Tuesday, February 12, 2013

6 Common Pitfalls to Avoid in Managing Distributed Project Teams

The following is a guest post from Andrew Filev of Wrike.
 According to a survey we ran with 1,000+ employees of various organizational levels, over 60% of them expect their work to go fully virtual in the next few years. Given that remote collaboration is becoming a more and more widespread trend, project managers need to quickly adapt their practices to the changing realities. So, what pitfalls are there to expect in managing distributed teams, and how can you avoid them?
Putting too much hope in self-organization leads to false expectations
Even though a virtual team generally enjoys some extra flexibility, it is deceiving to believe that it will function effectively without enough managerial control. Even more than co-located teams, distributed workers need common guidelines to get their efforts synchronized. For example, when and how to report on work progress, how to deliver results, which best practices and standards to adhere to in the process, etc. Simple and concise rules of work organization will help to get the team coordinated­ at any distance.
Reports instead of conversations lead to miscommunications
If the team’s communication is limited to exchanging tasks and reports, it’ll lead to at least two challenges. First of all, both the manager and the team will suffer from poor visibility into what’s really happening.  Second, this will make the atmosphere inside the team too formal. To avoid this, don’t stop talking! An ongoing conversation will keep everyone updated on the progress, help colleagues solve some questions together and also increase engagement. To add some face-to-face components, you might occasionally run a video-conference or even an offline meeting if there’s a chance.
Lacking the culture of sharing leads to frustration and low velocity
Transparency is one of the main challenges for remote teams. Often, workers get “siloed” with their own assignments, documents and reports, and all this info isn’t automatically accessible to their colleagues. Cloud technologies and social project collaboration software are great enablers in developing the habit of sharing within the team, so that work-related info isn’t isolated on personal PCs.
Not enough motivation leads to poor productivity and lack of satisfaction
Separated by distance, you can’t shake hands with every employee or pat high-achievers on the shoulder. But little things might matter. Express appreciation verbally, be that a thank-you note or a call. If your company’s policy allows, you can consider such acknowledgement options as flexible working hours, employer-paid leisure activities or personalized gifts.  
Making assignments too big leads to misalignment and poor visibility into progress
Without direct communication, there is higher risk of someone misunderstanding his goals. According to my experience, the key pain reliever in this case is assigning work in a more granular way. The remedy is simple: think big, but act small. With smaller assignments, a worker will understand them better, complete them faster and report easier. For the manager, in his turn, it will be easier to track progress both at bird-eye view and in detail.
Not believing in the efficiency of a distributed team leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy
To conclude, the biggest delusion of some project managers is being convinced that productivity stops at office walls. Yes, your employees do not gather daily at one location, but they are still a team that can be as synced, efficient and successful as a co-located one is. Don’t take the virtuality as a weakness. On the contrary – you have the opportunity to broaden your geographical, time and talent reach! You just need to find your own right mix of methods and tools to see the productivity of your distributed project team flourish.

Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, provider of popular project management software. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager, and advisor to several fast-growing ventures.


Tony Bocock said...

I'd like to agree on point number 3, the need for a sharing culture. We often discover the limits of the ubiquitous Excel sheets to follow up on projects - the worst thing in the world for sharing. It's just impossible to share real time updates. Tools such as yours and others like Project Monitor, by Virage :


empower project teams to share data and hence improve project management.
Tony Bocock

Pamela Wilson said...

Most project managers, nowadays, work on a globalized environment. With companies outsourcing major portions of a project to foreign countries, it has become essential for each project manager to learn how to overcome constraints related to language, culture and communication.