Managing and leading project deliveries with remote teams

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.


Have fun

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

Was an Associate Director – Program/ Project Delivery – Project Management


A Story of Sri Lanka’s Unheralded Pride

If you ask any foreigner who visits Sri Lanka to describe Sri Lanka and its people, they all would very uncannily say a few common things; an elaborate praise for Sri Lanka’s natural beauty, awe at Sri Lanka’s proud and exquisite heritage, exaltation after having been exposed to Sri Lanka’s exotic and delectable cuisine – but, most importantly of all – a hearty admiration towards the people of Sri Lanka; specifically – that kind, accommodating and gracious nature which is deep-seated to the nature of a Sri Lankan.

A fact further exemplifies this unique Sri Lankan trait is that Sri Lanka happens to be a leading country in the world when it comes to eye donation. In this article, we explore how Sri Lanka is known around the world for being generous and kind through their practice of donating eyes.

In the year of 1999, two Japanese patients suffering from tropic corneal ulcers, an infection of the corneal tissue in the eye that could result in visual impairment or blindness, were in desperate need of a corneal transplant. They received their donation from the former Sri Lankan president J. R. Jayewardene, whose tissue was split into two; one-half grafted on to the eye of each patient.
Coming from a country that exports 50% of its collected corneas, and displays one of the highest rates of corneal procurement along with USA, Italy and The Netherlands, this story is not unusual [1]. Currently one in every five Sri Lankans have taken the pledge to donate their eyes after death, regardless of caste or creed [2].

Many of the 20 million people donate their eyes upon death for use in providing sight to others

Sri Lanka is the second most active country for corneal donation based on population, making up almost 10% of the world’s donations, only preceded by USA whose populace is 15 times greater [3].

When considering such figures the island’s eye donation rate is quite staggering, where more than 57 countries are recipients, according to the Sri Lankan Eye Donation Society; a legacy left by Dr. Hudson Silva in the 1950s [4].

Several headlines accompany Sri Lanka’s success: ‘The country that supplies eyes’ by BBC [5], ‘Sri Lankans: giving sight to the rest of the world,’ by ThePulse [6], ‘Sri Lanka eye bank gives sight worldwide,’ by Japan Times [7], and many more.

According to the World Health Organization, “approximately 80% of all visual impairment globally is considered avoidable.” Out of 7.5 billion people, 1.3 billion are visually impaired, and out of this number, 36 million people are legally blind. Despite the number of donations, there is still a deficit in the supply of donated eyes. There is only one cornea for every 70 affected eyes in the entire world [8].

Sri Lanka’s one of a kind dynamism towards donation lie within the attitudes of the people and its culture of ritualistic giving. Raised on stories of sacrifice and the giving of one’s body parts, most Sri Lankans are accustomed to and comfortable with the idea of donating organs.

Humans perceive up to 80% of all impressions through sight and is our most dominant sense [9]. Therefore, even the slightest impediment causes severe impairment: affecting a person’s sense of independence, safety, education, self-esteem and enjoyment of their surroundings.

With a worldwide shortage, Sri Lanka is doing its best to satisfy demand for the cornea

The gift of sight not only unlocks another chance at life, but various opportunities that would have been out of reach. Somewhere in this world, an American, African or Pakistani has been reborn from darkness and is seeing the world through a Sri Lankan’s eyes.

Serving global blind community with technology

Global blind and visually impaired community has suffered for long with limited access to technologies such as smart devices. Zone24x7 CEO Llavan Fernando has a lifelong passion to serve this community and had worked early in his career with distinguished researchers and thought leaders in the field such as Dr. James Bliss from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Llavan and a team of engineers at Telesensory Systems in the United States has successfully overcome several limitations with six dot braille system and ultimately paved the way for the eight dot braille system widely used today also securing his first patent.

In 2010, in collaboration with the National Braille Press (NBP) of the United States, Zone24x7 under his guidance started developing a more affordable and capable smart device for blind people. In realizing his vision, Zone24x7 designed the world’s first ever Open Hardware and Software Platform powered by Android for blind people to make smart devices more accessible and affordable.

Braille literacy is considered a key advantage for the global blind community. Unfortunately, devices such as braille note takers are expensive costing about $5,000 each. Llavan’s vison is twofold. He wants to spread braille literacy via a highly capable smart device to create more economic opportunities for this community both locally and globally and also make such devices much less expensive by inviting community participation via an open hardware software platform.

The product is now out for sale at http://www.nbp.org/ic/nbp/technology/b2g/index.html?id=mWeC5YyF

References


Image Courtesy: bbc.com


Ashen Monnankulama

Was an Associate Business Designer.


