Virtual War Rooms
Author: Marcus Randrup
This article aims at providing insights into what a war room is in a project management context, what the vital aspects of a Virtual War Room are, and some benefits and drawbacks of Virtual War Rooms. When a Virtual War Room (VWR) is referenced, it is not an Online War Room but rather the digitalization of a Physical War Room. Another name for a VWR could be Digital War Room or Modern War Room.
- Introduction: A war room is typically a well-equipped and well-designed meeting room to help the company plan their strategy, share information between all project teams and departments, and provide a specific space for collaboration.
- War Room Development: Typically used during times of war, war rooms proved to be an effective tool in planning effective strategies and creating an organized environment to operate in.
- War Room Characteristics: C.W. Getz outlines the seven main aspects of creating an effective war room environment. Specifically, these are: Control Room, Master Program Records, Program Management Representatives, Management Policy Committee, Staff Review Meetings, Publications, and Set Procedures within the company.
- Virtual War Rooms: These war rooms implement the concepts, tools, and methods used for online meetings and make effective adaptations to better serve the purposes of the war rooms. You have increased learning, greater motivation, and better coordination between the team, however prolonged meetings and big groups lead to a few issues of demotivation and ineffectiveness.
VWR's are best suited for long-term projects, as they require a lot of resources to setup and utilize. However, if the VWR is already setup and usable, a project of any type or size can benefit from using the VWR. There is a limited amount of space, so if multiple project teams are participating in a project, it is recommended to divide the teams into their own respective war rooms. When the teams then meet in the VWRs, any relevant project updates are presented first. Then, the teams will discuss the next steps in order to progress the project forward. Finally, the teams have time to work on the different tasks that might need input from various team members, or even receive feedback from colleagues on their work. The rooms are not limited to this structure, and all projects tend to have their own structure which fits their needs best.
This article is produced as a part of the course 42433 – Advanced Engineering Project, Program, and Portfolio Management E22 at the Danish Technical University (DTU). The article builds on some groupwork principles and collaboration requirements which were mentioned throughout the PMI standards (A guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide), 7th Edition (2021)) and the British Standards ("Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2" 6th Edition (2017)). The PMI Standard highlights both the importance of having a 'collaborative project team environment' (page 28), and also the necessity to 'maintain project team engagement.' From the British Standards, page 179 outlines that 'providing direction and control over the life of the project' is critical for properly directing a project. As VWRs are able to provide the tools and space to achieve these three points, VWRs are an effective tool in Project, Program, and Portfolio Management.
What is meant by 'Virtual War Room'?
By purely looking at the nomenclature of the term 'Virtual War Room' (referred to as VWR for the rest of this article), the classic war room will be transitioned into a virtual (digital) environment. A war room is defined by Joao Sarmento as a 'room dedicated to a project to provide communication and collaboration space for a project team, and a room where people meet to exchange plans, ideas, and information in an active way'. The term 'virtual' refers to the application and use of digital technologies.
By putting these two terms together, one definition for a VWR is: A physical room deliberately equipped with digital technologies to support team communication, team collaboration, and the exchange of information. This does not mean that the war room will be in a fully online environment, but only seek to utilize virtual technologies to support the activities performed in a physical war room. As technology keeps evolving, bigger collections of tools are ready to be exploited to support the activities related to war rooms. In order to then maintain the benefits of a Physical War Room, it is critical to only implement the necessary digital technologies and to not transition into an Online War Room.
War Room Developement
The first appearance of the term 'War Room' was during World War 2. The term referred to the room at the military headquarters where only generals, war strategists, and relevant military leaders would meet. The purpose of the meetings was to discuss tactics and plan strategies to defeat their enemies. The rooms included large tables and boards to allow for visual representations of the proposed ideas and give all members a clear overview of the plan.
