Are you struggling with managing your virtual project management team?
It’s a given that project managers are spending most of their time managing tasks and resources on the project. In fact, they have a hand in ‘managing’ everything including issues, risks, conflicts, people, activities, communication, the customer, and vendors as well as all of the unknowns that can and do arise. This is all true whether the project is being handled remotely or if your team and customer are sitting in the same room with you. It’s just that the skills needed to effectively manage tend to skew more heavily on effective communication and the remote aspect can invite some challenges that don’t necessarily exist in the co-location project environment.
The project manager may need to pay more attention to certain tasks or activities when managing a virtual team in order to make the team more productive and to help better ensure project success. In the past six years, I’ve only managed one project with an entirely co-located project team, so I’m fairly opinionated on strategies to focus on for effectively managing the virtual project team.
Strategies for success.
There are many ways to bring a team together when they are not physically together. I’ve narrowed my list down to six key strategies to discuss:
1. Hold meetings regularly.
Keep every meeting. It can be very tempting to skip what might seem like a meaningless meeting. Even if there is nothing new to report, it’s still important to have those touch points with your team to keep them fully focused and engaged. Even if your team status call is only 5 minutes long – you still need to have it.
2. Know your team members and manage accordingly.
Every employee is different. Mobile workers make it easier for managers to take a more personalized approach in how they work and interact with members of their team. It takes more work and effort on a manager’s part but the results can be very rewarding. Understanding what enables each employee to perform at his or her best is the most important responsibility of a manager.
3. Practice effective and efficient communications.
Consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email, texting, blogging, threaded discussions, etc. for relationship-driven communications (i.e., staying in touch and being personal). Communications of an important nature should be cohesive and never delivered in fragmentary pieces that have to be pieced together by the receiver. Mutually assess the communication preferences of yourself and your team members to develop a communication plan. Avoid assumptions and revisit your plan on a regular basis especially when the nature of the work is about to change.
4. Be the best listener you can possibly be.
When you are out of easy reach and you are tasked with managing the performance of others it’s easy to get sucked into the trap of needing to transmit lots of information. I’ve often found myself in the role of heavy communicator on the project as the lead of a virtual team and project.
Don’t forget the listening part because the virtual project manager doesn’t have the luxury of seeing facial expressions and gestures that can portray concern. And always be sure to keep an open mind. Be present and try to enter the perspective of those speaking to you. This will help you ask effective questions and identify what direction to go with your own needs and agenda. You might be very pleasantly surprised at how much more information you get from your team this way.
5. Manage deliverables, not activities.
It’s critical in the virtual project world that you stay focused – and keep your team focused – on the project deliverables. Activities are important, but those are the responsibilities of the individuals who are assigned to those tasks. Don’t get too bogged down in managing the minute details because the distance you have between you and those that are performing those activities makes that type of micromanaging even more difficult. Focus on the higher-level tasks and the overall deliverables and expect your team to perform.
6. Leverage technology.
Today, there is literally endless technology and tools to manage your remote teams and projects effectively. How we manage tasks, schedules, workflows, budgets, customers, and communication is easier today for the virtual project manager than ever before as there are hundreds of project management and collaboration tools available to assist.
There are many web-based programs but don’t feel limited to using one of those, remote login’s and servers can give you a bigger range of robust tools to accomplish your goals. Choose a solid tool for PM scheduling, status, and document sharing for teams and ensure that your project team (and customer, if you so choose) know how to use each tool. Sharing tools with the project team can definitely make a project manager’s job easier as those actually doing the work can be delegated to update their task’s progress as it occurs. If you decide to go web-based, you’ll still need to use the usual spreadsheet, word processor, and other tools you would normally use to create and communicate project status information and create project deliverables for the client on the engagement.
Choose the tools that work best for your team and project.
Summary / Call for Input
There are countless ways to make remote and virtual team management work. What are your suggestions? What have you struggled with and what strategies helped you overcome it? Please share and discuss.