Share thoughts on Remote Project Management and Virtual Teams

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begeland
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I'd like to hear thoughts on remote project management and virtual teams. Does your organization utilize geographically dispersed project resources? Do project managers in your organization sometimes run projects remotely? Do you use virtual teams or are all project teams co-located?

I've been almost exclusively managing projects and teams remotely with very geographically dispersed, virtual teams. In the past seven years, I've only had one team where nearly every key member of the team was co-located. What have been your experiences? Do you think that virtual teams are more successful, less successful....and why? Also, what do you see as the pros and cons of working remotely and utilizing virtual teams vs. requiring everyone to be working closely together at the same location?

Looking forward to the discussion....please share your thoughts...
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kwalford
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My notion is that with the advance in technologies Remote Project Management is becoming more feasible. For instance, VoiP and 'cloud computing' allow for home workers to be more effective & have global shared resouces to access. At my organisation, I can take my Cisco handset home, login, and then make calls as if I was sat in the office on my DDI.

In terms of managing the team, I personally think that talking to someone face to face is more powerful than over the phone. You get to see their reactions and have thier undivided attention.

I would of thought that strict status reporting is key to Remote Project Management and this is what I do with my subbies.
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dhaughey
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I work with members of my project teams in geographically dispersed locations. I manage IT projects and find technically savvy team members are familiar with Conference Calls, Virtual Meeting Rooms, Telepresence and IP Phones. However, I think Kit has a good point when he says 'face-to-face is more powerful than over the phone'. Requirements gathering and team planning tasks don't work well in virtual meetings. I've tried and the level of engagement needed is difficult to achieve. You can't read a person's body language; so important when drawing out requirements or discussing estimates for tasks.

Brad asks whether virtual teams are more or less successful than co-located teams? I'd say it's not one or the other, it's more about what's right for the project. We have a lot of working from home, where people can be co-located, but choose not to come to the office. These people tend to miss those water cooler moments where you learn so much and build professional relationships. Personally I miss the camaraderie of working with my team in the office. Technology is improving quickly, but it's not reached a level where it can replace all face-to-face human interaction. It's important to recognise when face-to-face interaction is needed. This can be particularly important during the initiation stage of a project.

Virtual teams are generally a good thing, but present a few challenges. You need excellent documentation, frequent update meetings, very detailed planning and the ability for instant communication.

Slightly off topic, but still related -- the tendency in meetings to have laptops open answering emails and continuing instant messenger conversations? I find it rather off-putting, if not a bit rude. I have two suggestions on these occasions:
  1. The person isn't needed in the meeting.
  2. They don't care about the meeting goal.
Whichever way, their lack of engagement is wasting time and off-putting for those who are engaged. Either be fully engaged in the meeting or don't come.

Interesting topic, thanks Brad.

Duncan
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kwalford
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Hmmm, that is interesting what Duncan has put.

What I take away from this thread is that for the Initiation/Planning stage, face-to-face meetings are more effective than virtual meetings and then for the Execution stage(s) virtual meetings would be sufficient unless there was serious concern or re-work (change requests).

Also, in the Initiation/Planning stage you MAY not know the team or project sponsor and a face-to-face meeting will allow you to get to know people a lot better than any virtual method.


P.S. Laptops/phones in meetings should be banned; they're cause for participant distraction :)

Kit.
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begeland
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I would agree. Initiation and planning benefits from F2F but execution often doesn't matter nearly as much. I know the entire engagement can be run with virtual teams and I've done that many times. But there are undoubtedly benefits from F2F and getting to know everyone during initiation and planning?
rattanw
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Well, I'll agree with many posts. Its true working with co-located teams is much simpler, beneficial and requires less effort and time. I'll always love to work with and as a part of a co -located team for reasons more than one. Yet, ask any seasoned Project Manager and the thought seems utopian.

Virtual Project teams are a reality. As real as cell phones and sat nav and GPS and any other popular technology today. Its here and here to stay. Having said that, the only effort that we all should make is to make that reality better and mitigate any challenges that come in the way of effective management. There is no denying that fact that virtual teams are a norm now and many people find those beneficial for a lot of different reasons as well.

Virtual Teams present a lot of benefits as well as multiple challenges. Challenges may be related to HR issues, closure of tasks, accountability, real time adherence, schedules management, discipline, etc. A PM must have individual tactics to meet each of these challenges, which again can differ from organization to organization, influenced by external factors as much as internal.
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