As war rooms had shown to be effective during the times of war, certain companies started to implement similar rooms and meetings into their own business practices. The war room that we know today is referred to as the Business War Room, or Project War Room. Like the Military War Room, this room provides a communication and collaboration space for the project teams. The rooms would typically be equipped with whiteboards and computers, while also providing a generous amount of space for the team to operate in. As explained by Nieminen et al., it is critical that these rooms are pleasant to be in and directly encourage active collaboration between the group members. This also includes being wary of exactly which equipment and technologies will support the groupwork, and which might be irrelevant.
War Room Characteristics
War rooms are one of the effective tools of management control, and perhaps one of the least understood. One person who tried to undertake the challenge of completely defining the war room was C.W. Getz. Within their book (reference number 6 in the reference section) they describe the two main types of war rooms, the four main reasons why a war room is needed, and ultimately the seven basic elements to make for an effective war room in relation to larger projects and programs. A summary of the points they made have been listed here. For a better and more detailed explanation of each point, you are further directed to the original work of the author.
The two main types of war rooms are Operational and Management War Rooms. Operational War Rooms are best used when operations are constantly changing, where systems must constantly be monitored, and where data is often represented in real-time. Examples of this include Military War Rooms, cockpits of airplanes, and spacecraft control centers.
Then we move on to Management War Rooms, which are ‘generally a horrible waste of time and money if used incorrectly.’ The purpose and use of such rooms are typically misunderstood, and the rooms tend to become overly complex, too fancy, and ineffective to work in. However, if a Management War Room is properly utilized, it ‘can be very effective at helping the organization see where it is going, what it takes to get there, and where it is right now.’ In order to be effective, this type of war room must be incorporated into a comprehensive management control system.
For large projects, programs, and portfolios, there are seven basic elements that make for an effective war room implementation. The following list can be used as inspiration for smaller projects as well, but not all elements might be relevant.
- Control Room
This is the physical room where the project teams will meet. The room should generate an ‘environment which creates awareness of information and time.’ Once the professional setting has been created, the project members partaking in the room activities should then start by presenting ‘the objectives and status information related to their responsibilities.’ This will ensure every member gets an overview of what other teams are achieving, what they are currently working on, and enable other teams to keep them accountable for their responsibilities. The objective of the room is support activities such as these in a beneficial way. The control room is in essence going to be ‘the symbol of the organization’s management control system’. A Management Control System refers to the system built around the seven elements in this list.
- Master Program Records
As the name implies, this is where data and notes should be stored. The system should be accessible by everyone, but certain editors and verification procedures must be enabled to ensure that no miscellaneous changes are made in the database. Version history would also be recommended to include in case a mistake has been made or another unforeseen event has corrupted the current version. Thereby, the data and ‘information contained in the records will be recognized by all parties as OFFICIAL.’
- Program Management Representatives
These are the main project, program, or portfolio coordinators. Typically, this role falls onto the main project managers, and should also encompass project team managers. The persons selected as representatives have mandatory and crucial involvement in war rooms, as they have top executives relying on them to properly handle their responsibilities and ensure that the necessary tasks get completely.
- Management Policy Committee
One way for ‘top executives to aid and get involved in the programs and projects of their firm’, is through communication with the Committee. The committee is a group of employees within the organization ensuring that policies and procedures of the company represent the consensus of the project teams. It is like a mediator who operates between the individual employees and the top executives.
- Staff Review Meetings
Staff review meetings are typically meetings conducted on a set time schedule, monthly or bimonthly, and they are designed to allow for a review of program charts and records within the organization. All ‘project teams are brought together to update charts and records, and then authenticate them’ with signatures of the people involved in the respective changes. A further benefit of these meetings is that top executives get an assurance that staff responsible for the day-to-day operations are creating a functioning structure and upholding their responsibilities.
An important aspect of these types of meetings is that presentations should be done by a variety of people, even the people who are ‘three of four levels below the top executive’. This can contribute to good team morale, can help clear up misunderstandings, and provide different views on the evolution of the project. It is a crucial element of the meetings as lower staff seldom have the chance to speak directly to their superiors.
Publications include ‘hard copy reports or summaries for top executives’, and can also include relevant charts, graphs, and data which are important for the project. The information should come straight from the Master Program Records, and further ‘have authenticating signatures to verify’ the accuracy of the information provided.
