Sunday, August 26, 2007

Virtual Project Management

As collaboration technology continues to improve more and more projects are utilizing distributed project teams. Today it doesn’t matter so much where the project is as much as where the talent is. With virtual teams, however, there are new issues, especially if your team is comprised of people who do not have a history of working with each other. In that case you have trust issues as well as time zone and cultural/language barriers. Yet the expectation is that you will deliver a very high quality product. Here are a few tools you can use.

Most important on the list, I believe, is developing a sense of trust with members individually and as a collective group. In order to build trust you need to do three things: exhibit integrity, be consistent and fair, and demonstrate that you care about others’ interests, lives, and success. In other words, get personal. The more you develop strong interpersonal relationships the more cohesive and supportive the team will be. In this virtual age it is even more necessary to be intentional about building team chemistry.

Critically important in any project scenario, but especially so when your team is scattered across the country or across the globe, is exhibiting integrity in honoring your commitments. If you say you are going to be there, be there. If you say you are going to do something, make sure it gets done as and when promised. And it goes without saying (but I will) that meetings must be well planned, resourced, and tightly executed.

On the process side it takes more diligence to maintain consistency in virtual teams. Decision making, problem resolution, performance measurement, schedule and budget tracking all have defined processes that can be impacted by time, distance, and lack of visibility. The key here is to improve visibility into the processes and outcomes, and maintain high accountability.

Thankfully, the same technology capabilities that help create the challenges of managing projects remotely and/or with distributed assets also provide the tools to do so. Project wiki’s, blogs, collaboration websites, etc. are all readily available. With them you can improve project transparency, speed, documentation quality, version control, and overall communication.

The age of 24x7 projects is upon us. You really can have work on your project occurring around the clock and anywhere in the world, even while you sleep. The real test, however, comes when you must decide who gets to do the conference call at 2:00 a.m. their local time. Welcome to our new world.

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