Best Strategies for Virtual Project Team Management
By Brad Egeland
First off, let me state that I really, really believe that remote project management I is a great solution for most projects. It has worked extremely well for me for the past 10 years or so. But I know it’s not for everyone. Remote project management, while often a sensible and cost-effective approach to managing many standard projects, is definitely not without its challenges. In fact, just in terms of communication, leadership, and relationships it can become very challenging. Add in the rogue developer who is looking to become a one-man team, the business analyst who significant expertise in other technologies but is ‘learning’ a new one while helping lead your implementation, or the documentation specialist who is spread too thin across eight different projects but resides 1,500 miles away from you and you can see how certain logistical issues can really impact your projects if you don’t learn to deal with each one of them methodically and carefully.
There are many things to consider when managing a very geographically dispersed team – and customer. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to look at just a few key ones – mainly focused on communication and experience. I’m very open to our readers sharing their thoughts and hopefully their own strategies for managing skilled resources from afar. Here are a few of my thoughts on the topic…
Communication is Job One. Ok, I said that this list would be in no particular order of importance, but communication is always number one on my list. In fact, I consider it to be the number one responsibility of the project manager. The project manager who cannot learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently with his project team and customer is likely to experience many project issues and frequent project failure throughout what will likely be a short career in project management.
Consolidate and coordinate project communications. The project manager who is overseeing a remote project engagement with a geographically dispersed team and customer must consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email and IM (instant message), texting, blogging, threaded discussions, etc. for relationship-driven communications. Use a proven project management software tool to control the assigned tasks on the project. Communications of an important nature should be cohesive and never delivered in fragmentary pieces that have to be cobbled together by the receiver. The concept of efficient, yet effective, communication cannot be driven home too hard. It is of utmost criticality – especially in the remote project management model.
Build strong team member relationships. When you are the project manager trying to tie a remote team together that may never all actually meet in person, then you are now in the business of managing relationships. Periodically – during the course of the engagement – audit your time. How much time are you spending engaged in activities meant to foster stronger relationships with your mobile employees? Rate each relationship on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is weak and 10 is very strong. Craft a strategy for continuing to develop your strong ones and plan relationship-building activities to fix the weak ones. Ask yourself why they are weak and what you can learn from them. Avoid finger pointing and hold up the mirror to reflect on your own opportunities for improvement.
Experience isn’t necessary, but it helps. The best virtual teams will have “done it before.” Remote work and not being able to see your team face to face is tough for some – it is not for everyone. But it frees up time and money on the project if you can handle. Done well, it is extremely efficient.
Summary / call for input
I have more thoughts on this based on experience and I will likely followup with more thoughts. Please share your own feedback and experiences on successes – and failures with virtual project team management.