May 26, 2017

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Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

Communication Challenges for Virtual Project Teams Part 2

Have you ever worked with virtual teams as a project manager? (Click for related articles) From my experience of working with virtual teams who are distributed and working remotely, we have to overcome the communication challenges by using tools like tele-conference facilities, instant messaging and email.

This article is Part 2 of a discussion of research findings about the challenges virtual teams face, communication preferences and recommendations. It is based on an online survey done by Software Advice’s Noel Radley (*) with professionals who regularly work on virtual projects, and who had an opinion on the challenges of virtual projects.

Virtual Team Members’ Preferred Communication Channels

Virtual team's preferred Communication channels

 

Preferred Communication Tools

The survey confirmed recent reports that email usage has not yet declined to the extent some predicted. To the contrary, 41 percent of virtual team members surveyed selected email as their most preferred communication tool. However, it was also stated as problematic by some (23%) due to long email threads.

After email, phone was selected by 36 percent of those surveyed as their preferred communication channel perhaps due to the benefits of a “real-time” collaboration tool. Surprisingly, tools designed for online collaboration were selected by the fewest respondents. Only 12 percent selected virtual conferencing as a preferred communication channel, and discussion forums and chat rooms were selected by just 10 percent.

Miller recommends instant messaging (or chat) as one of the more effective real-time communication channels for virtual teams. It’s a much better way to collaborate on something that’s in active progress, or to reach a final decision on an issue. It can also be used to link directly to Web pages or relevant documents that may come up in conversation.

When facing virtual workers who prefer traditional communication channels, managers may need to push adoption in order to help bridge the gap between the tools team members are accustomed to and the tools that help them collaborate most effectively.

Communication Channel Preferences by Age

To add further complexity, our findings revealed a shift in communication preference based on age. Generally speaking, the preference for digital mediums (such as email) decreased with age, while the preference for analog communications (namely, phone) increased with age.

Demographics: Communication Channel Preferences by Age

Preferred communication tools by age

 

 

 

Email preferences were greatest among the youngest team members surveyed: nearly half of those aged 25-34 had a top preference for email (46 percent). This preference was slightly less for 35- to 44-year-olds (41 percent), and lower still for 45- to 54-year-olds (36 percent).

The greatest preference for phone was held by team members in the 45-54 age category, at 41 percent, while 34 percent of the 35-44 age bracket and 29 percent of the 25-34 age bracket preferred communicating by phone.

These trends change when it comes to video conferencing and discussion forums and chat. The 35-44 group is less likely to prefer virtual conferencing and more likely to prefer chats and discussion forums than both the older and the younger age groups.

These differences may mean that companies with trans-generational teams run into subtle misunderstandings, as diverse communication preferences result in people not answering the phone or not replying to emails. To keep distributed teams on the same page, Miller recommends a “multifaceted” approach.

Recommended Solutions

In addition to using instant messaging, also consider mailing lists, a project wiki, and a project blog. A conference or face-to-face sessions where active project members are invited to get together is also a good solution. This works well at the beginning and end of projects.

Successful virtual projects, therefore, require more than just selecting the right communication tool for your team to use. Managers and project leaders for remote teams should supplement communication channels with engaging online information, collaborative environments and even perhaps in-person events to ensure that all team members stay in the loop.

Conclusions

Effectively managed communication will be more of a solution than a problem for a variety of issues, such as task management and team members with commitments to multiple projects.

Moreover, a multi-pronged approach, including instant messaging, agile project management tools, blogging and wikis, should be used to engage teams and foster effective communication. When confronting teams with diverse preferences, a comprehensive communication strategy involving a variety of tools and techniques can help solidify team connections, as well as improve project visibility.

According to Miller it’s important to keep enthusiasm and engagement high, and to make sure that team members’ direct managers or sponsors have easy access to meaningful information showing the value of the work and the overall return.

