4 Guiding Principles for Leading Remote Project Teams
I got a mail from a recruiter, reading: Project Manager
Project Manager is considered as the main liaison between the Indian offshore teams & American technological groups by the client.
The number of remote teams all over the world has increased & taken the industry by storm. You will be amazed to know that once I was the organizer of the team that has members from almost half the planet. It includes:
- Stakeholders & management based in Los Angeles
- Firmware developers based in Netherland
- Semiconductor manufacturing facility in India
- Semiconductor packaging management in Washington State
- Semiconductor packaging facility in Malaysia
- Stakeholders, firmware developers, & testing in California
You will be amazed to know that I have never met any of the team members face to face other than the individual in California where I am presently living.
Making a time for the phone conversations was pretty difficult. You have to work with low-quality sound, poor accents & many other problems even if everyone is on a conference call. Additionally, almost 50% of the members talk in a second language even if they know English well.
So, the question here is that how anyone can manage a team where you can’t meet members face to face & can’t understand what they have to provide & other similar challenges? In this post, we will tell you about the technique to deal with this problem.
Dividing it into parts
First of all, you have to divide your problems into small parts & then understand the type of communication is required between the various parts. For example, the testing team needs to talk with the firmware developers, but the packaging team doesn’t need to do that.
You should think about managing your communication near issues, instead of locations or teams. There is a great chance that problems will vary as per the project, but you should try to keep them as tiny as possible. Putting down the needs together might be a difficult task, but the physical & functional needs would be great. You should include all the members who should be part of that chain in your communications. However, it is better to avoid those whose work isn’t needed.
Additionally, there is also a vital part played by a standard management structure. In my project, there were around eight Dutch developers but only three of them was included in the communication effort. The main duty of these three was to represent their complete team, make the communication process simple & offer additional bandwidth to the developers for writing code.
One of the vital components of company culture was precise questions & precise answers. There is need to ask questions that can only be answered in three possible ways i.e. yes, no or don’t know. This type of questions made the conversations like having a conversation with a teenager. The questions asked were like that:
Is the rate of the project is going well?
Can it be completed before the deadline?
There is no doubt that these questions are perfect for email. However, there would be no pressure on the team if each of these inquiries can be answered in the same manner. But the reality is that each question isn’t like that.
One major fundamental question of our project was “what should be the technique used for addressing 25 lines having a limited amount of memory that stretched around two dies?” Don’t know the answer can be used here, but it will offer no help. There is a need to brainstorm, & test ideas to address this type of challenge. Furthermore, you need a thoughtful exchanged ideas too.
A fairly traditional method to work together on this kind of effort is using conference calls that can be long, scheduled inconveniently, and difficult to follow. There are chances that participants might drive cars or in a bus or anywhere else. The majority of them will be on an average quality VOIP line & talking in a second language. If you ask me, then these calls aren’t fully effective & cost both time and effort.
There is no doubt that the structured written communication is a much better thing, but it plays a vital role in a dispersed project. Furthermore, the individuals working in the second language find it easier to create an email for explaining their thoughts easily. This way all the people will get an opportunity to give a better response to gathering details to explain it in front of the local team prior to responding.
There will be a longer duration taken to make decisions & you may only receive a single call & response in a day. However, it will be full of information & you don’t have to wait to know what should be done.
While managing a project plan, you should dedicate some additional time. You can go for a conference call sometimes if you are looking for quick info. We have to tell you about some important things so that written communication becomes easier:
- There is a need to divide the new questions into a new chain so that the confusion can be minimized. Have you ever checked an email that goes so long that the conversation becomes totally different from the subject line?
- You can consider email as a structured communication. There is no doubt that they are good, but you should go for the latest tool, such as Slack or another similar type of app. An email can be confused having long discussions with several people in it, but these tools can offer a solution to ramble discussions. Additionally, they also help in attaching the conversation to a task that makes the process pretty easier for identifying what you want in weeks or even months.
- Everyone have to reply as soon as possible. It will be extremely frustrating if you have to wait for a complete day to get the answer. Things will face a huge set back if you have to wait for many days. I have worked on the projects where I get 12 am calls due to the unavailability of the remote team at a particular time.
- There are instances where geography can work for your benefits. For example, the code is released by the software team to an employee who has just shown up for the work. The results of this testing can be reviewed by the software team when they show up.
- Create your plan & share it with the others. It is your responsibility as the project manager. However, the perfectly crafted .mpp profile can do nothing for you if all the members of the team don’t know what should be expected from them. That’s why I prefer to use a web-based PM tool so that each member of the team can interact as per the plan & should know the importance of their duty.
Setting high communication expectations
I prefer to send an email to an individual having a precise question even if he/she is in the same room. The reason behind that it has the less amount of disruption as compared to interrupting the individual that develop a paper trail.
However, this kind of approach can only work if each member of the team reads & responds to their email. It is a pretty easier task to walk over anyone’s desk if one doesn’t have an answer in a collocated team. But the question here is what to do if someone is in a completely different nation?
It is important that there should be an atmosphere of engaged communication around the organization, including reading each email, reply to requests at a faster rate & offer details required without being asked.
Once I worked for a small organization having a single person who worked remotely. He was the one who engages directly with our customers out of our consent & doesn’t even let us know about the results of the discussion.
All the email requests regarding details were ignored by him. Moreover, this guy doesn’t even bother to fill timesheet. When I try to talk with him, he replied that I always work in this manner.
We don’t have any expectation that he will keep the team updated about his working. There was no doubt that he was a talented guy, but his poor communication along with the distance made him a simply fail for our project. That’s why I never assigned any of my future projects to that guy.
Things won’t work always your way
It is extremely hard to manage a team that spread across the world with different individual speaking multiple languages. That’s why there is a pretty low chance that it will go without obstacles.
If you want a great communication between the members of the team, then you will find some problems on the occasional basis because of misunderstandings. It is important to move forward even if something happens wrong. One side effect of remote teams is that you won’t be able to celebrate your victory together on the successful completion of a project.
However, you can opt for a glass of wine or a cup of tea at a video call.