I’m not necessarily a road warrior nor do I particularly aspire to be one, so I’ve enjoyed the challenges of managing projects and teams remotely. The primary thing I’ve learned about remote project management is that the most critical aspect is frequent, accurate, and detailed communication.
Communication, communication, communication!
To give an example of how critical communication is on a remote project, I would like to share some statistics with you concerning the remote project that I am currently working. This project only involves 5 core project team members and another 4-5 part-time members. It does, however, involve communication with and demos from potential software service providers. Over the course of the 16 weeks (80 days) of the project so far, here are the numbers:
- 1690 emails in my inbox (21 per day)
- 89 conference calls
- 19 webex meetings
- 9420 minutes spent in meetings/conference calls so far (157 hours total)
- Zero face-to-face (F2F) meetings
This has been a very successful project so far – all milestones and deliverables have been met, the primary customer is happy and we’re working very successfully together as a team and the communication has definitely been the key success factor. However, many project models will not work well with no F2F meetings. For a regular project, with phases that are more clearly separated, I believe that it is extremely important to try to bring most or all of the team together with the customer for a kickoff for each phase of the project as well as a separate kickoff meeting with the customer at the beginning of the engagement.
Some of the obvious challenges involved with managing a project in a remote capacity are:
- creating a sense of community among team members
- communicating assumptions
- managing the ongoing activities of the project and team members
- communication barriers (time zones, etc. for global teams)
- boundaries for information sharing
As the project lead, you need to ensure that everything is communicated evenly across team members. Never assume everyone is on the same page, has all of the same information or understands specific assumptions unless you have communicated it to them. It will not happen by osmosis on a geographically dispersed team, and it won’t happen through any facial or body language. More calls, more emails, more webex’s will be required. In fact, when you are geographically dispersed, communication in those forms is likely to be 2 to 3 times the normal volume just to ensure everyone is on the same page. It can easily be the difference between a successful project and a happy customer and a project that goes in the toilet.
Overall, how you run a remote project as the Project Manager should be very similar to how you run a local project. Regular weekly status meetings still need to happen. Weekly status reports detailing up-to-date project status, issues, financials, etc. still need to be delivered prior to each status meeting and are the driving force for each status meeting. The key is that more communication needs to happen for your team to remain cohesive, focused, and moving forward. Out of site, out of mind can happen easily when you aren’t communicating with your team members. On nearly every remote project that I’ve lead each of my team members were also on other projects – sometimes another one of my projects. If you are not pushing them on the tasks for your project then they may be diverting their attention and focus to one of the other projects they are working on. We’ve all heard of the squeaky wheel concept…