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


Why Project Managers are always Busy and a Way to Fix It

FEELING TOO BUSY THAN BEING PRODUCTIVE?

Unfortunately there comes a time in our lives that we realize that we are no longer productive as we used to be or just too busy for anything. We do so much stuff and sometimes when we call it a day, it is way past bed time and the list of things undone is still starring at us waiting to haunt you the next day.

We as project managers put down plans and schedules to our projects and follow up on project plans with the teams on a daily basis to make sure that the projects are progressing positively.  While we are busy scheduling and planning the work items of our team members, we end up having none to minimum time to ourselves to carry out and manage our own daily assignments. One of the main reasons for our failure as project managers to manage time effectively, is our reactive approach to doing things.

Next thing you know; we are already several steps behind when we start our day.

THE CULPRIT: MEETINGS TAKING UP MOST OF THE DAY

After getting myself entangled in couple of extremely busy weeks it was time to take a couple of steps back and reflect on my daily activities for that time period. Immediately, I was able to identify that the culprit responsible for taking away at least half or sometimes more than half of my work time were Meetings. Scheduled as well as un-scheduled meetings kept on creeping into my calendar, leaving me with a pile of work undone on a daily basis and this list kept getting bigger. Second thing was important / urgent matters that needed immediate attendance. There was literally an urgent matter to attend to everyday for a period of about 2 weeks, where some requests came in the morning hours, some during the day and some in the evening, which indefinitely meant that it is going to be another long day.

A TIMETABLE TO FIND MORE TIME IN YOUR SCHEDULE

Though I did not have all the right answers to the problem I was facing, the first thing I was advised to do was to follow the simplest and obvious time management technique; the timetable.

So I put down a simple timetable for the next day with the scheduled things first, like meetings.  Then the next step was to list down the things I need to achieve, prioritize them and allocate time for those tasks around the scheduled meetings. This made me see the un-tapped time that I had in a day, to work on the things that I have to work on. This was continued to the next day and then the next until I had an idea of how my week is going to be like.

PLANNING VS THE REALITY: CHAOS DOESN’T STOP BUT…

With an idea on what to expect during my week and what I need to do for the day, I started off my week.

I was not able to go far. As usual, I was bombarded with un-planned meetings, discussions and urgent matters that needed immediate attending. While avoiding them is not the right thing to do, I was able to re-schedule some of them to the free slots I had already discovered and looked in to the others. Having a schedule for myself helped me prepare for planned work and allowed to a certain extent find available timeslots to be allocated for the un-planned work. At the end of the day, I reflected on the things done and yet to be done so that I can re-prioritize the undone tasks and take them forward for the free time slots I have on the next day.

The conclusion that I can draw from practicing this technique for one week is that I was better prepared. I knew to a certain extent what to expect and how much of time will those tasks take, what tasks I need to attend to and what time slots I have to tackle the unknown.

And it helped me keep track of the undone work and reprioritize them and take them up in the next day (if possible). Having a simple work plan for the week helped me to a certain extent see through the chaos of unplanned work, the work that I had already planned on achieving for the week.

MY EXPERIENCE: BEING REACTIVE HAS A LOT TO DO WITH IT…

In order to start this exercise, I believe from my experience that it is absolutely necessary to have a clear and relaxed state of mind. If you are already stressed, you will take down a very reactionary approach to doing things by stressing out on the things that is already on your plate. This approach has given me a little bit of breathing room to question why are we are doing it? What is the priority? How are we going to complete it? When is it expected? What is the outcome and expectation? And who (if it can be delegated) can get it done?

Unfortunately, most of the time we jump into execution mode without knowing the answers to these simple but important questions.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

A question that we can periodically ask from our busy lives is that while we are caught up on doing so many stuff and being busy, do we take a minute to realize what is around us that we are missing? And does being busy help us focus on achieving what we need?

Listen to an interesting talk on “The Art of Stress-free productivity”,

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


Sean Lee

Sean Lee was a Project Manager at Zone24x7.