Clear communication is an essential part of success for any organization—even more so when you have a remote team communicating in a virtual space. Information can be easily lost when parties aren’t face-to-face, due to the limitations of technology and the natural challenges that come with working remotely. For that reason, successful virtual teams learn to compensate by using techniques and tools that help overcome these obstacles.
Here are the ten best project management techniques we’ve found, each with a spin on how they can be used for communicating properly with your virtual team. We’ve grouped them into three categories: general approaches, methodologies, and specific advice from experts. Read over all of it first, and then incorporate as many of these strategies as you can into your organization so that you’ll never have to struggle with misinformation again.
General Project Management Advice
Whether you’re working with a remote team or in a busy office, these foundational approaches to project management can help improve your work:
1. Define Your Project Clearly
No project can succeed without a clear outline. You can put one together by asking two questions: why is the project necessary, and what will you accomplish by completing it? Come up with a mission statement that is short but clear, as well as being measurable and achievable. Then make sure that everyone on your team is aware of it.
If you’re using a project management app for virtual office work, put that information in the description of the project and in every related task.
2. Perform a Stakeholder Analysis
Who is going to affect the outcome of your project, and who is going to be affected by it (or at least believe they will be)? Your stakeholders, that’s who—so you need to know who they are. Make a list, and rank it according to which of your stakeholders are the most important for your project. Then make sure your team is aware of these details.
3. Find Consensus on Project Success
How will you know that your project has been a success? That’s partially up to you, but it’s also up to your stakeholders. You’ll need to do some research: what are they likely to view as the signs of a successful project? Understanding these standards will help your team focus their work for maximum effect.
For example, if you’re creating a task description in a platform like Gryffin, you might say something along the lines of: “The client wants this content to reflect the usefulness of their products, and will consider it a success if it drives up traffic to their ecommerce store by ___% over the next ___ months.”
Project Management Methodologies
Once you clearly understand the core ingredients of successful project management, try adopting one or more of the following methodologies to make things even smoother:
Waterfall project management methodology is ideal for projects where individual team members depend on each other’s work to complete tasks in order. For example, your organization might be a digital marketing firm redoing the website for one of your clients—one of your team members will have to write the copy for the new site before another can choose appropriate images, and another will be responsible for arranging the content into an optimized page.
Waterfall management often takes advantage of Gantt charts to represent the timelines for various tasks and their relationships to one another, so it’s best to invest in a project management tool with built-in Gantt charts and task-tracking if you want to use this valuable method.
5. Rational Unified Process
RUP is useful when applied to projects that are likely to be repeated in the future, because it is based on the idea of incorporating client feedback for better results in the next iteration. The process itself is similar to Waterfall methodology, so similar project management tools will be of great use to PMs who decide to employ this technique.
6. PERT Project Management
PERT project management originally comes from Cold War defense contractors, and as such is uniquely suited to tackling one-time, large-scale undertakings. As such, it represents an alternative to the two approaches listed above, which are generally more useful to SMEs. The method itself is based on tracking two types of action: events (used in this context to measure progress) and activities (which actually create the progress measured). Timelines and budgets are calculated by predicting the amount of time between events as the project approaches completion.
Project Management Techniques from the Experts
Having tried and true methodology at your disposal will pave the way to your success, but you might still encounter blocks along the way—especially if you’re communicating in a virtual environment where things like tone and intention can be difficult to identify. The following are four tips we’ve learned from experts in the field, which can allow you to smooth out these wrinkles.
7. Make Sure You Understand Project Specifications
Lindsay Scott is a Director with Arras People, whose work focuses on improving PM careers. Her best piece of advice for project managers who want to communicate better with virtual team members is to study the guidelines of each project more closely themselves.
Remember: as a manager working in a virtual office, you’ll have limited ways to get key information across. If you have to write a paragraph to one of your team members explaining why a task is necessary, you need to have no doubts of your own about where it fits in the overall project.
8. Identify Leaders in Your Team
Ricardo Viana Vargas is the Director of the Infrastructure and Project Management Group at the United Nations Office for Project Services. He recommends assessing the work of your team members for the following qualities: trustworthiness, personal drive, and commitment to the success of the project itself.
When using a PM tool to allocate tasks, you’ll probably accomplish more by assigning critical jobs to people who fit this criteria. Use the Gantt charts or other metrics in your tool to look for team members who are handling their workload, and evaluate their work to see if they’ve gone above and beyond.
9. Focus on Positive Reinforcement
Combating negative stress is essential for managing any project, according to Suzanne Madsen, the CEO of Suzanne Madsen International, Ltd. It’s easy to take her advice and apply it to the way you communicate in chats, emails, and direct messaging apps.
Being blunt might save you typing time, but remember: your team members might never have met you in real life. They don’t know you’re actually a nice person when they read the comments you’ve written about their work—in fact, if you don’t take time to phrase things properly your habit of being “to the point” could actually be demoralizing.
10. Understand Cultural Differences, Language Barriers, and Time-Zone Changes
Founder of ThePMCoach Thomas Kennedy is quick to point out that when you work in a virtual office, you’ll often be dealing with team members from all over the world. As such, it’s extremely important to understand how their various experiences might have shaped their values and, more importantly, their work habits.
He also focuses on the logistics of managing virtual teams with members in different regions—is that employee really not responding to your urgent email, or are they in a timezone where it’s currently midnight? Understanding these factors can reduce your stress as a manager and allow you to communicate with your team members in the way they’ll be most receptive to, increasing your odds of success.
We can identify our favourite project management techniques for you, but it’s up to you to decide which of them will fit into your organization and implement them appropriately. Hopefully, you’ll find plenty of tips above that you can integrate into the way you approach future projects so that you and your virtual team can earn all the success you deserve.