Virtual project management
New dimension into project management appeared with the rise of the Internet and development of collaborative software.
Virtual program management (VPM) is management of a project done by a virtual team, though it rarely may refer to a project implementing a virtual environment It is noted that managing a virtual project is fundamentally different from managing traditional projects, combining concerns of telecommuting and global collaboration (culture, timezones, language).
A Virtual Team also known as a Geographically Dispersed Team (GDT) – is a group of individuals who work across time, space, and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology. They have complementary skills and are committed to a common purpose, have interdependent performance goals, and share an approach to work for which they hold themselves mutually accountable. Geographically dispersed teams allow organizations to hire and retain the best people regardless of location.
Virtual team is an alternative to the traditional form of business organization, which is characterized by the presence of a physical office. However, in practice, more common is the mixed model, in which the company has a physical office, is used to solve most of the problems of remote workers, outsourcing or freelancing.
- Networked Teams are generally geographically dispersed and may have members from outside the organization. Many times these are composed of cross-functional members who are brought together to share their expertise and knowledge on a specific issue or topic. Membership is fluid that is to say, new members are added when necessary and existing members are removed whenever their role is completed. The lifespan of a networked virtual team depends on how much time it takes to resolve the issue. The networked teams dissolve with the completion of assigned task. Networked teams are widely used in consulting firms and technology companies.
For example, Richard Maclean & Associates, an environmental, health and safety (EHS) management consulting firm located in Arizona serving both domestic and international clients relies on other academic and government research organizations like Center for Environmental Innovation, Air and Waste Management Association, Meridian Institute, to name a few to stay competitive at a low cost.
- Parallel Teams are generally formed by members of the same organization. While delivering their primary assigned role in the organization, they take parallel responsibility, hence the term parallel team. Generally this team is formed to review a process or a problem at hand and make recommendations. Unlike networked teams, these have constant membership, which remains intact till the desired objective is achieved. Teams are generally formed for short span of time, they are very effective in multinational organizations, where a global perspective is needed.
For example, many consumer goods companies team up their sales, marketing, manufacturing and R&D professionals working at different locations into parallel virtual teams to make recommendations for the local adaptation of their product specifications.
- Project or Product Development Teams are the classic virtual teams, which were developed as early as 1990s. These were actually the pioneer in the development of virtual teams. The project or product development virtual teams are composed of subject, matter experts brought together from different parts of the globe to perform a clearly outlined task involving development of a new product, information system or organizational process, with specific and measurable deliverables. Like network teams their membership is also fluid, but unlike parallel teams, these can take decisions and not just recommendations. These are typically found in R&D division of the product-based companies.
For example, Whirlpool brought together a team of experts from United States, Brazil and Italy for a period of 2 years to develop a chlorofluorocarbon-free refrigerator.
- Work, Production or Functional Teams are formed when members of one role come together to perform single type of ongoing day-to-day work. Here members have clearly defined role and work independently. All of the members’ work combine together to give the end solution.
For example, in order to reduce cost many organizations are outsourcing their backend HR operations or even for that matter the recruitment agencies form functional virtual teams for their clients.
- Service Teams have members across difference time zones, therefore when one member in Asia goes to sleep, the other member in America wakes up to answer your queries. This is the basic model of service teams, which are formed of members spread across widely distinct geographic locations and though each member works independently, but they together perform work in continuation. It is like relay race where one takes baton from the other and run the race. These are effective as technical and customer support teams.
For example, cellular companies, banks, software companies have call/support centre, which answer calls and help you to solve problems.
- Action Teams are actually ad-hoc teams formed for a very short duration of time. Members of action team are brought together to provide immediate response to a problem and they disperse as soon as the problem is resolved.
For example, NASA forms a virtual action team consisting of leaders sitting in NASA headquarters in Houston, astronauts in space shuttle, engineers & scientists in different locations across the globe for a successful space mission.
- Management Teams are formed by managers of an organization, who works from different cities or countries. These members largely get together to discuss corporate level strategies and activities. These are applicable to almost every organization, which has office in more than one location.
- Offshore ISD outsourcing teams, they are independent service provider teams that a company can subcontract portions of work to. These teams usually work in conjunction with an onshore team. Offshore ISD is commonly used for software development as well as international R&D projects.
