Project Management

9 steps to building a first-rate remote project management team

Building a winning project team is difficult enough, but putting together a top-notch virtual team can really be daunting. Learn how to avoid remote project team pitfalls.

Image: iStock/Andrey Popov

Project management is complex, and its challenges are often amplified when navigating within the confines of remote project team environments. To greatly reduce the stress of these limitations, there are some steps that can be taken that increase the odds of goal attainment.

1: Start at the end first

Before selecting remote team members for a project, it's important to start with the purpose for the project, as well as have the end goals in mind. Identify what the desired outcomes are first, and what will be required to accomplish those goals.

You should directly assess and link project needs to anticipated candidate skill sets; this makes it easier to zoom in on critical job requirements rather than trying to find individuals prior to knowing precisely what knowledge and skill sets may or may not work for a particular project. This is usually a good practice with any project, but it's much more important when working within a virtual team setting. Take the time to accurately identify what it will take to accomplish the identified goals and enable you to closely match high-level skills, individual attributes, working styles, and professional traits to the intended position.

2: Fill in the blanks and weight the need

Now that the required high-level skills for the position have been identified, detail all other job-specific information. Sometimes what can seem like a minor job-related skill on the surface may prove far more critical to the team down the road if the team member does not possess that skill.

It is crucial to prioritize all skills, training, and candidate characteristics from must-haves to the nice-to-haves. When going through this exercise, ensure each one has been vetted against project deliverables, processes, dependencies, timelines, and other parameters. Factor in the impact to the project under the scenario that the candidate does not possess the necessary skill or attribute; this can help verify the significance of the trait or skill set.

SEE: Job description: IT project manager (Tech Pro Research)

3: Re-trace anticipated virtual team skills back to desired goals

To ensure nothing falls through the cracks, spend the extra time confirming the job-specific details can be adequately traced directly back to the desired goals. This may seem redundant and very time-consuming, but it can save significant grief down the road.

This step is designed to affirm the job-specific skills being sought actually fit the project end goals in a relevant and meaningful way. Often this step can catch errors in assumptions or overlooked but intended objectives. This is where a second set of eyes may be instrumental, as it allows someone else to possibly see things from another angle.

4: Identify trusted sources for finding first-rate remote team members

When looking for project team members capable of specifically working and delivering successfully within a virtual project environment, consider seeking professionals through trusted networks and referral sources; this can go a long way in reducing the chances of hiring the wrong person. Remote projects require individuals who are intrapreneurial minded, self-motivated, highly responsible, and independent, yet can work effectively and in a collaborative manner with other individuals regardless of location, communication barriers, and cultural differences.

5: Consider the logistics

Factor in the logistics of a remote PM, and consider distance, time zones, communication mechanisms, available technology, and workflow. Discuss possible limitations and explore how candidates have worked in the past to overcome these. Also, explore existing project tools to ensure the individual is willing and able to work with such technologies in order to deliver within the role. Keep in mind technologies should not be showstoppers, as many individuals may be highly adaptable and capable despite the fact that they may not have worked with a particular technology in the past. This should be about adaptability, an individual's outlook, and receptiveness to learning and working with new things and in new ways.

6: Factor in culture

Overall corporate cultural fit can have a huge impact on the success or failure of project initiatives. This is one of the areas that often goes unrecognized until there is conflict that has a significant and negative impact on the project and its team members. Winning teams are often highly tolerant of differences and highly focused on individual and team-based success.

7: Stay focused but flexible during interviews

Throughout the interview and hiring process be firm on must-have skills, but be open-minded enough to think outside the box when candidates bring forth other skill sets that can be advantageous to the job. Remain flexible to differences, as oftentimes this can offer additional growth opportunities for the team and yourself.

Remember no single individual knows everything; diverse project experience can greatly benefit not only project outcomes but also serve to strengthen the team and company as a whole. Skills can be learned; however, individual traits, attitudes, and fit all have the ability to strengthen or dampen team dynamics and overall potential.

SEE: IT Hiring Kit: Project Manager (Tech Pro Research)

8: Start with a trial run before solidifying the team (where possible)

As a way to ensure the team dynamics and individual styles and efforts will work, whenever possible complete an initial remote team trial run on a smaller scale or at least allow the team to work together in some form before embarking on a key project initiative. This allows everyone to solidify as a team and gives them a chance to go through the necessary five stages of group development first: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. It also affords the team the opportunity to work out the bugs prior to risking larger-impact projects and hopefully bonds together a more cohesive and more focused team going forward.

9: Use team-based KPIs to measure success

After the remote project team has had a chance to work together throughout a project, make sure to measure how well the remote team meshes and delivers. Utilize team-based key performance indicators (KPIs) to determine where the team excels and more importantly where the team is a weaker. Once this can be identified, it provides a chance for beneficial feedback, action, and further feedback to strengthen individual skills and fortify a first-rate team as a whole prior to taking on the next project.

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About Moira Alexander

Moira Alexander is the author of "LEAD or LAG: Linking Strategic Project Management & Thought Leadership" and Founder & President of Lead-Her-Ship Group. She's also a project management and IT freelance columnist for various publications and a former...

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