The Virtual Project Manager

The fact that the modern world is fast becoming a global village is by no means a new concept. The steady rise of countries like China, India and various former Warsaw Pact nations like Poland and Russia has greatly expanded the reach and investment of companies and venture capitalists. With this expansion and the corresponding influence of the internet, the concept of virtual teams has become very common-place. Disparately located individuals, whether they be engineers, QA, marketing or sales representatives has added an additional level of complexity for the project manager, who must now contend with timezone issues, cultural differences, and simple logistical concerns of managing individuals who are not co-located.

With that being said, how does the ‘Virtual Project Manager’ prepare themselves to adequately deal with these new challenges? What types of concepts, ideas, methodologies and tools can the Project Manager leverage in order to be able to run virtual projects smoothy?

Utilize and Implement a Successful Infrastructure

Whenever dealing with a virtual team, it is important that you leverage the tools available that will allow for succesful communication and information sharing between team members. A teleconference system that can support active dialing from various global countries is a must. Content sharing technologies like WebEx, LiveMeeting or Cisco Telepresence are invaluable for being able to convey live content. Additionally, leveraging webcams or having access to conference rooms that support live video chat will give the dialog a more personal feel.

Have an Effective Communication Plan in Place

The team members will need to have some agreed upon communication medium that will allow for back and forth dialog. Email is an obvious choice, especially when dealing with timezones. Additionally, a wiki or messageboard style system or tool will allow for a running history of the discussions between team members. Whatever, the medium, what is most imperative is that it is implemented and used consistently. If members of the same team begin using disparate methods of communication, it will be far more difficult for collaboration to occur as well as making things harder for the project manager to maintain.

Continuously Monitor Status from Remote Team Members

Holding regular status meetings or receiving status updates from team members will ensure that progress is being monitored effectively. Additionally, if tools such as version control, bug tracking or test case tracking are being used, the project manager should have accounts to all systems so that he/she is able to easily draft reports from the systems. (And of course, make sure that the same tools are being used by all members of the team)

Implement a Scalable Process

Not all process methodologies are created equal. And certain ones simply do not scale well in situations where the team is disparately located. The project manager should evaluate the process they are planning to implement and ensure that it is something that will function adequately in this environment. Remember that an effective process is one that functions well for the current situation; and that means that not all cookie cutter processes should be adopted simply because they worked in other scenarios. Process is one of the most important aspects of a successful project and great care must be taken to implement it successfully.

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