- Set Procedures
Some procedures that should exist within any organization include a summary of responsibilities, as it will reduce the number of misunderstandings and allow for harmony within the system. Additionally, a reporting system should be implemented to both accumulate and distribute data throughout the organization in an organized and fluid way.
Virtual War Rooms
Requirements and Recommendations for the Physical Room
Based on the criteria and aspects mentioned in the previous section, the relevant aspects will be discussed in terms of setting up a VWR.
- Physical Project Room
The first criteria necessary in having a successful VWR is that there must be one dedicated project room. This will reduce time loss from setting up and tidying the room each day. Once the specific room as been identified, it must be furnished and renovated accordingly. As the entire life of the project will revolve around this single room, the area must be pleasant to be in and motivating to work in.
- Appropriate Technology
The next key aspect is that the appropriate technology is implemented into the VWR. During this phase, one critical aspect is to only implement the necessary technologies. As mentioned in the section 'War Room Development', it is crucial to identify which technologies are necessary for the project team, and which technologies are superfluous. If unnecessary technologies are implemented into the war room, they may reduce the overall effectiveness of the teamwork, as well as consume scarce and costly resources for the company.
- Display Screens
In terms of common technologies to implement into war rooms, one evident technology would be display screens. These screens must be placed such that all users are able to view them. According to one study, users mostly prefer a screen which is in a 45-degree angle straight in front of them.
The displays can be a combination of smaller and larger screens, but it is important to consider the reachability and viewability of the screens from a distance. Due to these concerns, ‘a virtual grabber can be used to manipulate objects that are beyond the user’s immediate reach.’ This solution is preferred over the use of a mouse pointer. Mouse pointers tend to be difficult to follow from the audience, especially if multiple displays are being utilized in tandem, so intentionally designed virtual grabbers tend to be used. While conducting a presentation and manipulating the displays, it is of the utmost importance to ensure that the audience is aware of which display is being controlled at all times.
- Software Capabilities & Requirements
Transitioning to the next aspect of the virtual displays, the selected or developed software must offer ‘the possibility for multiple users to interact with digital and physical materials at the same time.’ The space should allow for the comparison between several alternatives effectively, which is an essential component of most teamwork. This aspect can be translated to system requirements such as allowing for fluid and fast interactions.
Regarding software requirements, the top executives should promote and adopt digital processes to accelerate workflow and introduce new information and communication technology tools to the project groups. These digital processes should enable the users to ‘work on separate sub-tasks without interfering with others.’ This is a reason why many companies have been observed to use multiple displays, as it ‘allows for parallel tasks and a comparison of different alternatives.’ If teams are able to communicate and share documents in real-time, it will create and promote an interactive group workspace. In the past, virtual settings have seen issues such as being tiresome and uninspiring. However, now that technologies are improving and are allowing for simultaneous collaboration on the same documents, these issues are being slightly amended.
- Sharing Information and Data Warehouse
The sharing of information and updating of records is also at the center of importance for keeping all stakeholders and project members up to date on the latest developments within a project. Therefore, there must be a ‘fluent sharing of documents within the facility and an ability to comment on them’ if there are any related doubts or inquiries. The creation of the Master Program Records is therefore recommended for any project of any size. The system should then provide ‘versatile connectivity for personal devices as well as access into corporate data systems.’ Due to the ease of connectiveness, it becomes integral for the ‘team members’ activities to be carefully monitored.’ As mentioned earlier, however, having authentication protocols in place will ensure that no tampering occurs within the database.
If it is necessary for teams to ‘communicate asynchronously, video recordings and note discussion databases’ could be created to accommodate for it.
To ensure that stakeholders stay updated on changes within the project, all activity within the space should be saved for future reference. Annotated notes and lists of decisions are vital for the stakeholders to see as they must have knowledge of any changes made, and also the reasoning as to why the changes have been made. This can be integrated into the Master Program Records, where users are able to present and directly share the documents to other users in the interactive space.
How Do You Do This in a Simple Way?
