Managing Virtual Project Teams

For many project managers, managing a virtual project team is becoming an ever-increasing reality, as more and more organizations are integrated and drawn together on a global scale. Geographically dispersed team project team are common in the new global economy. I recall being assigned to manage a project in New Jersey, where I quickly found out the locations of my project team:

• The contractor was located in Georgia.

• The executive sponsor was located in California.

• The business owners were located in New Jersey.

• The developers were respectively located in Germany, Ireland, and Singapore.

• The analysts worked mostly from their homes in Virginia, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Today, project teams establish communication primarily through the use of electronic meeting rooms. Communication tools such as telephonic conference bridges, e-mail, calendars, document sharing, and video conferencing are becoming more common on project meetings. The biggest challenges encountered on virtual projects are taking international time zones into account, understanding one another, and establishing a platform for effective communications (see Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4: Working with decentralized teams and projects

The project manager relies on the integrity of the virtual project team to receive and understand their respective delegated project tasks and perform them accordingly, without these resources coming back and stating they did not understand the urgency and full nature of the task. In order to help the success of the virtual team, the project manager needs to establish certain criteria.

• The project manager should be certain that effective electronic communication tools are put in place. (i.e., e-mail, Internet, Voicemail, etc.) Any e-mail system should be setup correctly, in a standardized manner, in order for all members to receive and send mail.

• Mail should be written in an effective manner that communicates the precise information to the recipients.

• The project manager should develop and implement a communication plan that guides virtual project members on all the communication formats used on the project, frequency of meetings, time zones, mail, how to deal with urgent tasks, and so forth.

• The project manager should set up a centralized project information portal for all virtual members to access the relevant project data and information.

• He or she should create a schedule of pre-arranged telephonic conference calls for project status meetings.

• He or she should arrange a face-to-face meeting during project initiation at a kick-off meeting or workshop, a face-to-face during project execution, and another one after project implementation.

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