Staying in control without being controlling.

One of the most challenging things about managing multiple projects and teams is staying on top of everything. Just because we do our planning, size the effort, select reasonable deadlines and assign the tasks all so efficiently, it doesn’t mean everyone else is going to sit down and immediately start cranking out the work so we can happily check things off as ‘done’ and delight the client by completing everything on time.

No, in these days of virtual team members scattered all over the continent in different time zones, keeping weird hours, and working several jobs or projects, it can be much more difficult to track people down or get results when you need them. The other problem is that we often assign the individual work packages in our online systems without making sure the end vision and components are well understood. What happens is folks are off and running then often MIA or unavailable when you figure out something is overdue, over budget or (and?!) not what the client ordered and you need to get it straightened out .

Here’s our management hints:

  • Have a kick off call or walkthrough with your team members so everyone is clear on the project outcomes and where they contribute.
  • Have a good requirements document (and keep it updated) so team members have something to refer back to as they are working. Just having a list of tasks does not provide enough framework, context or guidance.
  • Know team members schedules (as much as they can be known). If you know they are only available in the evenings you won’t be driving yourself crazy all day waiting for responses to your emails etc.
  • Find out the best (most effective) way to get hold of (nag) each team member when you just have to know what’s going on. Instant messaging (Skype etc) is becoming very popular for stalking team members to get those updates or work packages done.

It always comes back to communication and how it’s the largest part of the project manager’s job. In the virtual team or collaborative environment and especially with part-time resources, more diligence and tactics are required so you can lead – not follow – your team!