For reference, you can find the full report here:

http://blog.softwareadvice.com/articles/project-management/survey-communication-virtual-projects-0714/

(*) Software Advice is a company that researches and evaluates project management technology.

Communication Challenges for Virtual Project Teams Part 1

Have you ever worked with virtual teams as a project manager? (Click for related articles) From my experience of working with virtual teams who are distributed and working remotely, we have to overcome the communication challenges by using tools like tele-conference facilities, instant messaging and email.

This article is discussing research findings about the challenges virtual teams face. It is based on an online survey done by Noel Radley of Software Advice (a company that researches and evaluates project management technology) with professionals who regularly work on virtual projects, and who had an opinion on the challenges of virtual projects. It is divided into two parts. Part 1 is about the main challenges virtual teams are faced with and task management as a top threat to effective project communication.

Top challenges

  • Thirty-eight percent of team members said communication was difficult on virtual projects, making it the top-cited challenge.
  • Poor communication regarding task management was perceived as the top threat to project success, selected by 41 percent of team members.
  • Email was a preferred channel for 41 percent of respondents—though 23 percent noted long email threads were a communication pitfall.
  • The lack of the right software or technology was given by 33 percent.
  • A lack of productivity was seen as the biggest threat to project success by 28 percent, since many team members believed those who work remotely are held less accountable.

In addition to communication challenges there are also others based on feedback from Matthew Miller, a project leader at the open source technology company Red Hat who has worked with thousands of contributors on open-source operating system called the Fedora Project.

A deeper challenge of most remote teams is the fact that members are typically “drawn from other teams,” and thus have only partial responsibility to their virtual projects. Miller said that typically there’s more work that needs to be done than time to do it, and often commitments to virtual teams are the easiest to break. In view of the productivity challenge stated above, the issue may simply be that they have other commitments that take priority. Managers may need to consider analyzing the scope of a team’s commitments when assigning tasks or attempting to pinpoint problems.

Virtual Team Members’ Top Project-Communication Problems

Virtual Team Members’ Top Project-Communication Problems

Task Management

When analysing the top communication-related challenges of remote projects it was found that approximately 41 percent of respondents answered that the failure to clearly assign and update tasks, was the top threat to effective project communication.

For 23 percent of respondents, long email threads were the top obstacle to communicating effectively. For others (19 percent), they most experienced trouble scheduling virtual meetings and conference calls. And 16 percent of virtual team members experienced confusion about which communication channel—phone, chat or email—to turn to for which tasks.

Many turn to software solutions for task management. Software Advice found in a recent report that 52 percent of project management software buyers were seeking a task management application.

Although tools are important, Miller emphasized the importance of having established processes in place for your team, like regular group interactions for shared tasks for example.

For reference, you can find the full report here:

http://blog.softwareadvice.com/articles/project-management/survey-communication-virtual-projects-0714/

Please subscribe (top right) not to miss Part 2 and future articles!

Project Managers are you Twitter Smart?

Twitter for project managers While many project managers are social media active today, there are still organizations which don’t understand the value of using social media, and specifically Twitter, in the work-place. This is a follow-up article on the previous social media article: 10 Ways to Integrate Social Media with Project Management

The value that Twitter can bring, is a whole new perspective on project management and this article will look at ways for project managers to become Twitter smart.

While Twitter is recognized as a social media tool that can assist with successful project delivery, it is often not taken seriously as a business tool. This is simply because of the vast amount of information that is available on Twitter at any one time–over 250 million tweets per day. To ensure that Twitter is a valuable tool, you need to be able to extract only information which is most relevant for you; otherwise, it defeats the object of improving project delivery. One way to do this is by using the #PMOT hashtag.

#PMOT

For those unfamiliar with Twitter, hashtags are a way to flag something, and “PMOT” stands for Project Managers (or Management) on Twitter. When you combine hashtags with Twitter you have an easy way to locate much of the PM-related content on Twitter in a single place.

