March 17, 2015
Today, a project is never about one team sitting in one office along with the project manager and a client. The norm is distributed project teams across offices, and time zones to deliver one project. There are multiple vendors and multiple client teams that need to be consulted. The benefits of a diverse team are different ways of analysis and problem solving, more efficient development cycle due to overlapping time zones. But managing a diverse culturally different team in different offices and time zones is a unique challenge. So a distributed project manager needs to have adequate skills so that the project delivery is successful. Let us look at some of the key skills that project managers of distributed teams need –
Specialized Communication Skills – The project manager has to communicate with team members, client representatives and vendors across offices cultures and time zones. It is important for him to be clear and concise on his communication with them. He has to consider cultural preferences and nuances of team members and stakeholders. For example, some cultures can converse on and manage multiple things at the same time and some cultures find that confusing. They like to keep everything sequential. Some things that one culture finds funny can be offensive to other cultures. So make sure there is no communication breakdown. These can be learnt over time and from experienced team members. Companies conduct training sessions on communication across cultures as well. The Communication Plan should define all communication requirements catering to all teams. It is important for the project manager to keep every team member informed irrespective of where they are working from or when they work. manage people in diverse teams and who come across many teams and different work cultures.
Knowledge of Collaboration Tools(*3 apps for effective team management) – Collaboration tools are a lifesaver for project managers. There are project management that cater to such projects. Cloud based management tools help project managers to handle distributed projects successfully. Jira is an issue tracking tool that tracks issues, bugs, tasks and change requests and generates reports. Apache Subversion is a version control system that is centralized and can be used to manage versions of source code and project documents. Multiple users can edit and access versioned files based on rights. Microsoft Sharepoint is an example of a tool that can be used for knowledge management. It has features like document storage, collaboration features, integration with social network tools like Yammer.
Conducting Effective Meetings in a distributed environment – It is important to manage meeting efficiently. Typically team meetings will be conference calls or Video Conference calls. The manager should ensure all communication tools are set up and are working before the meeting begins. It should be communicated clearly that people have to join in and join out at the right time else it can lead to much delay and loss of interest in meetings. Agenda should be circulated beforehand and people who need to share documents or make presentations need to manage properly so that there are no last minute delays and hitches.
Manage Team Dynamics(*Manage your team) – There will be cultural and regional differences across teams. He should understand importance of language, culture, working style etc. and work around them. The project kickoff meeting is very important. It should be effective in such a way that all team members are aligned with the project objectives, know the project processes and are motivated to make the project a success.
Process of project monitoring and getting status updates from team members can be different in different teams and should be adopted. Time tracking and Utilization Reports will be managed differently in different countries. The manager has to ensure he gets a consolidated report that gives information accurately in the form that he wants so that cost and effort figures are accurate. There should be informal team meetings and team events so that people can bond with each other and therefore work better with each other. Team members travelling to other offices can be beneficial. Face to face meetings and conversations will help them to know each other better and the team can work better together.
Communication, effective use of technology and team management are of utmost importance in distributed project management. Let us know if you think there are other specialized skills required for a distributed project manager.