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Make Time for Face Time

By Philip E. Quigley, CFPIM, PMP | September/October 2013 | 23 | 5

Yes, you do need these technologies such as Skype for communicating with your team, and you should use them. Just make sure they are complementing, not taking the place of, in-person meetings.Strategies for managing your global team

More and more project teams are working together across time zones and continents. They communicate via email, conference calls, Skype, web conferencing, and more. These technologies save travel cost and, often, time and effort. However, sometimes they hinder processes. Add to that the difficulties associated with team members being from different cultures and speaking different languages, and things can get really difficult. A project manager must ensure there is effective team communication.

The first step is to admit you need a communication plan. Try the following exercise: Have a team meeting, during which someone gives a detailed explanation of a design, status, or challenge he or she is facing. Then, have everyone on the team—no matter where they are in the world—write down their understanding of the presentation. You likely will discover some language barriers, misunderstandings of technical issues, and other confusion people normally don’t want to admit. This isn’t incompetence, it’s just being human—and it’s the team leader’s job to fix.

Next, establish regular, in-person gatherings for the entire team. Consider three days of working meetings that are clearly planned with specific agendas. These get-togethers should be give-and-take sessions where everyone gets up and presents, discusses points, and shares information on a whiteboard. Team members must listen well and then come up to the front of the room and summarize for the rest of the team the topics that have been discussed. Tell the entire team that everyone must be clear on various plans, processes, challenges, and the like. Thus, the team will spend time making sure there is real understanding. This isn’t just about language barriers; sometimes it’s the engineer misconstruing what the finance guys are saying or the salespeople being unclear on the software developers’ discussions.

Plan and budget for these meetings. What sells executives on them—and gets you the necessary resource allocation—will be your success. Quite simply, project teams that meet together are more successful than those that don’t.

Note that it’s also worthwhile to have informal meals together so everyone gets a chance to know each other in a relaxed setting.

Documenting the process

There is another part to the communication plan: formal, day-to-day, week-to-week reporting on a project or product. A system must be created to collect and manage the data gained from weekly status reports, plans and schedules, work meetings, and more. This tool could be a Lotus Notes database, Microsoft SharePoint portal, or a custom website or similar solution. Make sure all the discussions, notes, and minutes are kept. Status reports must be stored and a system developed to track issues, problems, and risks. Teach team members about these tools and how to audit them on a regular basis. This is essential for meeting legal requirements and to show executives that you are following processes, policies, and procedures. You won’t realize how important these are until you have a problem that involves contracts or agreements.

These process documentation steps should be integrated into a series of meetings via conference call, Skype, and so on. Yes, you do need these technologies, and you should use them. Just make sure they are complementing, not taking the place of, in-person meetings. Philip E. Quigley, CFPIM, PMP, teaches at Chapman University’s Argyros School of Business and Economics and California State University at Fullerton. He may be contacted at pquigley@fullerton.edu.

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