Sri Lankan IT Students: Among the World’s Finest

Sri Lanka has a history of producing some of the world’s finest IT graduates. However, this information is not widely known enough. There are many instances where the skill, talent and the dedication of our people have shone through and The Google Summer of Code program is one such occasion.

Google Summer of Code is an annual program that provides a platform for university students from around the world to work directly with open source organizations worldwide, to learn open source development while earning a stipend for it. Over 14,000 students have been involved in the program from over 109 countries and 651 open source organizations. (1)

“GSOC students every year go from being complete novices to being contributors for organizations,” states Carol Smith, program manager for Google. Over the course of the program, GSoC has seen a shift away from participants in the US and Northern Europe, to more students in South Asia and other developing nations. (2)

Ever since the program’s inception 14 years ago, Sri Lanka has been among the top ten countries with the most number of accepted students, thanks to University of Moratuwa. From 2005 to 2011, many students have won competitions for the program, while in 2017 it had the most amount of submissions (3). With only a yearly intake of 100 students, the university has built a reputation for consistently producing world-class IT graduates, as they not only focus on an innovative approach to education, but also honing the soft skills of their students as well (4).

Rajan Anandan, Google’s vice president for South East Asia and India, has commented that Sri Lanka’s software engineers are some of the best in the world, but should expand on their capacity of student intake, as there is much untapped potential left to be discovered (5). The island has produced many gifted IT graduates, which can be attested by the many awards they have received: from winning Hackatrips (6), Microsoft Imagine Cups (7), IEEEXtreme (8), and of course Google Summer of Code.

In an interview, Vishaka Nanayakkara, lecturer at University of Moratuwa for department of Computer Science and Engineering recalled how students kept on writing proposals and submitting it year after year. They had started out with four students joining the program, and had never imagined it growing it to the scale it had developed. She proudly announced that the University of Moratuwa had not only reached the top in 2014 in winning awards, but in terms of submissions of well, compared to countries like US that were happy to be either third or fourth (9).

It also revealed the capabilities and commitment of these young Computer Science and Engineering undergraduates, as this was not just a one-time effort, but also something they have been consecutively contributing to for years (10). Up to this date, their enthusiasm has not waned.

References

[1] https://summerofcode.withgoogle.com/
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS4kTgaiydQ
[3] https://www.mrt.ac.lk/web/history
[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Summer_of_Code
[5] http://www.ft.lk/article/559261/Lankan-born-Google-India-Chief-tells-SL-to-go-for-tech-gold-
[6] http://www.sundaytimes.lk/180304/magazine/emerging-winners-at-hackatrips-283842.html
[7] https://www.mrt.ac.lk/web/history
[8] https://www.mrt.ac.lk/web/history
[9] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTF1-YKITnM

Thenuji Gunathilaka

Thenuji Gunathilaka was an Associate Trainee Content Writer at Zone24x7.


“Inspiring Emotions” – The Story of Zone24x7’s Unique Ethos That Fuels Our Innovative Solutions

Do you remember the last time you got absolutely awed by something? So awed that you kept going back to that experience, you wanted to relive it as much as you want, you felt surreal. It was an experience so visceral, you briefly forgot your reality, you temporarily forgive yourself for your sorrows, you briefly felt hopeful and then you transcended into what felt like a fantastical, augmented version of reality.

Can you remember what it was?

It may have been an award-winning film from a legendary director; for an instance, say perhaps Schindler’s List, by Steven Spielberg. At one moment you’re on the couch in your living room and decide it’s time for a film. You hit the play button on the TV remote and see Liam Neeson’s face in black in white on the TV.

“That’s a bit odd,” you think.

“Didn’t this film came out in the 90s?” you wonder.

After a while, you forget all of that. Suddenly, you’re not seeing Liam Neeson on the TV. You’re seeing Oskar Schindler. He’s an Industrialist, a member of the Nazi party, and a saviour of lives; he’s a man riding against the tide despite all odds on a quest for absolution. This is a man hell-bent on doing the right thing in a world of relentless adversity. You see his sorrow, you feel for his guilt, you cry with him, you root for him.

You’re in awe. You feel enthralled.

See, experiences like this make us feel things. These experiences make us feel emotional. They lead us to engage, to question, to wonder. They make us feel alive. If you think about it, at the end of the day, these experiences and emotions make us, us. They are what makes humans, humans.

And that, brings us to Zone24x7’s tagline, “Inspiring Emotions”.

Initially, you may wonder what “Inspiring Emotions” means for a technology company. Let me explain.