Pros & Cons
- Increased productivity: work is not limited to the traditional 9-5 work day as a ‘follow the sun approach’, it can results in faster time to market of products, technology and services.
- Extended market opportunity: an ability to establish a ‘presence’ with customers worldwide. This can also enable small businesses to compete on a global scale without limiting the customer base.
- Knowledge transfer: this enables companies to compete on a global scale by bringing together people with different types of knowledge into ‘online’ meetings from around the globe.
- Communication deficiency: a failure to properly communicate due to the elimination of body language or the increase of incorrect assumptions based upon cultural difference or lack of understanding.
- Poor leadership and management: the inability to communicate and deliver clear messages to the team.
- Incompetent team members: lazy or individuals that lack expertise or knowledge can have a negative impact on the team.
Challenges of managing virtual projects/teams
- The leadership challenge
While all project managers are concerned with managing the People, Processes, Information and Technology (PPTI) related to a project, PMs managing a virtual project team have additional hurdles to overcome. While a project manager may traditionally focus on one project with one team in one location, the modern, virtual PM must manage a dispersed team of contributors. Thus the need for effective project management techniques is paramount. Yet it is not the “hard” or technical skills that a PM must develop to successfully make the transition to managing virtual projects, rather it is his “soft skills” and interpersonal competencies that must be adapted. The added complexity of relationship dynamics in a virtual team environment render traditional approaches to project management inadequate.
In a virtual project setting, it is critical that the PM assumes the role of the central project leader, assuming additional responsibility than in a typical project by managing project processes, inter-team communications, and coordinating tasks. As the project leader, the PM must become more active in assuming two key roles: performance management and team development.
To manage team performance, the PM must: clearly specify the goals and direction of all tasks for all team members; establish routine and habitual meetings and communications; establish standard operating procedures (SOPs) and project processes; and continually support the team to overcome challenges in order to maintain momentum. To develop “coherence” amongst virtual team members, the PM must create opportunities for trust-building and provide recognition for successes to foster motivation.
Communication builds trust. It provides guidance, and the phrase “collaborative teams” infers that communication is taking place. Lack of communication is the one hurdle that really distinguishes the challenges faced by virtual teams. Blaine and Bowen build on Daft and Wiginton proposition that it is not quantity of information that reduces equivocally, but the quality or “richness” of that information. Richness is a property of the medium used to convey information, which includes the mediums’ ability to provide immediate feedback, use multiple cues and channels, and allow personalization and language variety. Communication can be decomposed into its data capacity and richness. A phone, for instance would be high in richness, but low in data capacity, while reports would be high in data capacity, but low in richness. Recent technologies have simply provided additional mechanisms of communication. With each new tool in the toolbox, there is a chance that a more appropriate tool exists for the communication need than existed a decade ago.
The effects of various types of communication mechanisms was the subject of a study by Eggert. He approach the topic through the framework of a dilemma game, also called the prisoners’ dilemma, public good games, or free riding game. The concept is that with collaboration two individuals achieve a better payoff, but must rely on the other person to get that better payoff. There is also an incentive to cheat or free ride where there is gain by one member at the other’s expense. They conducted seven free riding experiments where the difference between each was the type of communication related to business interfaces. These included communication by reference, identification, lecture, talk-show, audio-conference, video-conference, and table conference. Eggert evaluated the cooperation level and the stability of the cooperation for each method. He found reference and identification produced low levels of cooperation and were highly stable. Lecture, talk show and audio-conference produced intermediate levels of cooperation that were unstable. Finally, video and table conferencing produced a high level of cooperation and were highly stable as well. He concludes the business implication is that both auditory and visual communication play key roles for efficient outcomes.
Certainly video and face-to-face conferencing is not always possible with all virtual team communications. Therefore, several authors have provided guidelines for alleviating communication problems. Gould suggests the following practices:
- Including face-to face when possible, give team members a sense of how the overall project is going by providing schedules
- Establish a code of conduct to avoid delays (i.e. acknowledging email)
- Don’t let team members vanish (i.e. use calendars)
- Augment text-only communications with charts, pictures and diagrams
- Develop trust
Peterson and Stohr also have four tips for effective distance communication:
- Standards for availability and acknowledgement
- Team members replace lost context in their communication
- Members regularly use synchronous communication
- Senders take responsibility for prioritizing their communication
Other practical suggestions include establishing a communication center with a project web site. This ensures that everyone is working from the same documents and have the latest information on the team’s progress (Barker). Feldman concurs with this idea and adds that putting a project on the Internet can help build an audit trail to record the documents and details.