There exist certain websites such as https://www.digitalwarroom.com/ which provide a network and program package which is used to setup the basic elements of a VWR. The packages encompass some of the elements mentioned in this section. Other websites such as https://www.softwareadvice.com/ediscovery/digital-warroom-profile/ and https://www.capterra.com/p/119752/Digital-WarRoom/ sell individual program packages with a variety of tools to aid in setting up a VWR on a private or company server. Consider Digitalwarroom.com as sort of a google drive with applications inside it, whereas the other two websites are similar to office and Microsoft packages which you download onto your device. Furthermore, all of these websites provide customer service and can aid the customers with deciding which packages and tools could be helpful for their specific needs.
Advantages and Benefits
- The Classic War Room provided certain innate benefits. It has been reported that teams working in a physically collocated environment will observe “increased learning, greater motivation to work, and better coordination” within the team.
- By previously only utilizing whiteboards and flip charts, the most common problem was saving made notes. This is no longer a problem as there has been made digital versions of the notes and models, making it easier to save and store the necessary documents for later reference.
- In certain cases, it has been noted that the clients and stakeholders who partake in war room meetings tend to build more trust with the company.
- Besides being a useful part of the image of a company, it has been reported that ‘two all day sessions sometimes enable a project team to complete a week or two’s worth of work’, further showing the effectiveness of the VWRs.
- “Effective meetings are important vehicles for organizational effectiveness.”
- War rooms can be used by all types of project teams for all imaginable projects. If a room is already setup and ready to be used, even shorter projects and smaller project teams could benefit from a collocated working environment.
Limitations and Drawbacks
- As it could be argued that a VWR would allow for members to join from remote locations, this is heavily discouraged. If some members are meeting online and some are physically present, a ‘hybrid’ environment will arise. These types of environments typically result in the team ‘struggling to stay coordinated’ since it is generally difficult to get immersed properly in the teamwork.
- Virtual meeting technologies must be used with caution, especially when the scheduled meetings involve larger groups or longer durations. These meetings become less effective, and there should also be paid special attention to the organization of the meetings.
- The biggest hinderance regarding war rooms is the top executive. It is possible to make the war room work, it just requires that the boss desires it, and that the objectives are kept in proper focus throughout the project. If the correct support, technologies, and structure are provided to the war room, the tool will prove to be an effective and powerful addition to the company’s project, program, and portfolio management.
- If larger teams and multiple project groups are collaborating on a project, multiple VWRs will be required. There should be communication between the rooms, maybe with a weekly or monthly group meeting to update all participants.
- If a VWR has not already been set up, short-term projects would not be well-suited for VWRs. VWRs require time to setup, plan, and develop, and short-term project might be better off using their valuable time elsewhere. An interim VWR could be utilized, in order to have a collocated group working space.
Other Names for 'War Rooms'
For further research on the topic of war rooms, it is important to be aware of the different names and terms associated with 'War Rooms.' Throughout the research conducted for this article, the following list of terms were used to both describe and relate to war rooms. Any terms with an asterisk (*) were the most frequent and popular.
- Management Information Center- War room of the Management Control System
- Management Control System*- References the entire system around a war room
- Corporate War Room*- War room in a corporation
- Project War Room*- War room for projects
- Control Room*- Direct substitute for war room
- Military War Room- Used during World War 2, military context
- Mini-war Room- Smaller war rooms used for smaller projects
- Decision Pit- Describes small and inexpensive control rooms (Jules Due used this)
- The Pit- References older war rooms (assumed based on context), similar to the Decision Pit
- Black Friday- References top management review meetings (monthly) in war rooms, military use
- Getz, C. W. (1977). MIS and the war room. In Datamation (12th ed., Vol. 23, Ser. 00116963, pp. 66–70) For the detailed description of all of the different aspects and building blocks of a good war room, read pages 66-70 from C.W. Getz's book Datamation from 1977. It goes through the seven basic elements in great detail, as well as providing examples of how war rooms were used in some of the major projects around the world. Despite being written in 1977, many of the points and insights made are still relevant to the current-day digital war rooms.
