November 19, 2017

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

Virtual Project Teams – How to Establish Trust

By Howard B. Esbin

Successful virtual project management depends on superior teamwork. Positive interpersonal relations are a must. This is an essential precondition for trust to develop. Trust joins people together virtually by bridging time, geography, and culture. However, according to a large, growing body of research, establishing trust on a virtual project team is highly challenging. There’s little time or incentive for acclimatizing. There’s also almost immediate pressure to produce results. During the storming phase, unresolved interpersonal challenges cause significant disruption. Deadlines are missed and budgets run over. Without trust, too often team members disband remaining “virtual strangers”.

Virtual teams need special leadership … trust is essential … teambuilding exercises pay off, and …  unless a combination of high-tech and high-touch is maintained, performance peaks are often followed by declines in the productivity.”  (Creativity in Virtual Work: Effects of Demographic Differences: L.L. Martins, C.E. Shalley, 2009)

Problematically, 80% of distributed or virtual teams receive little or no training. Research shows a direct link between the “soft” qualities of a team, it’s “team-ness”, and the quality of software produced. Only 39% of software projects are completed successfully. 43% result in late delivery, cost overruns, and/or reduced features and functions. 18% fail. In one global survey, 75% of developers believed their own projects would fail.

Case Study of a Virtual Software Development Team

Here’s the story of how one distributed Agile software development team proactively addressed the classic challenge of establishing trust at the start of their project during the forming stage.

The Prelude SuiteTeam Profile

The software development team, consisting of 9 team members, is cross-functional and cross-cultural in composition. The team lead, Dr. Faisal Nasser Shehab, is an Enterprise Architect and Associate Professor as well author of Emergent Leader Detection and Identification in A Virtual Team Environment: A Grounded Theory Study  The team is building a “Virtual Team Business Management System” based on Dr. Shehab’s research. Their mission is to provide organizations with “the knowledge, the framework, and services required to implement a robust and a mature virtual team management capability”.

Context

Last Spring, Dr. Shehab learned about a resource called the Prelude Suite that supposedly helps accelerate virtual team trust during formation. Aware of how disruptive and costly interpersonal challenges can be on distributed teams, he wanted his new team to start on the best possible note. After seeing the online demo and meeting the prospective resource facilitator, Dr. Shehab scheduled the Prelude Suite™ for the team.

Process

The team met together online for three sessions of about 90 minutes each. This process was guided by a trained facilitator. With each step, the team moved from a “me” to a “we” orientation. Throughout they used Self-Assessment, Self-Expression, Co-Creation, and Dialogue.

Each step features a set of exercises, team-based and synchronous as well as individual and asynchronous. Everyone meets together virtually in a private online platform called a Sandbox using rich media (Video, VOIP, Chat, Interactive Whiteboard). The following outline the team’s step by step experience.

Session 1: Tune Up

Exercise: iStar Self-Assessment™

Prior to their first session, teammates completed an online self-assessment called iStar™. Their resulting iStar Badges are automatically uploaded to the Team Constellation page. During this session, everyone produced their individual iStar Story™. This is brief, holistic positive thumbnail quickly written and easily shared round robin. This is a rapid yet meaningful way to build new awareness and understanding of team diversity and shared strengths.

They also reviewed their unique Elemental Table. This reflects the team’s overall make-up in terms of a range of soft skills. Teams are able to quickly, easily understand where change may be needed. Teamnates also receive an individual digital StarSmart Journal™, which allows for ongoing personal and professional reflection, goal setting, and measuring progress.

Exercise: Team Elemental Table™

Session 2: Practice

In their second online session, teammates practiced key soft skills together synchronously through a co-creation challenge using an online interactive whiteboard. First, they each create a personal iTag™ to symbolize their unique quintessential qualities and strengths. Everyone then shares their tags with each other. In the second exercise the team as a whole is then given a challenge to co-create a powerful digital symbol of their team spirit and excellence called a weTag.

Exercise 1: iTag™

Exercise 2: weTag™

Session 3: Bridge

In their third and final session, teammates went through two exercises. The Team Alignment Plan™ enabled them to quickly, easily bridge their shared soft skill inventory with project work goals, tasks, and deliverables. This is final check for the team to assess if they have what they need to move back into operating mode. Their final team exercise produced a robust Team Charter reflecting the insights gained and lessons learned about themselves as a team.

Team Alignment

Exercise 1: Team Alignment Plan (T.A.P.)

