April 28, 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!

Virtual Teams – 6 Lessons for Success

successfully managing virtual teams

Being the project manager of a virtual team can be quite a challenge. The normal rules for teams who are co-located do not apply to virtual teams.  With the advances in technology it has become easier to organise and manage dispersed groups of people.  This post will focus on the lessons to apply to successfully manage virtual teams.

Some advantages of virtual teams are that companies can hire the best talent regardless of their location. Similarly for projects, you may hire the best resources for the relevant roles on the project team to ensure you have the most suitable people to perform the project tasks.

One problem is that companies tend to treat their virtual teams the same way than they treat teams who share a location. Leaders and project managers need to realize that different guidelines and best practices would apply to virtual teams.

From a study done by OnPoint Consulting, it was found that virtual teams have common pitfalls:

  • Lack of clear goals, direction, or priorities due to communication challenges with dispersed teams.
  • Lack of clear roles among team members. It is very important for virtual team members to understand their individual roles and how their work impacts other team members.
  • Lack of cooperation and trust due to lack of face-to-face contact.
  • Lack of engagement. Virtual teams can be more distracted and there is a lack of dynamic face-to-face interaction.

In the book: “Virtual Team Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance” (Jossey-Bass/A Wiley), there are 6 lessons for creating successful virtual teams:

1.       Focus on people issues. It is easier to succeed when the whole team is engaged and communicating

2.       No trust, no team. Sometimes in virtual teams trust is more at a task level than at an interpersonal level. It is important that the team meets face-to-face early in the team’s formation.

3.    Soft skills are essential. Virtual teams who have been through team building and interpersonal skill development perform better.

4.    Watch out for performance peaks. Many virtual teams face a performance peak after about 12 months. For virtual project teams this could be after shorter periods like 6 months.  After that performance tends to decline.

5.    Create a high-touch environment. Virtual team members need to meet at least once a year and for project teams regularly throughout the phases of the project.

6.    Virtual team leadership matters. Leadership is the factor most important to the success of virtual teams. Team leaders in a virtual environment must be especially sensitive to interpersonal communication and cultural factors.

Better planning around the formation and management of virtual team can have a major impact on virtual team success.  In a nutshell, these are some pointers to assist you with managing successful virtual teams who perform as expected and who can achieve synergy despite being physically apart. If you have experience working with virtual teams, please share some of your lessons in the comments section.

In the next post I am going to share some lessons that I have learnt from working with virtual teams and what the important factors are to manage consistently.

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Working with Virtual Teams – Techniques for maximum efficiency

Following on from the previous post about useful tools for working with virtual teams, this post is about useful techniques to make working with virtual teams more efficient.

techniques for working with virtual teams

The techniques for working with virtual teams are less tangible than the tools. Now, let’s look at some techniques that are useful when working with virtual teams.

Techniques for working with virtual teams

Techniques are the application of knowledge, tools and procedures that enable and achieve maximum efficiency from virtual teams.

  • Competencies and skill – As with any other team the structure of the virtual team should factor in competency and skills that are required to accomplish the project. Competencies and skill should be balanced to ensure that there is no polarization.
  • Feedback – Since the team seldom meets face to face, there is a possibility that some of the team members become passive with respect to feedback. As a project manager working with virtual teams it is important to encourage and provide timely feedback. Feedback also helps uncover hidden risks and opportunities of improvement. Feedback should always have a follow-up action plan associated with it.
  • Roles and responsibility clarification –  Lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities can creep up very quickly in a virtual team environment. Establishing ownership and accountability is critical to avoid conflict and ensure the team’s effectiveness. Implementing a project responsibility assignment matrix and publishing it can help mitigate this risk.
  • Multicultural sensitivityVirtual teams are usually spread across geographies. Team members may come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. In such cases it is helpful to understand these uniqueness and values beforehand and make the teams aware of it to avoid potential disasters. Casual socialization meetings like during a project kick-off are excellent times to initiate such awareness.

Do you have experience working with virtual teams? What are the tools and techniques that you have found most effective? Got feedback? Please comment and share it here…

The next post on “Working with virtual teams” will focus on the critical success factors that determine the effectiveness of virtual teams.

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About the author: Sam Palani, (PMP),is a Senior IT Project / Program Manager and Technology Management consultant. He specializes in managing enterprise projects and technology initiatives. Sam blogs about his experiences in project management, technology and other things that help you be more effective on his blog www.aroundthechaos.com. You can also follow him on twitter: @samx18

Working With Virtual Teams – Useful Tools

Working with virtual teams is a challenge that many project managers are facing today. Virtual teams are individuals or groups who dispersed geographically, but work together to accomplish a common goal or a project scope. These teams may have limited or no face to face interactions. Though the team members may be physically located in different geographies, they share a common goal and have roles and responsibilities defined like any other project teams.

virtual teams
Working with virtual teams is rapidly becoming a standard and is no longer an exception. Although the cost benefits of having virtual teams is a primary factor and business justification for working with virtual teams, knowledge availability is also a key driver. Sometimes the required knowledge and skills might not be available locally or at one place. In such cases a virtual team might be a very good option. Similarly, virtual teams are also created to address time zone related requirements i.e. where round the clock work is required. Then work is shared between teams located in different time zones.

Tools (Technology) for Virtual Teams

Let’s look at some tools that facilitate working with virtual teams. Useful tools include software, hardware and the underlying technology that supports or enables them. The tools also include the innovations in network infrastructure which is the backbone for virtual teams enabling organization to operate in a true border-less ecosystem. These tools are primarily technology driven and facilitate collaboration and communication between teams.
Collaboration Tools

Collaboration tools enable virtual teams to accomplish the common goal. Virtual teams need to interact in the same manner as [Read more…]

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