The Role of Cultural Diversity in Project Success

The Role of Cultural Diversity in Project Success

Project management literature comprises a plethora of studies aimed at understanding and identifying critical factors that contribute to project success (Sudhakar, 2012). Although the classical “iron triangle” or “triple constraint” factors (i.e., time, budget, and scope) are predominantly used to measure project success, recent studies show that team-related factors (Sudhakar, 2012, p. 549), such as teamwork (Hoegl et al., 2004; Reel, 1999), team communication (Ahimbisibwe et al., 2015, p. 23), and team coordination/collaboration (Cooke-Davies, 2002; Espinosa et al., 2007), have become increasingly important.

Diverse project teams have also become inevitable due to globalized markets’ stiffer competition, advanced virtual collaboration technology, and strategic recruitment of the best talent worldwide (Daniel et al., 2013; Davison et al., 2006; Gibson & Gibbs, 2006; Jackson et al., 2003).

Given the above, organizations are urged to learn how they can reap cultural diversity’s benefits in terms of their project team. Organizations that do this, will know what type of team members to recruit, which strategy to implement, and the leadership type that a culturally diverse project team’s project manager should exhibit to enable a high performing team to achieve project success.

Although researchers have accumulated considerable knowledge regarding investigating cultural diversity’s role in team outcomes (Stahl et al., 2010, p. 690), they only have limited knowledge of how a culturally diverse project team’s performance contributes to project success due to the dearth. Only few notable studies attempted to investigate the role of cultural diversity to project team performance (Daniel et al., 2013; Kankanhalli et al., 2007).

We bridge this overlooked research gap by contributing conventional wisdom from the diversity research attempting to answer the following research questions:

  • How does cultural diversity affect project success by means of the team performance?
  • Which moderators affect this relationship and how?
  • Which actions should be applied to mitigate/amplify diversity’s effect?

Our study makes three contributions. First, we provide a review that integrates the body of diversity research knowledge into a project setting to gain a better understanding of how cultural diversity influences project success through the team performance. Second, we develop a cohesive framework that is not only relevant for the researchers of both literatures, namely diversity and project management, but also for practitioners striving to manage culturally diverse project teams in order to gain a better understanding and knowledge of the fields. Third, we identify research gaps and propose avenues for future research.

Student Contributions


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Cooke-Davies, T. (2002). The “real” success factors on projects. International Journal of Project Management, 20(3), 185–190.

Daniel, S., Agarwal, R., & Stewart, K. J. (2013). The effects of diversity in global, distributed collectives: A study of open source project success. Information Systems Research, 24(2), 312–333.

Davison, R., Bélanger, F., Ahuja, M., Beth Watson-Manheim, M., Espinosa, J. A., DeLone, W., & Lee, G. (2006). Global boundaries, task processes and IS project success: a field study. Information Technology & People, 19(4), 345–370.

Espinosa, J. A., Slaughter, S. A., Kraut, R. E., & Herbsleb, J. D. (2007). Team knowledge and coordination in geographically distributed software development. Journal of Management Information Systems, 24(1), 135–169.

Gibson, C. B., & Gibbs, J. L. (2006). Unpacking the concept of virtuality: The effects of geographic dispersion, electronic dependence, dynamic structure, and national diversity on team innovation. Administrative Science Quarterly, 51(3), 451–495.

Hoegl, M., Weinkauf, K., & Gemuenden, H. G. (2004). Interteam coordination, project commitment, and teamwork in multiteam R&D projects: A longitudinal study. Organization Science, 15(1), 38–55.

Jackson, S. E., Joshi, A., & Erhardt, N. L. (2003). Recent Research on Team and Organizational Diversity: SWOT Analysis and Implications. Journal of Management, 29(6), 801–830.

Kankanhalli, A., Tan, B. C. Y., & Wei, K.-K. (2007). Conflict and Performance in Global Virtual Teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 23(3), 237–274.

Reel, J. S. (1999). Critical success factors in software projects. IEEE Software, 16(3), 18–23.

Stahl, G. K., Maznevski, M. L., Voigt, A., & Jonsen, K. (2010). Unraveling the effects of cultural diversity in teams: A meta-analysis of research on multicultural work groups. Journal of International Business Studies, 41(4), 690–709.

Sudhakar, G. P. (2012). A model of critical success factors for software projects. Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 25(6), 537–558.