At Zone24x7, we believe that contrary to popular belief, technology shouldn’t just be mundane. We believe that much like movies, music, deep conversations with people we like, which are essentially things we really enjoy, which makes us feel human, technology itself needs to make us feel those same things. We believe that technology should make us feel emotional (after all we humans create technology for ourselves).

This is why the solutions we provide for our clients go beyond mere technicalities. Staying true to our beliefs, we go one step further when we deliver solutions; we deliver solutions with an emotional edge.

Zone24x7 does that in two ways:

First, we operate with a heavy emphasis on Human Experience Design; that is to engineer solutions that resonate seamlessly with human experiences. In the intricate and fully technologized world we live in today, we want our solutions to be comprehensive and in alignment with ourselves as human beings.

With our emphasis on Human Experience Design, we deliver solutions that aren’t just excellent technologically, but solutions that make us feel, solutions that Inspire Emotions.

Secondly, when we deal with clients, we make sure that we deeply empathize with them. We make sure to understand their requirements at an absolutely fundamental level.
Once we have this understanding, we take complete ownership of the problem and the requirement so the client does not feel as if they’re dealing with an outside party.

Our clients often tell us that we are more like a deeply committed in-house team that is working on their problem with maximum care and earnestness. We make sure our client would not only get a solution of excellent quality but a solution that would Inspire Emotions.

The glowing testimonials we’ve received from our clients for over 15 years attests to the emotional impact we’ve created.

Despite being a relatively small company, it is this unique vision and approach that has enabled us to deliver staggering results to many businesses around the world for such a long amount of time.

As a company based largely in Sri Lanka as well as the Silicon Valley, we harness certain values that are characteristic of Sri Lankans to deliver these results. Sri Lankans, of course, are renowned for their unorthodoxy and ingenuity across various fields. This ingenuity, of course, emanates from a thorough comprehension of fundamental concepts and an inherent sense of empathy that is typical of Sri Lankans; and those unique characteristics are exactly what Zone24x7 uses to deliver solutions with standout excellence, emotional impact and thereby to Inspire Emotions.


Ashen Monnankulama

Ashen Monnankulama was an Associate Business Designer at Zone24x7.

Overcome Speech Anxiety, Fear and Speak Up

You’re in a scrum training session. It’s just starting off. The trainer is trying to get everyone to loosen up, so he’s asking a few easy questions. The first one, ‘What is agile?’

You don’t really know the answer but you think ‘it’s cool, he’ll just wait for a couple seconds and then answer his own question’. So you decide to wait him out. Now, waiting him out involves a whole lot of work. Counting the spots on the ceiling, checking to make sure there’s no lint on your shirt and above all else, avoiding eye contact like the plague!

You try this for a bit until you figure out this guy isn’t like the rest, he’s going to get his answer if it’s the last thing he does! So you start thinking of possible answers and finally settle on one you like, amidst all the anxiety and fear. You’re not really sure if it’s the right one but, if all the gods desert you and the trainer decides to ask you for the answer, you gotta have something to say right?

But you’ll be damned if you volunteer to answer. No need to shoot yourself in the foot. So you swallow your answer and keep your mouth tightly shut.

Meanwhile, your scrum trainer is still going around the room looking for an answer (some people just don’t know when to quit, I tell you!). Some of the audience volunteer answers (you roll your eyes thinking ‘suckers!’) and some get called on to give reluctant answers while struggling to find the confidence to speak up.

But none of them give the answer, the trainer is looking for. Apparently they’re ALL WRONG!! (Oh the horror!) Now, you’re secretly congratulating yourself for not answering. (Ha haa putha well done, pat yourself on the back). After all, why give a wrong answer and look stupid in front of 30 people right? I mean, if these other guys couldn’t get it right, what makes you think you’ve got the right answer?

Finally, your trainer gets tired of getting the wrong answer and of all the silent introverts, who simply refuse to let their voice be heard. He gives up and decides to just give the answer himself (you smirk to yourself and think ‘he should’ve done that in the first place. Could’ve saved us all a wasted minute’.).

THEN comes the answer. . .

And after hearing it, you could’ve happily strangled yourself with an extension cord! Because it’s the Same Exact Answer YOU THOUGHT OF! How stupid do you feel now?

Ever had this happen to you? Or something quite similar?

I have. And it’s not a pretty aftermath when you realize, you could’ve answered that question, you could’ve gotten the recognition for giving the right answer. . . you could’ve spoken up. . . !


Those dreaded meetings!

