer speaking task, in which students perform a phone call to rearrange and reprioritise the timeline events of an international construction project. In this way, a range of skills, language and business concepts are practised in a realistic exchange that brings the various elements in the section together. Subsequent sections (from B to D) repeat this general pattern to maximise student comprehension and student talking time, and further the application of new language and skills.

Section B targets “Communication Skills” for presenting final project results, such as those in “Unit 8: Finishing Successfully”. Section C develops “Professional Skills” grounded in the advice of authentic text extracts from “leading management writers and thinkers” as in “Unit 3: Managing People in Projects”, which details stockholder analysis. These are introduced to instigate “reflection and debate among readers” and add a useful degree of credibility, reliability and appeal. Section D develops “Intercultural Competence” through discussion of case studies, and is one of the book’s major strengths. Each case study brings cultural issues to the fore with awareness-raising tasks that enhance understanding of cultural difference and allow learners to practise strategies to manage them. For example, “Unit 2: Getting it Right from the Start” looks at culturally-determined attitudes towards time, while “Unit 6: Dealing with Conflict” examines different team styles and expectations of working in groups. Exposure to such ideas can help prepare non-native English speakers to manage project workers in a more culturally sensitive way. The units are rounded off with a brief language reference in Section E that reviews essential lexis and presents a related writing task. A final Section F outlines further project management tips linked to the main themes of each unit.

A good way in which this textbook distinguishes itself is how it underscores the value of self-reflection with its routine use of learning diaries and personalised action plans. Their inclusion in each unit is particularly positive as they encourage a more proactive learning approach and lend themselves to a greater transference of skills practice into actual work performance. The repetition of self-assessment and goal-setting is in keeping with what most business people commonly commit to in the regular course of their own jobs, and reflects the type of individual evaluations or team progress checks that generally occur from one financial quarter or business project to the next. The expectations and tone of this textbook therefore add a familiar degree of professional accountability. In turn, this will hopefully boost the level of personal investment the learners have in the development of their skills.

On a final note, the introductory comments point to online teacher support with the promise of additional background information, as well as podcast interviews with the authors discussing text content and classroom tips. As interesting as this all sounds, they were unavailable at the time of writing this review and only a single set of notes for Unit 1 could be accessed on the publisher’s website, sadly with no podcasts. The rest were due to be uploaded by mid-March 2013, according to the website. Despite these slight concerns, Managing Projects presents a broad, useful and engaging set of subjects, skills and practice that should appeal to learners and trainers alike charged with tackling this challenging area of business communication.

Reviewed by Jamie Lesley for March 2013
Jamie Lesley is a university English teacher, business skills trainer, proof-reader, examiner and occasional voice-over narrator who has lived and worked in Japan since 2003. He holds the CELTA and an MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL from Leicester University.

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