After the short holiday break, the new year quickly gained momentum. The first event on my 2013 speaking calendar was the dinner meeting at PMI Dallas Chapter. The topic of remote collaboration and its efficiency brought up a great discussion. The engagement of the audience is a clear sign of how many project managers face the challenge of dealing with mobile workforce today. And the trend will only expand: as Wrike’s survey revealed, every fourth worker foresees his or her office going virtual in the near future. Of the numerous post-presentation questions, there were a couple that were especially interesting, and I’d like to share some takeaway notes with you.
One of the efficiency tips that I talked about during the session was the importance of sharing within a distributed team. According to our survey respondents, bad visibility into colleagues’ actions is one of the biggest problems in remote collaboration. Learning to share tasks, ideas, file and other work-related info is critical to making the workflow transparent to the team. The audience asked how to build up that culture of sharing.
The word “culture” here implies that it’s not a rapid shift to make. One of the working tools is leadership by your own example. Say, when you assign a task or finalize an important document, make sure that your workers are aware of it and can easily check it out. Then, when you have some “champions” on the team who follow your example, you can use some peer pressure, too. As with many other changes, you can slice the big change into smaller steps that are easy to reach. You can approach it from two dimensions: horizontally (begin with a part of the team and then step-by-step roll it out to the rest of the employees) or vertically (in this case, the idea is to start by sharing a certain type of item, and then add more of them to the mix.) For example, it won’t be too much trouble for your team to exchange important documents they worked on before your weekly meeting. Adopted gradually, this practice should develop into people’s working habit that will naturally solve the challenge of poor visibility and siloed project data.
Another remarkable question was asked about granular workload management. I spoke about the convenience of splitting work into smaller, tangible deliverables, instead of big tasks where a worker reports on what percent has been completed. One of the attendees asked how to make it work if you need to report on the progress to your customer? Once again, visibility is the key word for answering this question. Here’s a simple, real-life example. Imagine you’re having your house remodeled, and you want to check on the progress. “50% completed” doesn’t give you, the customer, any insight into what’s really happening. Is the bedroom ready, and can you bring the furniture in, or was it the kitchen, or is it just an abstract number, and none of the rooms are actually finished?
So the point is to bring your customer in and give him or her more visibility. With smaller tasks, tracking progress (for managers, stakeholders and customers) and reporting (for workers) becomes easier. When the team reports on a more granular level, you don’t need to run meetings so often (which isn’t that easy for a virtual team!) to clear up the details. If you don’t want to overwhelm your customer with too many updates, or don’t want to share some operational details, then you can share the major milestones with him or her. One of the positive aspects of giving customers visibility into your projects is the opportunity to get earlier feedback from them and to make sure you’re moving in the right direction.
One of the greatest things about conferences and other professional get-togethers is hearing first-hand what challenges fellow project managers currently face and seeking for efficient solutions to them. So I’m looking forward to the upcoming events on the calendar. This week, it’s IBM Connect in Orlando. In February, I’ll be speaking about remote collaboration at PMI Los Angeles Chapter dinner meeting. In April, you can meet me in PMI Chicago Chapter and at Stanford’s Strategic Execution Conference in Silicon Valley, where I’ll discuss how to make open innovation work in project management. Hope to see you there!