How to become Twitter Smart

Here are some recommended practices to help you benefit from #PMOT:

  • Identify people that you want to follow. Add them to a list. Be cautious not to try and follow hundreds or thousands of people, because you cannot possibly keep track of that volume of Tweets. 
  • Identify blogs, articles, sites that you can bookmark.  #PMOT can act almost like an automated Google search for you–bringing search results to you without you having to go and work to find them.
  • Identify curators – people who make the effort to find the best content and make it available with their own comments.  There are plenty of project management sites that have a great daily publication.
  • Stay current with what’s happening in your industry and profession. There are many industry organizations who actively contribute to Twitter (PMI, for example). Twitter can give you an easy way to stay current with what is happening with them.
  • Find other activities to become a part of. #PMOT will lead you toward #pmchat, for example–an hour-long, weekly Twitter conversation from 12—1 p.m. North American Eastern time that gives you a chance to interact with other PMs and discuss topics/issues of the day. (If you miss the live chat there is a record of the conversation on Twitter under the #pmchat hashtag.)
  • You still need to use judgment in consuming this content–there’s no point in bookmarking 100 different project management sites as you can’t possibly keep track of them all while still doing the job that you are employed to do.

Twitter for Organizational use

By now you can appreciate using Twitter as a personal tool for individual PMs, but there is also a lot of benefit for the organization. Consider how Project Management Offices (PMO’s) can use Twitter to improve project effectiveness and streamline processes. A tremendous amount of content is already developed to assist in the continuous improvement of the PMO, and much of it is available within the public domain.

Twitter not only helps to socialize the availability of that content–it can assist the organization in connecting with people who have used it before and share their experiences. It may also be used to initially connect with those people.

For organizations that have a page on their intranet containing links to websites that offer best practices, hints and tips, you can prevent that content to become outdated by using the #PMOT. This will help you find a lot of content that can be applied to your organization and to keep that links page fresh.

Be Twitter Smart by contributing

Twitter is not only a social media tool to consume content, but it also provides opportunities to contribute to Twitter discussions. When you represent an organization, as long as you keep to your company’s social media policies, you can use Twitter to do formal announcements, share information on the corporate website like job opportunities for example, share tips and tools etc.

As Project Managers we can also contribute as part of the PM community. This can be achieved by sharing your knowledge and experiences on Twitter by posting a useful link or a lesson learned. This way you can connect with people who have common interests and goals.

Conclusion

As a PMP and blogger, I’ve been using Twitter for a few years for all the reasons above. It has helped me to connect with project managers from all over the world, to easily find good information and RSS feeds to keep up to date with the Project Management Industry and of course, for exposure so that more people will find me and my blog about project management best practices and tools as well as recommended resources. Please subscribe here.

If you would like a head start on Twitter, you are welcome to follow me: Virtualpm

Here are my lists that I have created over time and lists that I follow:

Don’t forget to use Search #PMOT on Twitter to build your own lists or to find good lists to follow.

About the author: Linky Van Der Merwe is the Founder of Virtual Project Consulting. She is a Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager for the past 12 years and currently working at Microsoft Consulting Services.

Stakeholder Management Best Practice Tools

Essential skills for stakeholder management

Stakeholder Management Best Practice Tools audio

Stakeholder management requires getting commitment from stakeholders as the cornerstone of success in projects.  The needs and concerns of stakeholders define the project plan. As a follow-up from the previous stakeholder management best practices article, I want to share with you a best practice communication tool as an essential skill for stakeholder management.

How to communicate Smart, measureable, attainable, realistic, time-bound

The tool that I have used successfully in projects before, is called “Conditions of Satisfaction” or COS. As soon as the project manager identifies who the key stakeholders are, he needs to have a discussion with the customer(s) to determine what their conditions for satisfaction are. It is necessary to make the COS statements specific, measureable, attainable, realistic/relevant, time bound (SMART).