Team Member Feedback

“As a team leader, the Prelude Suite™ provided me with valuable insights into our team’s diverse strengths. This helped us to properly align team members with the tasks at hand. It also helped us to clarify our focus while affirming we’re on the right track. It was wonderful seeing how everyone came together online as a team. The weTag we co-created was a dynamic, truly creative way to spark team spirit and identity.  I really enjoyed the simplicity of the interface and the process.” Dr. Faisal Shehab 

“The Prelude Suite™ is the most unique team facilitation approach that I have encountered as a student and co-worker through my life time experience. This resource provides the most important thing for successful team formation – transparency. Moreover, it shows your own weaknesses as well as areas of strength. I highly suggest the Prelude Suite to any team that wants go through a proper facilitation and build transparent relationships in fast and smooth manner.” Georgy, Khetsuriani

“The Prelude Suite™ user experience model is fun and simple yet innovative and challenging.  I rediscovered a great deal about myself and others in the team. The most important feature is not the technology we don’t see or the user interface but the ability of the program to create a shared sense of community.” Ferrel Son

“The ITag™ exercise was illuminating. It helped boost my confidence and belief in myself. Team exercise: helped with team bonding and awareness of traits of team members. Overall: first time with kind of experience. The collaborative approach makes it authentic and I will recommend the Prelude Suite™ to others.”  Ifeoma Okafo-Eke

Outcomes and Benefits

These outcomes and benefits may be achieved by any virtual project team committed to a truly successful delivery. This simply requires three 2-hour online sessions, high-speed Internet connection, video, headphones and mike. Pricing, available upon request, is competitive and flexible.

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Prelude SuiteAbout the Author: Howard B. Esbin PhD is the creator of the Prelude Suite™, training and certification that is offered via an online interactive course involving theory and practice. The unique learning design is informed by Howard’s academic graduate research and extensive management experience in international development, philanthropy, and the private sector.

The International Labour Organization, Education Canada, and UNESCO have published his writing. Click here for his chapter on virtual team creativity in Strategic Management & Leadership for Systems Development in Virtual Spaces.

How to Improve Project Information Flow to all Stakeholders

By Joel Roberts

On global projects spanning multiple continents, one of the biggest business challenges is to enable the flow of project information to all project stakeholders. This case study illustrates how the challenge was addressed.

The Jungheinrich Group, one of the world’s largest suppliers of industrial trucks, material flow and warehousing technology since 1953, with its headquarters in Hamburg, has been offering forklift-based products and services designed to get things moving for industrial customers.

Jungheinrich Group

Business challenge

Jungheinrich Group has grown rapidly and extended to more than 30 countries all around the world. The German giant have approximately 750 sales consultants and about 3100 mobile service engineers, which makes it a competent consulting and comprehensive service.

That lead to increased global distribution flows that was changing the face of company’s logistics. For their projects they were using Microsoft Project as their main project management tool.

Each project’s biggest constraint was the flow of project information to all project stakeholders. Jungheinrich Group decided that most of their staff only need to open and read mpp files, so Microsoft Project was not applicable in terms of cost-effectiveness.

Solution

Jungheinrich meetingThe company’s large user group forced them to search for a comprehensive viewer for Project plans. The company decided to cut costs on MS Project licenses, as they only needed a viewer that would simply open Project files for viewing.

First, they decided to make a snapshots of each plan and distribute them as a series of HTML files.

But quickly, they found that these files were just too static and non-transparent. Their consultancy was looking for a tool that will open the entire project plan, including the ability to display custom views for each plan.

Finally, they implemented a project viewer by Seavus that have similar look to Microsoft Project so that employees are used to it and didn’t need additional training.

“Since most of our users need to open very large .mpp files from time to time, it was an important part of our evaluation and one that Seavus Project Viewer was able to accomplish with no problems”, states the Jungheinrich Group.

“Once we purchased it, it was an easy product for us to deploy Enterprise-wide and has been a very stable and well accepted product by our employees.”

Business benefits

Seavus viewerToday, employees at Jungheinrich Group an effective Microsoft Project companion tool for opening and viewing Microsoft Project files at a very cost effective price.

With Seavus Project Viewer, each employee now could view all project data and custom views created by the project manager. In addition, the app is available for Windows, Mac OS X, Android, iOS, Windows RT and online with the free app. This has resulted in a more efficient and effective flow of information to all project stakeholders.

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Joel RobertsAbout the Author:

Joel Roberts is a Project Management Consultant and an established author with more than 12 years of experience in working for Seavus Project Viewer and PrimaveraReader – solutions for viewing and analyzing project plans by the project team.

She is passionate about Mind Mapping and innovation management and her articles have been featured in more than a hundred project management and business websites.

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