In Part 1, we covered the first two of my personal list of five key strategies for effective management of remote – or virtual – project teams. Since it is so common today – especially in the IT world – to have project team members dispersed all over the world and your customer may be thousands of miles away, these are critical strategies to consider. In this Part 2, let’s discuss my next three strategies…
#3 – Manage the project deliverables, not project activities
Lots of project-oriented work is well suited to mobile workers. Even roles that are more task driven can be effectively managed if they are broken into deliverables. For mobile workers this may mean collapsing some of the activities of a business process or workflow that had manual checkpoints and controls associated with them into deliverables. Automation where possible can be used or batching activities into larger groups can transform task oriented jobs into deliverables. Realize that there can be many facets of your project team members’ tasks that may need to be adjusted to accommodate a mobile work style.
#4 – Engage in more frequent and informal performance management activities
Just as we covered in #3 above – when you’re managing a team of remote project resources, then relationships are at the heart of your job whether you like it or not. Performance management is important, but it doesn’t have to be tedious and excruciating process or obligation. Designing some unstructured, informal ongoing dialogs with your remote team members individually about their performance goals and personal development plans is a great way to strengthen communications, and shows an active interest in them. This might look and feel very different from one team member to the next but it is still important when you’re trying to help each project member be as productive and, at the same time, satisfied as possible.
#5 – Leverage technology
Technology drives and supports managing mobile workers. For starters, using a solid web-based project management software tool like Project Insight or a similar collaborative tool will go a long way in helping you managing your remote team and their associated tasks. Using technology well is not that difficult when you select good online project management software tools to assist you.
Standard models of communication and transaction should not always be mapped in a simple one-to-one way. Communication and collaboration technologies offer new and exciting models. These need to be purposely exploited in order for organizations to realize the full extent of benefits these powerful and affordable tools offer.
Beyond email, IM and phone, Web conferencing plays a key role in virtual team enablement. Take an inventory of “stuff” you need to collaborate on with your virtual team. If the list includes Word docs, spreadsheets, software applications, or anything else on your desktop, Web conferencing will be critical for collaborating in real time. You’re projects may lag if you can’t be on the same page with mobile workers.
Remote project management isn’t for everyone. I understand that. And I wouldn’t recommend it for project managers who lack a significant amount of productive and successful PM experience under their belt. But it can be a very effective way to manage projects consisting of very geographically dispersed project team members (and customers) and it can allow you to get the job done at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the amount of time as some more typical projects with co-located team members.
What are your experiences with remote project management and virtual teams? Positive? Negative? Most have some specific opinions about this – please share your thoughts.