It surprises me how many organizations seem to believe that project management is first and foremost about making budgets and time plans and how little effort they actually spend on creating a sound collaborative environment for their projects, even when they are using remote (virtual) teams. Project managers should not be seated in front of their laptops to create time plans and budgets with a project management bible in their lap. Instead, they should try to create an environment for their projects that fosters efficient communication and collaboration. With that in place, they can focus on defining and clarifying the goals and main deliverables of the project, finding the right people and making them connect and get to know each other. After having defined what the project is to achieve and what resources are available to it, the project manager should use the time constraints and budget to shape and trim the project.
As a project manager, it is essential to try to understand what is needed for achieving efficient collaboration within the team and with project stakeholders. James Dellow points to the following collaboration challenges for remote teams in a post about Collaboration challenges and success factors:
- "Willingness to collaborate (driver by a combination of necessity and opportunity);
- That all the people involved have the right collaboration skills; and
- Having access to and selecting the right information and communication technologies (ICT)."
He then presents the following critical success factors for creating a sustainable virtual team:
- "Control - does the team have a clear sense of direction and progress towards their objective;
- Enabling Resources - this includes providing people with time to collaborate, funding for travel when required, people to provide support and also the right work environment and facilities, etc; and
- Communications - extra effort is required to supplement the social capital that is created naturally in a co-located team through a combination of formal and informal communication."
He continues with making this important point:
"Underlying these challenges and critical success factors was the point that all these issues that can be managed, but often required forward planning (through a start-up or refresh process for existing remote teams)."
It is clear to me that a lot can be done to create an environment that can foster efficient communication and collaboration for projects, and that providing access to the right collaboration technologies is a big part of that work. In a post about team-based project management, David Coleman gives this simple and powerful example of how the proper use of collaboration tools can shorten the project execution time:
"Imagine you’re a contributor on a project and you are in the project space looking at a document and you have a question for one of the authors of the document. Today, the mechanism to deal with this is e-mail. You have to flag the document. Possibly highlight the area in question, and then e-mail your question to the author(s) in question, a process that could take days!
Now imagine the same scenario, but you had IM and Presence Detection integrated into the project software. You could see that one of the author’s is on Yahoo Messenger, you can ping them, ask your question, make the change to the document, and be done in a matter of minutes instead of days .
This is where RTC (real-time collaboration) tools really shine, in facilitating the interactions between those in a project, not cutting the task time down (although that may occur also). If you look at how the work really gets done on a project, it is the time in between the task work that really kills your schedule. If some of that inactive time can be made productive and cut way down, then the whole project will move faster."
Organizations that execute a lot of projects with remote teams should not hesitate to embrace Enterprise 2.0 technologies such as wikis, blogs and real-time communications and find out where and how these can contribute to a more efficient environment for communication and collaboration.