- Developing trust
Face-to-face contact, mentioned above, is a key to developing trust and this is initiated by a formal team building sessions with a facilitator to “agree to the relationship” and define the rules as to how the team is going to work. Informal contact is also important, e.g. sitting down over lunch to break barriers. Another benefit of spending at least two days together included going through the “forming, storming, norming, performing” dynamic more quickly. It is generally assumed that members only really know each other if they could put a face to a name.
Knowing each other was reported to lead to higher efficiency. Problems is easier to solve if team knows that person on the other side of the line. It was reported that trust was built over time, based on long-term consistent performance and behaviour that created confidence. It was estimated that range between three and nine months is the time needed to develop a comfort level and trust level with new members. Once trust is there, people will report problems to the project leader before they became official, so the leader could still do something about them. It was also advantageous to trust building if the project leader and project manager had worked together at the same site for a long time, even if they were later on different continents.
It takes time for newcomers to the company to gain the trust of their colleagues. They able to trust people’s expertise primarily with their developing knowledge of the company as well as knowledge of the task. One Project Manager commented that newcomers to the company would attend meetings, take notes, take questions and say “I’ll get back to you”, with the result that the team was at least one week behind on certain issues. A main reason that developing trust and a comfort level is “a major challenge” is the high turnover of project leaders, project managers and members.
- ↑ "The Practice and Promise of Virtual Project Management", http://www.isqa.unomaha.edu/dkhazanchi/vita/Research%20Papers/91.pdf
- ↑ Velagapudi, Mridula. "Why You Cannot Avoid Virtual Project Management 2012 Onwards" April 13, 2012 http://blog.bootstraptoday.com/2012/04/13/why-you-cannot-avoid-virtual-project-management-2012-onwards/
- ↑ Global Knowledge."Virtual Project Management (course)". http://www.globalknowledge.com/training/course.asp?pageid=9&courseid=10276&catid=196&country=United+States
- ↑ "Definition of Virtual Teams", http://managementhelp.org/groups/virtual/defined.pdf
- ↑ Management Study Guide. "Different Types of Virtual Teams". http://managementstudyguide.com/types-of-virtual-teams.htm
- ↑ Management Help. "Virtual Teams". http://managementhelp.org/groups/virtual/defined.pdf
- ↑ ExpathKnowHow. "Virtual Teams". http://www.expatknowhow.com/Documents/virtual-teams.pdf
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Hofer, Bernhard Rudolf. "Technology Acceptance As a Trigger for Successful Virtual Project Management." Thesis. University of Nebraska at Omaha, 2009. 14 Aug. 2009. Web.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 Lee-Kelley, Liz, Alf Crossman, and Anne Cannings. "A Social Interaction Approach to Managing the "invisibles" of Virtual Teams." Industrial Management & Data Systems 104.8 (2004): 650-57. Emerald. Web.
- ↑ ACADEMIC TEXTS BY ALEXANDRA KAPELOS-PETERS. "Managing Virtual Teams" http://www.alexandrakp.com/text/2010/11/virtual-pm/
- ↑ Hunsaker, Phillip L., and Johanna S. Hunsaker. "Virtual Teams: a Leader's Guide." Team Performance Management 14.1/2 (2008): 86-101. Emerald. Web.
- ↑ "Virtual Project Management", A term paper for MSIS 489. Mike Rolfes. http://www.umsl.edu/~sauterv/analysis/488_f01_papers/rolfes.htm
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 Margaret Oertig Thomas Buergi, (2006),"The challenges of managing cross#cultural virtual project teams", Team Performance Management: An International Journal, Vol. 12 Iss 1/2 pp. 23 - 30 http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/pdfplus/10.1108/13527590610652774
 "Virtual Project Management: Software Solutions for Today and the Future", Paul E. McMaho.
 "PROMONT – A Project Management Ontology as a Reference for Virtual Project Organizations", Sven Abels, Frederik Ahlemann, Axel Hahn, Kevin Hausmann, Jan Strickmann.
 "Global Software Development: Managing Virtual Teams and Environments", Dale Walter Karolak, 1999.