Another place that we fail and fear to speak at, are meetings. Yes, you know what I’m talking about; project meetings, stand-up meetings, retrospective meetings, review meetings – all kinds of meetings. It’s like your voice deserts you and your courage abandons you, when you go in to that meeting room. You actually see your confidence waving bye-bye to you at the door as the fear and the anxiety to speak in public, engulfs you. It’s terrible, it’s pathetic but it is also reality.

Why do we lose our voice in a crowd? Why do we feel shy or reluctant to voice our opinions and then regret it later? Why do we let the introvert in us take over and fail to contribute to meetings?  Why, why, why?

Well for one, we worry that we might say the wrong thing, that we’ll get the words wrong and mess it up. We’re afraid we’ll fail and we’re afraid that people will laugh at us for failing. We worry that people will mock our ideas and think them stupid.

Afraid and worried driven by anxiety.

Did you ever stop to think what would happen if you stopped being afraid of what could go wrong and focused on what could go right? Rainbows will appear, fireworks will go off, violins will start playing. You get the idea, Wonderful Things Will Happen.

Maybe, you would get the recognition for your great idea if you spoke up; maybe you would be the one to get the answer right out of a 100 people; and maybe you would not be kicking yourself later, because you regret not speaking up. Because if you’re not going to speak up and contribute to meetings, forums and all kinds of other groups you are part of, how is the world supposed to know you exist?


Do not underestimate yourself!

It’s important not to let your anxiety and fear of failure stop you from being yourself and speaking your mind. Because in a room full of people, if you have a question, I guarantee you, 10 other people will have the same question. So don’t assume that you’re the only one, don’t assume your question is stupid. Don’t kill your idea before it’s born.

Our speech apprehension, thanks to fear of looking stupid is holding us back. It is denting our confidence in communication. You know this for a fact, even though you pretend you don’t. Well, never fear, acknowledging that you have a problem is the first step to solving it (or so I’ve heard). So, what if you do say the wrong thing?

We’ve seen plenty of people say the wrong thing at meetings but a few days or weeks later, do we remember those incidents? No. But, we do remember the people that gave the right answers and the ideas that lead to brilliant concepts.

So what we need to get through these thick skulls of ours is that, whatever tiny bit of humiliation we feel when we mess up in front of a crowd, is temporary. But what about the appreciation and respect you’ll earn for speaking up? That, people will remember for a long time to come.

So really, how do you get over the anxiety, the fear and speak up? How do we convince our petrified brains to shake off that crippling terror and open our mouths?

Well the first step is to get over yourself! Don’t take it all so seriously! You make a mistake, so what?! Everybody makes mistakes, and I mean everybody.

Life is long, trust me, you won’t get through it 100% mistake free. In the end, we only regret the chances we didn’t take. So like Elsa says so aptly in Frozen, “Let it go, let it gooooo…….”. Let your fears go and take a chance. You’ll be so glad you did.

You know what else holds you back from speaking up? Insecurity and self-doubt.

Stop underestimating yourself so much. You didn’t get to where you are now by sheer accident. Nobody handed it to you on a silver platter. You worked hard, studied night and day. You must have retained something in that brain of yours right?

So what makes you think your ideas are worthless, that the questions you come up with are stupid, that the answers you think of are surely wrong? Trust yourself, trust your abilities and learn not to let your insecurities get in the way of taking a chance.

Now you’re thinking, ‘Yeah yeah, easy for her to spout philosophical ideas, they sound great, but really, where’s the practical advice?’ Coming right up!


Start today. Speak up, shake off the anxiety and build your confidence.

So here’s what you do the next time someone asks the audience a question. Think of an answer, close your eyes, and on the count of 5, raise your hand and start speaking. Just do it. You’ll have plenty of time to think of all those horrible ‘what if I’m wrong’ scenarios later.

In that moment, don’t think of anything else but the question and what you think the answer is. Just open your mouth and start speaking. Add to your answer as you go along and when you think you’ve gotten it all out, said everything you wanted to say, then and only then – shut up.

Try it, go on, I dare you!

Try it once and see what happens. (Oh and for those of you, who are wondering ‘why count to 5 instead of something like 3?’ Well, I thought for those of us, who are a bit more chicken than others, a count of 5 would give us a bit more time to find our long lost courage.)

So the next time your boss asks you to do a presentation, don’t think of excuses not to – just say yes. The next time someone asks you a question don’t try to get imaginary lint off your shirt – answer the man! The next time someone asks for ideas, give yours, no matter how stupid you think it might be. Who knows, it might just become the next big thing!

So Be Fearless and Speak Up.

Do It Now. . .

Image Courtesy: Header image from unsplash.com/@grakozy


Piyumi Dias

was a Software Engineer