These conditions are then communicated back to the project team, partners and vendors.  Once the conditions are determined, they must be agreed and summarised in writing for the customer(s).

Once documented, add any agreed-upon actions to meet them, as well as the planned completion dates. Post the COS to the project repository.

Examples of conditions of satisfaction (COS) are:

  • Sponsor expects external consultant to be on-site, during core hours
    • Action: consultant will be on-site between 9am and 4pm and log this on his time-sheet for the duration of the project
  • Sponsor expects skills transfer between specialist and team members who will do roll-out and support
    • Action: put skills transfer actions (workshop & presentations) as activities on project plan to track them before end of planning phase
  • Minimize extra cost
    • Action: Try to reduce travel costs, by developing estimates and travel schedule, by having more tele- and video-conferences during execution phase of the project

Communicate the Conditions (COS) to the entire project team and ensure that everyone on the team knows the COS and has plans for how they will help achieve / exceed the COS in the role they play on the project.

Conditions of Satisfaction

At all project meetings, both internal and with the customer, you need to address progress against the COS and identify plans to address any problems. During project closure, the COS will again be discussed to evaluate whether the customer’s conditions were met by the project.  This stakeholder management communications tool leads to a satisfied customer, a happy customer and ultimately a more successful project.

Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder management and engagement is an essential skill that project managers need to develop. A successful project needs to satisfy the triple constraint of time, cost and quality/performance, but it must also meet requirements of functionality, reliability, maintainability, efficiency, integration and operability.

How to determine your success

To determine if the project was successful, you need to assess the following:

  • Did the project provide satisfactory benefit to the users?
  • Measure whether value has been added.
  • Did the project completely meet predefined objectives?

For success the project experience should have been positive and the project will have added value. The project would have satisfied the needs and concerns of the stakeholders, as well as the project team members and would have allowed the team to acquire new skills.

If you know of other stakeholder management skills or tools that you have used successfully in your projects, please share those with us in the comments section.

Please click HERE to listen to a recording of this article. If you wish to download a free copy of this audio file, please right click on the link and select “save link as” to save to your desired location.

About the author: Linky van der Merwe is a former Microsoft Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 14 years IT industry experience and 11 years Project Management experience.

She consults with small-medium business owners and service professionals about project management and project processes, best practices and successful delivery through projects.  She can be reached at linky@virtualprojectconsulting.com

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Stakeholder Management Best Practices

Are you actively managing project stakeholders?

Stakeholder Management Best Practices audio

Stakeholder Management Best Practices

Stakeholder management is as key to a successful project outcome as communications management. Today I want to focus on best practices relating to managing stakeholders on projects.

For complete clarity about stakeholder management, let’s look at it from the angle of:

  • What a stakeholder is
  • Who stakeholders are
  • Why you must do stakeholder management
  • When to communicate

Stakeholder definition

What is a stakeholder? Stakeholders are people who are actively involved in projects, who exert influence on projects and whose interests may be positively/negatively affected by projects. Source: PMBOK

Who are stakeholders?

The key stakeholders on projects are the project manager, project team members, the project sponsor, the customer and the performing organization. Other stakeholders could include:

  • Internal and external owners and funders
  • Sellers and contractors
  • Team members & their families
  • Government agencies and media outlets
  • Society at large

Why do stakeholder management?

On any project a project manager needs to identify project stakeholders in order to determine their requirements and to manage and influence the requirements. Identify stakeholders during initiation phase of Project life cycle. Project Life Cycle

Throughout the project you need to actively manage the stakeholder’s requirements and expectations. Influencing the organisation involves the ability to ‘get things done’. This requires from a project manager an understanding of both formal and informal structure of the organisation involved, for example the customers, partners, contractors, office politics etc.

One golden rule to remember is when there is a difference between stakeholders, it should be resolved in favour of the customer. Finding appropriate resolutions to such differences can be a major challenge of project management.

