Why Remote Project Management and Virtual Teams Work
By Brad Egeland
Are you a project manager who needs to pitch the concept of remote project management to your PMO director? Or are you a PMO director of CIO or corporate exec building your project management model and you need to pitch the virtual project management team model to your CEO or the rest of your leadership team? I’m sure there are many resources out there that tell you why remote project management is a good idea or why virtual project teams work. Hint…if you read the phrase carbon footprint in the article anywhere run away…it’s likely outdated. I’m not saying you want save resources and a few trees and percentages of the ozone layer by going remote, but the term carbon footprint has almost a “disco” ring to it….so avoid that as part of the argument.
Here are a few arguments that can be made for remote project management from my perspective as I’ve been doing it successfully for most of the past 12 years or so…
You have access to the best talent in the world. This is more of an argument for the entire virtual team, not just remote project management. But that’s most of the model I know…since I’ve been working with a very geographically dispersed project team model for most or all of those 12 years. Utilizing talented development resources working offshore allows you to get the best of the best without the cost to relocate them (and usually they would not want to relocate so this is the only way you can get them on your staff or on your projects). About the only negative is the issue with timezone differences, but most are happy to work with you on your timezone – or in the case of an entire team of developers – have one designated contact that will be available during your hours. And, as for me, I’m happy to work odd hours so I’ve commonly been on Skype calls at 11pm or 3am…whatever the need is.
Your profit margin increases and you can win more projects. By utilizing offshore development teams, you can obtain entire offshore teams that are co-located to work on your projects and usually at a fraction of the cost of local resources. This model increases your project profit margins and allowing you to bid lower and win more projects than your competition.
Project managers are freed up for real work when it’s needed. In 12 years of remote PM work, I’ve rarely had a situation where I said to myself, “this would be better if I could drive to an office somewhere.” In fact, there has only been one project in the past 12 years where more than half of my project team was local to me. For that project, I did spend some time in the office, but it really wasn’t necessary. By having fairly flexible hours, I’m happy to work very early or even the middle of the night to connect with a tech lead in, say, India, and put together a status report at 10pm that contains the most up to date information possible for the next day’s weekly status call with the project client. Without being tied to a 90 or 120 minute round trip commute and 8 hours in the office, it’s a pleasure to do the work that I know needs to be done and do it at the best time to get it done.
The overall cost savings and productivity can be high. This, of course, depends on the organization, but remote/virtual teams – from my experience – have been more productive, cost less money due to more efficient meetings, less travel and high use of electronic communication, and the ability to connect with the client whenever necessary by someone key to the team. The customer isn’t co-located, so why should the team be? But we are ready, willing and able to support that customer literally on a moment’s notice and can do so for very little cost with the remote/virtual model.
Summary / call for input
I realize this is mostly my opinion, but it has worked for many years and continues to work in all the remote and consulting work that I currently perform. Sure, there are interruptions at home, but no one seems too offended if I get up and move away from any commotion to a quieter place. When I was working 9-5 in an office – with a nice big office – it seems that I constantly had staff that would come in, discuss an issue and then stay for three times longer than was needed. My office was like their sanctuary, but it made me less productive for it. I don’t miss it…at all. And the water cooler discussions? Same thing…mostly they are not about productive work-related issues, they are about the stuff everyone did last weekend or what they plan to do next weekend.
How about our readers? What are your experiences and opinions on virtual teams, remote project management and the productivity of it? Cost effective or a problem? And if you’re a professional services organization utilizing remote talent, tell us why it’s a good option. Please share your thoughts and let’s discuss…