Keeping your Projects on Track in a Virtual Environment.
Whilst it’s certainly not a new concept, it’s fair to say that remote working has become the new reality for many project teams in recent months, with many projects having to quickly transition into remote working situations. Some of our own projects have literally had to transition overnight. Whilst there are countless benefits to be gained, managing projects remotely – particularly if you and your team are not used to this – can present many new challenges that never existed with everyone co-located.
However, navigating this new approach is not as difficult as it might seem at first. The good news is that it’s not a case of having to reinvent the wheel. With just a few adjustments, revisiting the basics and doing them really well, there is no reason your project cannot stay on track. So, what are those adjustments? In this article, we would like to share some of the key techniques which have worked well for us in this new world of ‘virtual project management’.
Set Clear and Realistic Goals
Now more than ever, it’s important that everyone on the project team is on the same page in terms of the project scope, objectives, tasks and their roles and responsibilities. Ensuring that all project team members are clear on their own tasks and each other’s tasks is key. A clearly documented Project Initiation Document (PID) and project plan are key documents to focus on here.
Using online tools such as Microsoft Planner or Trello can be an effective way to track and manage task allocation and progress reporting within a virtual environment. They provide a highly visual way to organise your project’s tasks so that nothing gets forgotten. This level of transparency and accountability helps keep remote teams on track and virtual projects moving.
Develop a Clear Communication Plan
As project managers, we are familiar with developing a Communications Plan – although this usually focuses on stakeholders outside the team. Now is the time to apply that same methodology within your project team. The plan will vary depending on the nature of your project and the size of your project team – but a schedule of regular, clear communications without lengthy gaps in between is key – whilst avoiding online meeting overload.
Consider a mix of smaller team meetings as well as larger meetings, as they can be more effective in ensuring everyone’s voice is heard. Go back to basics in terms of issuing agendas and minutes for meetings to ensure attendees are clear on the meeting purpose. In chairing online meetings, encourage everyone to stay engaged by ensuring they have a chance to contribute – delegating elements of the meeting to different attendees can help with this.
Using Collaboration Tools to Support Teamwork
There are multiple collaboration tools available in the marketplace, which can be invaluable in a virtual project environment. It’s easy to sometimes view these tools as ‘just another way of communicating’ but they can go much further in facilitating a work environment between remote users and fostering a sense of teamwork. We use Microsoft Teams for a range of purposes including:
- Online chat – a great way to reduce email or just stay connected throughout the day
- Host online meetings – including screensharing
- Facilitate document sharing
Other tools such as Microsoft Planner and Trello Boards mentioned above have also proven their use in terms of task and progress management.
Centralised Documentation and Keeping Documentation Up to Date
In harnessing the advantages which online collaboration tools can offer however, there is also a need to keep the information available via these tools up to date. This ensures your project team members have the confidence that they’ve got the latest information. There’s nothing worse than realising you’ve just spent the last hour working on an old version of a document!
This may mean a shift in your current working practices to ensure you are working within these software tools (e.g. Sharepoint) to keep your project documentation up to date. This can be a simple change such as defaulting to storing your documents online rather than on your offline folders.
Keep in Regular Contact with Your Project Team
In a remote working environment, there are fewer opportunities for spontaneous conversation, or even those informal chats which help team members build a relationship with one another. Set time aside in your schedule to include one-to-one interaction with members of your team – this gives them time to share questions or concerns that they may not raise on a group call and helps to build trust, both ways!
Also allow time at the start or end of the meeting for the informal chat which would usually accompany a face-to-face meeting. There can be a tendency to launch straight into your Powerpoint slides or the meeting agenda, but these informal communications can be a powerful way to build and maintain team rapport.
Another useful technique could be to setup a system where project team members are paired up randomly with another team mate for a short weekly call – this can be used to chat about items that are non work related and allow people to continue feeling connected to one another.
We have also migrated our daily ‘Huddles’/Stand-ups online to ensure a regular touchpoint for everyone in addition to the regular project meeting schedule. Lasting no more than 15 minutes each morning it’s a great way to keep up contact between everyone.