The reason why you need to do stakeholder management is to drive stakeholder satisfaction. This requires reliable, dependable, repeatable effort from your side. You need to know the needs and expectations of stakeholders and invest in those needs. A frequent investment (weekly, ever daily) in the needs of the stakeholders helps projects to be successful.

When to communicate with stakeholders?

You need to communicate with your project stakeholders a number of times as documented in your communications plan:

  • Beginning of a project
  • Weekly at progress meetings
  • Regular Reviews and reporting
  • At the end of a project

In summary a project manager needs to manage and influence stakeholder requirements to ensure a successful project.

In the next blog post about stakeholder management, I am going to share some best practices tools that you can use to really ensure customer satisfaction.

To ensure that you don’t miss follow-up project management articles, please subscribe to the Virtual Project Consulting RSS feed.

If you liked this article, please subscribe to my blog (to the right) and receive more project management tips and articles.

Please click HERE to listen to a recording of this article. If you wish to download a free copy of this audio file, please right click on the link and select “save link as” to save to your desired location.

About the author: Linky van der Merwe is a former Microsoft Project Management Consultant and an IT Project Manager with 14 years IT industry experience and 11 years Project Management experience.

She consults with small-medium business owners and service professionals about project management and project processes, best practices and successful delivery through projects. She is most experienced in corporate infrastructure projects (upgrades, migration, deployment etc) and process optimisation. She can be reached at linky@virtualprojectconsulting.com

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How to achieve Customer Satisfaction with Project Communications Management

Project Communications Management Case Study

While I was an IT project manager at a corporate insurance company, we were approached for a printing solution that would provide:   Project Communications best practices for Project Delivery

  • improved network printing performance,
  • 100% uptime and
  • failover (setup of 2 servers, if one server fails, the other server takes over) in order for the printing service to be always available.

The solution that we proposed was too expensive. It would involve procurement of expensive hardware and software and the customer didn’t have enough budget provision.

Accepted printing solution

We then proposed a scaled down customized solution, using existing hardware and software with some upgrade to RAM and disc space and a different architecture design. This proposal was accepted by the customer and the project could start.

Initially it was estimated to be a 3-month project, but it took 5 months to complete due to many unforeseen problems. Even though this was one of my troubled projects, I managed to have a satisfied customer who was happy with the end result.

How did we achieve stakeholder satisfaction?

In all honesty, I would attribute the success of the project to following project communications management best practices. We had a communications plan which attributed to building a very committed project team, as well as a supportive customer.

The team met for progress meetings weekly and minutes and progress reports were distributed afterwards.  The customer was well informed throughout the project and we had 2-weekly feedback sessions with the customer as planned in the communications plan. Consistency with information distribution and performance reporting was key.

Through my regular verbal and written communications, I built trust with the customer who accepted the problems (risks that became issues) and delays that we experienced as we kept it totally transparent. Change requests were submitted to obtain approval for changes and the consequent impact on the timeline. The engineers who were part of the project team persevered and kept going while having to resolve many issues, as they were clear about the end goal of the project. The project team members acquired good skills while working on the project, which they, as well as the project manager, could reference in their future careers.

Project communications management as a best practice

As you can see from this case study example, it is sticking to simple best practices in project communications management that will enhance your chances for successful projects significantly. In this instance we delivered the project to budget and with quality, but in spite of being ‘late’, we managed the stakeholder’s expectations and achieved customer satisfaction at the end. This is why I think this case study is a good example of the difference that project communications management best practices can make.

Please join my virtual project management community

You are welcome to share examples from your own experience so that we can all learn from one another. For more BEST PRACTICES project management articles, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

NEW to project management? Have little project management experience and want to know more?  Build or sharpen your skills to manage your own business projects or to deliver specific services to your customers more efficiently through projects!

Have a look at my Solid-as-a-Rock Project Management toolkit with a practical process, templates and tools that will show you how best to employ project management techniques to improve project delivery.

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