Leadership optimize

Use special project management techniques for dispersed teams


In the past, a project team almost always resided in one location. The reason is obvious: it wasn't easy to communicate and collaborate with people who were not in the same physical location. Although it's still common for a project team to be in relative close proximity, it's not out of the ordinary to have team members physically located in many different places. In some cases, you may have team members that are teleworking from home. In other cases, you may be partnering with a third-party company -- perhaps even internationally.

All of this is more common today because of advances in technology and software. People can access your company's computer network remotely with almost the same speed as if they were in the office. Software is available to share documents and make updates available real-time to the rest of the team. The team can get together as needed using phone conferencing. You can even see each other if you like using teleconferencing or utilizing video technology over the web.

That's all good news. The not-so-good news is that it is still easier to manage a team when the members are located together. There's no technology that can take the place of talking to them face-to-face. But these ideas can help you better manage a dispersed project team.

  • Make sure people have the right attitude. Both the project manager and team members must be especially diligent and sensitive to collaboration and teamwork concerns when part of the team is remote. It's easy for a remote worker to feel isolated from what's going on with the rest of the team. People who're working remotely must be proactive communicators and must be especially good at working independently and meeting their deadlines.
  • Establish good communication processes. The project manager needs to develop a proactive Communication Plan to ensure the dispersed team works well together. For instance, if possible, there should be regularly scheduled meetings where the remote workers attend in person. If the team members are in different cities or different countries, look for common times when you can have a videoconference or audioconference.
  • Plan the handoffs. Sometimes multiple people in different locations are working on the same, or related, deliverables. In these cases, the project manager may need to establish rules for handoffs, especially if different time zones are involved. Don't leave the handoffs to chance. Set up processes to ensure that work on shared deliverables transitions smoothly from one person (or team) to another person (or team).
  • Make sure everyone has the right technology. Make sure that your remote team members have the right hardware, software, and other equipment to get their work done. For example, if some team members are working from home, a 14.4 modem probably will not cut it. Each remote location needs communication equipment, printers, fax machines, phones and the other basic equipment needed to communicate effectively.
  • Utilize collaborative technology. There are many products on the market that allow for much easier collaboration among people who are in different locations, much of which is web-based. For instance, you can get software that facilitates web meetings, common document editing, discussion boards, remote testing, etc.

The bottom line is that the project managers must recognize that there is inherent risk associated with remote team members. To a certain degree, the risk gets larger the further away the team members are because you not only deal with distance, but also time differences. However, a proactive project manager can work through the difficulties by looking holistically at the people concerns, process concerns, and technology concerns. You can set up a risk management plan to mitigate the risk and ensure that the dispersed team works well together for the common good of the project and the team.

7 comments
tsimon
tsimon

I have been developing a web based virtual workplace for online project management that integrates social networking, CRM, workflow, training along with project management tools based on PMI templates. For a long time it seemed there was little interest in this at the US corporate level. Most of my work was in Europe, where it was easier to sell our platform. Our web site is http://www.iprismglobal.com. I have a lot of projects starting and am looking for people who can work with us. We are creating a network of virtual high performance project team members with various skill sets. Please contact me if this interests you.

nelson.tapia.n
nelson.tapia.n

A key feature in any kind of Project or team structure it??s the communication. Setting a good and speedy channel, a common languaje, a clear Process for to communicate it??s the best way to control and making progress to the team project.

bob.kerr
bob.kerr

At key stages of the project, if at all possible the team should convene at a common location. The Project Kick-off meeting would typically be the first of these. Other possible times would depend on the project processes, and could include PDR, CDR, TRR, etc. In addition the Project Manager and other key players should make periodic visits to the various team locations.

Lawrence Cheok
Lawrence Cheok

Yes I agree. I am located in Singapore, and managing a project team located in EMEA. The communication and time difference certainly poised a great challenge, and as project manager, special attention must be given to communication to prevent miscommunication/breakdown.

steve_bungay
steve_bungay

Having managed a Global BI implementation for the last 18 months all of the above techniques are essential to drive success. We are now rolling out a solution in Australia with a split development team, 70% in UK and 30% in Aus, to compound the issue we then have either an 11 hour or 9 hour time difference. The main success criteria are:- handovers at both ends of the day (painful as it may be)and using a collaboration tool such as Webex every day, a picture paints a thousand words!

GoodOh
GoodOh

I'd disagree that 'face-to-face' is a need or is even a great advantage in all projects, especially too early or without strong purpose. It can be a powerful tool but the cost versus benefit must be considered carefully. In my experience many projects are so un-formed or ill-formed at 'kick off' that a face-to-face is a waste of time until people really have a good grasp on the key aspects and know enough to make good use of the opportunity to challenge and offer suggestions. However, humans being what they are, face time should be seriously considered in the planning and budgets. Especially powerful is the option to hold the funding for one or more face-time sessions if and when things go pear-shaped (they almost certainly will) to allow rapid error correction and refocusing. If travel budgets are tight I'd rather have 'crash repair' funding 'in my pocket' than spending it on face-time at defined points regardless of success or progress. It's the difference between having a meeting 'because it's Tuesday' and a meeting because 'we need to decide what to do about this'. If you find the project has run well and the face-time budget is under-spent you have the lovely option of a group of people who are very happy with what they have collectively done getting together at the project end to pat one another on the back and bond, ready for the next project they will go onto, with trust and love flooding the room. Just some things to consider. Face-time is powerful but expensive (in many ways) and not to be squandered (not that I think that's what you were suggesting).

Lawrence Cheok
Lawrence Cheok

Yes I agree. I am located in Singapore, and managing a project team located in EMEA. The communication and time difference certainly poised a great challenge, and as project manager, special attention must be given to communication to prevent miscommunication/breakdown. More time, and structured meetings should be scheduled in advance to manage the team's expectations with regards to communications as well. It really takes conscious efforts from the PM to make sure everyone stays on track, updated and focus.