Managing and leading project deliveries with remote teams
With the world facing challenges of unprecedented proportions due to the current COVID-19 outbreak, countries, governments, industries, organizations and individuals are all being forced to look at new ways of working to ensure that their economies function to some extent. For some organizations and individuals, this means being able to provide uninterrupted services and support to their clients remotely.
As a direct result of this, project delivery organizations across the globe are faced with a new set of challenges and opportunities. For IT service providers, delivering products and services remotely can be relatively easier compared to most other industries. A common theme that is starting to emerge on the ‘survivability’ of such organizations is the need to adopt the right approach to manage and deliver projects remotely with dispersed teams as it would define their future in the post COVID-19 era.
As an organization that has been adapting fast, here are few tips that we can share on this subject…
Do a great project kick-off – remotely
The project kick-off helps establish the objectives of the project and rallies the project team together from the very start..
In situations where teams are not co-located, a project kickoff serves as an effective tool to establish the objectives, strategic importance and the deliverables of the project amongst all the team members. A comprehensive kick-off will cover all aspects of the project, including project schedule, important milestones, delivery roles and responsibilities. It will also ideally cover risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies. Providing this all-encompassing view will greatly contribute to generating the momentum required to drive the project forward.
Pick the most suitable project delivery methodology and follow it religiously
Understand the objectives of the project, and what the client expects to see and when. Combine that with how the project team should align their deliverables and activities internally . Pick the most suitable project delivery methodology, tailor it if required and follow it diligently. For an example, if the client expects frequent updates of work in progress via incremental product releases, use an Agile approach. If the client is more focused on the end product, then use a combination of waterfall and iterative approaches so that internally, product releases are incremental (in iterations).
Make your online meetings crisp and agenda-driven
The last thing anyone wants when working remotely is to look back on the day that passed and realize that most of it was spent on conference calls. Always have the objective and the agenda shared with the participants and only invite the required participants (resist the temptation to send out ‘optional’ invites). Whenever possible, do not schedule meetings for more than 30-mins and control the agenda. Avoid scheduling meetings that are not outcome driven.
Document and follow up on action items
It is very easy to lose track of those long-standing action items when a project is in full flow and high priority issues come at you at a rapid pace. However, do not focus on action items. Use them as a mechanism to drive tasks to closure and encourage your team to consistently deliver on their commitments.
Visual representations of progress
Use graphs and charts wherever possible to share progress, milestone completion and other positive outcomes with the whole team. Make it a point to review these outcomes and thank the team at the end of each week. Adopt a similar approach with your clients as well. Visual representation, graphs and charts can go a long way in keeping teams engaged and getting their focused attention for short periods of time. Teams can lose focus and get distracted by other things if any activity takes longer than 15-20 mins.
Keep clients and other stakeholders updated on progress – more frequently than usual
Constantly communicating project progress, as well as risks, issues, assumptions and dependencies to all the relevant stakeholders, most importantly your client sponsor, client team and project team is very important in assuring them that you are in control of the project and its outcomes. The lack of face to face interactions must be compensated for with increased communication (even if it’s one-way) as a constant reminder to everyone that the project is very much progressing along the right path.
Respond to emails and chats promptly
Give the added assurance to all your stakeholders that you are reachable and available irrespective of the geographical distance by responding promptly to emails and chats. This will also indirectly help inculcate similar behavior in your project team.
Improve your emotional intelligence
Working remotely in high-pressure project environments can be extra challenging for your teams. Not being able to read a person’s body language and their facial expressions can lead to unwanted misunderstandings that can impact both the project and the working relationships between individuals. Therefore, as the project’s lead, improving emotional intelligence and resolving conflict becomes a key ingredient for success.
Do not let the fact that the team members aren’t in the same location stop you from having fun. Schedule a Friday evening after hours call with everyone, accompanied by a refreshing beverage, or engage in an online quiz or a game at least once a week. The camaraderie will go a long way in helping the team work together understanding each other and successfully delivering the project.
Charaka Gunatilaka is a Associate Director – Program/ Project Delivery – Project Management at Zone24x7. You can also follow him on LinkedIn.