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How to Trailblaze Strategies for Virtual Project Teams

I have long been a proponent of remote work, remote project management and the virtual project team strategies concept. It has worked very successfully for me as a PM and consultant, for many of the organizations I have worked for and consulted for.

I know that working from home or wherever the office isn’t, is not necessarily for everyone. Remote project management, while often a sensible and cost-effective approach to managing many standard projects, is definitely not without its challenges. In fact, just in terms of communication, leadership, and relationships it can become very challenging. Add in the rogue developer who is looking to become a one-man team, the business analyst who significant expertise in other technologies but is ‘learning’ a new one while helping lead your implementation, or the documentation specialist who is spread too thin across eight different projects but resides 1,500 miles away from you and you can see how certain logistical issues can really impact your projects if you don’t learn to deal with each one of them methodically and carefully.

There are many things to consider when managing a very geographically dispersed team – and customer. For the purpose of this article, I’d like to look at five that I consider to be key ones. I’m very open to our readers sharing their thoughts and hopefully their own strategies for managing skilled resources from afar. Here are my personal key five strategies…

#1 – Streamline communications

Ok, I said that this list would be in no particular order of importance, but communication is always number one on my list. In fact, I consider it to be the number one responsibility of the project manager.  The project manager who cannot learn how to communicate effectively and efficiently with his project team and customer is likely to experience many project issues and frequent project failure throughout what will likely be a short career in project management.

The project manager who is overseeing a remote project engagement with a geographically dispersed team and customer must consolidate and prioritize communications. Use email and IM (instant message), texting, blogging, threaded discussions, etc. for relationship-driven communications. Use a proven project management software tool to control the assigned tasks on the project. Communications of an important nature should be cohesive and never delivered in fragmentary pieces that have to be cobbled together by the receiver. The concept of efficient, yet effective, communication cannot be driven home too hard. It is of utmost criticality – especially in the remote project management model.

#2 – Build effective relationships

When you are the project manager trying to tie a remote team together that may never all actually meet in person, then you are now in the business of managing relationships. Periodically – during the course of the engagement – audit your time. How much time are you spending engaged in activities meant to foster stronger relationships with your mobile employees? Rate each relationship on a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is weak and 10 is very strong. Craft a strategy for continuing to develop your strong ones and plan relationship-building activities to fix the weak ones. Ask yourself why they are weak and what you can learn from them. Avoid finger pointing and hold up the mirror to reflect on your own opportunities for improvement.

That is the first two of my personal list of five best strategies. In Part 2, I will continue the discussion and look at the final three on my list – and then I look forward to our readers’ input from their own thoughts and experiences.