Sunday, June 15, 2008

C360 View on Virtual Teams and Collaboration

Tactics and technology are good for limited tactical situations. The question is ... how does a virtual team (Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) collaborate anywhere as a team regardless of the technology, the distance and the project culture?


Tactical Tips for Virtual Teams

Andrew Makar, PMP

May 27, 2008

Less than five years ago, the typical system implementation required the project team to be onsite at the client’s location. With the increased use of outsourcing, Software As A Service (SAAS) and the improvement in collaboration technologies like Cisco’s WebEx conferencing and Microsoft Sharepoint, system implementations can be supported with virtual teams. A virtual team is composed of geographically dispersed team members who primarily interact and collaborate with the collaboration software and telecommunications technology.

Performing tasks offsite provides companies with the flexibility to leverage remote resources without incurring travel expenses. However, according to the December 2007 Black Enterprise magazine, “virtual teams also provide challenges including miscommunication, breaches in security, and lack of worker productivity.” The challenges with virtual teams need to be balanced with their benefits.

/// When a Compass team builds a Tangible Vision, they decide on the specific wording of the goals and objectives. Mutual agreement of specific terms prevents miscommunication.

In 2007, I had the opportunity to manage three virtual software implementations including a compensation planning tool, an incident management system and a new suite of HR applications. The first two projects were comprised entirely of virtual teams, while the third implementation consisted of a hybrid approach of onsite and virtual resources.

During these implementations, the interactions with the project teams for the compensation and incident management systems were conducted through teleconferences and Web conferencing. The larger HR project consisted of onsite and remote teams. I only met the infrastructure manager responsible architecture once, but had consistent contact with him every day during the eight-month system implementation. These experiences yielded several tactical tips to remember when working with virtual teams:

Tactical Tip No. 1: Define the management processes and project guidelines upfront.
The project control and execution processes used to manage virtual teams are no different than with onsite teams. The execution of issue management, schedule management or change management may be supported with project portfolio management software or collaboration solutions. Effective projects, both virtual and onsite, ensure the project management expectations are communicated early and project teams understand how to follow the processes.
In the HR systems implementation, the PMO conducted project orientation sessions with each vendor so they understood the project expectations, status reporting procedures, meeting cadence and project norms.

/// With the Tangible Vision, the Compass team knows the specific priorities, the specific approaches and the circumstances for each milestone.

Tactical Tip No. 2: Establish and communicate the project’s meeting cadence.
Even though status reports, issue tracking and generating project metrics are viewed as mundane administrative procedures, they are critical to managing and controlling virtual projects. A meeting cadence needs to be communicated to each virtual team so they understand the process to review status on a weekly basis. Managing projects with virtual teams runs a risk that key team members may not attend status meetings or communicate as frequently. Just like an onsite project, if key team members are not attending or communicating, follow the appropriate escalation path to include the reluctant team members.

/// With the Tangible Vision, the Compass team knows when to meet and how to communicate.

The HR implementation had multiple vendors located throughout the
Europe, North America, South America and Asia. The project had multiple work streams and a common project calendar was implemented to communicate key meetings to effectively control the project and communicate status. Project teams leveraged a calendar built in Microsoft Sharepoint to keep informed of schedule and meeting changes.

Establishing these procedures upfront ensured the project team reported status by close of business on Friday and submitted a weekly status report to the PMO on Monday. Status calls were held virtually with team members representing the various countries and business units. Regardless of the presence of virtual or onsite teams, projects need to communicate the meeting cadence to ensure smooth execution.

Tactical Tip No. 3: Leverage Web-based conferencing to avoid dial-in dysfunction.
If project teams are collaborating virtually, leverage Web conferencing tools as much as possible to avoid confusion. Even if the presentation is distributed before the meeting, it helps to see the slides presented with a Webex, GoToMeeting or similar Web conferencing solution.
In the compensation implementation, every requirement session, configuration, system testing and project status leveraged a Web conference solution. The business customer liked this approach since they were able to see the solution evolve weekly, despite having the development and project management staff located in California and Florida. Without effective collaboration technologies, dial-in dysfunction can set in as virtual team members lose track of the meeting and they focus on something else until they are called back into the conference call.

Tactical Tip No. 4: Initiate in-person and manage virtually.
The global nature of projects today requires project teams to collaborate over phone, e-mail and the Internet. Before starting a project with virtual teams, project managers should encourage a project kickoff with representatives from each team attending in person. By initiating the project with representation in the room, the project team members will meet the key people who will be delivering the project over phone lines over the next few months or years. Depending on the scope and complexity of the project, additional in-person meetings may be required.

Don’t underestimate the power of looking someone in the eye and establishing that bond of trust.

Large IT implementations often involve implementing a solution in multiple countries. Visiting each country and meeting with the team members affected by the new solution will help with communication barriers and put a face on the project team that is often heard through conference calls. Once the project is initiated with in-person contact, it becomes easier to manage virtually. However, when in doubt, fly on out.

/// When a new Compass team builds their Tangible Vision, they get the opportunity to learn about each other. Trust must be established with each other before they can connect to the Tangible Vision as a team

Andrew Makar is an IT program manager who is focused on effectively translating project management theory into actual practice. Additional articles and musings on project management technique can be found on his website at
Copyright © 2008 All rights reserved.


Definition of Collaboration
1. the act or process of collaborating.
2. a product resulting from collaboration: This dictionary is a collaboration of many minds.

As a noun, collaboration means that it is an "act of working jointly; "they worked either in collaboration or independently"

As a "intransitive verb", it means "... To work together, especially in a joint intellectual effort. ..."

Our C360 view on Collaboration

Collaboration is about cooperative teamwork toward the completion of the goal. It is not about technology that enables the sharing of resources and data.

Everyone wants the silver bullet or the golden ring that enables a team to collaborate. But most people are not willing to work for it or pay for it.

Collaboration is a team interaction. How does one get a group of people to collaborate as a team? The answer is a strategic process first, not technology. Technology is not the answer. It is a tool with limitations.

The future is having a project team using a strategic process that enables them to collaborate anywhere as a team regardless of the distance, the technology and the project culture.


Collabortion Is Still a Singular, Personal Experience By David Strom


By using our Compass AE process, you and your project team are able to out-do your competition in terms of faster execution, minimize costs, mitigate risks, etc. We will touch on these important points later.

If you are interested in the specifics in using Compass AE, please contact us at contactus(aatt)collaboration360(ddott)com.

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