- Nieminen, M. P., Tyllinen, M., & Runonen, M. (2013). Digital war room for design requirements for collocated group work spaces. Human Interface and the Management of Information. (pp.352-361) This excerpt specifically defines how a VWR should look. They talk about the specific requirements for Collocated Group Work Spaces, such as project war rooms. It is from a book that the three authors have collaborated on, and it gives really good insights and pointers to how an effective digital working space should look and be structured. This is becoming evermore relevant as we are in a more digitalized world, and we need to make use of the technology around us in a meaningful and beneficial way. The main example and direction they guide their publication in is skewed towards a collocated 'Design' team, for what is assumed to be a graphical design company.
- In person vs virtual meetings: Why you need both. Trackmind. (2018, November 19). Retrieved from https://www.trackmind.com/meeting-toolkit-person-digital/
- Standaert, W., Muylle, S., & Basu, A. (2021, February 26). Business meetings in a post-pandemic world: When and how to meet virtually? Business Horizons. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0007681321000665?casa_token=pPM-zE2CfNQAAAAA%3AK24iINlclIFD5vmg1JsqVlWkNw89IYJGxJ6VUCa82Hx2WUChfv-bVx9hNkD-7BbGLtSSXnBh-D7j These two documents can be used to further read up on how online and physical meetings can be used for different objectives, as well as giving recommendations for how to meet after the corona pandemic has taken its toll on society. Although it might not be too relevant for this article, it was interesting to see if Online War Rooms could be useful, but there are still a lot of drawbacks to these and currently it seems to be impractical. War rooms function best in person, using up-to-date technology and software.
The remaining references simply describe what a war room is and provide some history surrounding the term, as well as some blogs and news articles regarding Digital War Rooms.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 Sarmento, J. (2020, January 12). War Room. ProjectManagament.com. Retrieved from https://www.projectmanagement.com/wikis/398722/War-Room
- ↑ Laschinger, J., Farrell, D., & Stevens, G. (2016). Introduction. In Campaign Confessions: Tales from the War Rooms of Politics (p. 19)
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Markovic, I. (2019, December 23). What is a war room and how to use it in Project Management. TMS. Retrieved from https://tms-outsource.com/blog/posts/what-is-a-war-room/
- ↑ 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Nieminen, M. P., Tyllinen, M., & Runonen, M. (2013). Digital war room for design requirements for collocated group work spaces. Human Interface and the Management of Information. (pp.352-361)
- ↑ Nautiyal, P. (2022, January 12). This time the election is being fought not from the war room... DailyIndia.net. Retrieved from https://dailyindia.net/this-time-the-election-is-being-fought-not-from-the-war-room-but-from-the-digital-war-who-is-ahead-who-has-the-power-know/83256/
- ↑ 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 6.14 6.15 6.16 6.17 6.18 6.19 6.20 6.21 6.22 Getz, C. W. (1977). MIS and the war room. In Datamation (12th ed., Vol. 23, Ser. 00116963, pp. 66–70)
- ↑ Treffiletti, C. (2016, November 16). Coming soon: The creative war room of the future. Eicoff. Retrieved from https://www.eicoff.com/drtv-blog/coming-soon-the-creative-war-room-of-the-future
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 Covi, L. M., Olson, J. S., Rocco, E., Miller, W. J., & Allie, P. (1998, June 5). A Room of Your Own: What Do We Learn - Springer. SpringerLink. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/3-540-69706-3_7
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 Standaert, W., Muylle, S., & Basu, A. (2021, February 26). Business meetings in a post-pandemic world: When and how to meet virtually? Business Horizons. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0007681321000665?casa_token=pPM-zE2CfNQAAAAA%3AK24iINlclIFD5vmg1JsqVlWkNw89IYJGxJ6VUCa82Hx2WUChfv-bVx9hNkD-7BbGLtSSXnBh-D7j
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 In person vs virtual meetings: Why you need both. Trackmind. (2018, November 19). Retrieved from https://www.trackmind.com/meeting-toolkit-person-digital/