Sunday, October 01, 2006

Managing Virtual Teams - Use of Collaboration Tools

Today virtual project teams are composed of people separated by vast distances who communicate primarily by computer and telephone, and is more the norm than the exception. They use networks to develop a sense of community among project team members who may be far-flung geographically and to keep channels open to various regional and functional units that can contribute to the project or be impacted by it.

Web enabled project management software helps virtual project teams plan and track progress of widely dispersed project components, keep the various components in sync with each other, manage project change across the board, and deter local scope changes from overwhelming the project. Project teams today move faster and work under more pressure than ever before. To expedite information sharing and to accelerate decision making, project managers are using team collaboration tools.

Collaboration tools also help manage multi-cultural teams. But only when used with care. Most virtual teams consists of culturally diverse members - who can understand at least one common language. The project manager must therefore establish a common communication standard which is acceptable by all members. I prefer using standard communication templates for inter-team communication. These templates does not allow use of local phrases or slangs, and enforces a standardized communication between the team members. The downside of these templates is that one loses the wealth of eloquent language in communications - but on the positive side, a simple straight forward communication helps manage multi-cultural teams better.

There are two such tools that are ideal for small firms & startups. One is Proworkflow and the other is Agenda. ( However, these tools may not be ideal for large enterprises - as they will not meet several requirements that are typical of a large organization)

Project Workflow Management

Today I work in an IT services company - where teams are distributed all over the world. A small part of the team works along side with the customer while 90% of the team works far away from the client. In such an environment, the complexity of project management is so high that it is actually impossible to manage a project without a good project workflow management software.

Recently, I had the opportunity to implement a Project Workflow Management software for a project at British Telecom company. In my previous company too we had implemented a customized project management software - called "OpenAccess".

A web based project workflow management software enables all members to login and coordinate their activities, the project manager can assign tasks to members and monitor the progress. The project status and tasks are communicated via email in a standardized templates - this minimizes miscommunication and improves team coordination.

Project workflow management tool should do the following:

  • Create/Edit projects
  • Assign resources/people to projects
  • Create tasks & assign responsibility to complete those tasks
  • Monitor project status - Track the current status w.r.t allocated time for the task
  • Warn on overdue tasks - via emails & color coded indicators
  • Generate quick summary on timely basis
  • Manage time sheets for members - to help resource management
  • Manage billings for contractors and consultants who are shared across projects
  • Generate invoices against completed delivery
  • Manage contacts for project members
  • Provide a Project bulletin boards to share project notes
  • Generate detailed project reports
Project Reporting Software

Every project management software needs a good reporting system. Project reporting tools are vital for the smooth functioning of Project management office and effecient resource management. Typically a project reporting software should be able to:

  • Generate the reports about employees' and their teams' tasks;
  • Export, Print or Email all reports.
  • Project Summary - Tasks and status including staff reports.
  • Project Summary -Includes all Staff Time Records
  • Summary of all project’s financial details: Invoice, unpaid, overdue etc.
Closing Thoughts

Managing virtual project teams needs software tools to improve comminution and coordination between team members. In my experience - these tools are vital for the success of International projects where people of multiple nationalities are working across geographies. These groupwares help organizations mitigate cultural differences and overcome cross-cultural communication problems.


Arun Kumar said...

In my opinion, this article focuses more on the "factory" style of collaboration within distributed teams where every person has a relatively narrowly defined role.

If you want to move up the value chain, particularly in offshoring projects, you need to take on more strategic/challenging projects where the greater challenge is not in sharing lists of "to-do's" and documents, but rather in sharing project context which is the overall view of the project's strategy and organization.

I would argue that traditional list-oriented tools are inadequate for distributed teams working on truly strategic projects, and a peer-to-peer visual approach, such as Kerika's, should be considered.

robert said...

Project has dominated the project management tools market for a long time,Project Management Software
but it is starting to face competition from open source