enabling global project management
Blending time zones and nationalities, the Internetworked project team makes a reality of virtual project management.
by Richard Burke
The result of the collaborative effort described in this article is the CD-ROM Sensational Italy! An Interactive Tour of Food, Wine & Culture, which was produced and copyrighted by Epicurean Technologies of Gloucester, Ontario, Canada.
IMAGINE WORKING ON A PROJECT where your team speaks more than one language; where members are stationed in several countries and in different time zones. Imagine organizing a project where your team is a mixture of technical and nontechnical skill sets and is working on a variety of platforms and operating systems and where most team members have never met nor seen the other players. And imagine that you had a nine-month deadline to produce a completed, tested, packaged product
Such a set of project circumstances could easily spell disaster, yet as development becomes increasingly virtual, these circumstances are becoming more common. I have first-hand experience as a project manager of an interactive CD-ROM project that was built primarily over the Internet. The project was one of personal interest: a series of gastronomic CD-ROMs with a focus on the food, wine and cultures of various regions around the world. The challenge was to produce and combine various elements such as intelligent databases, video, audio, photographs and marketing material prepared by people in several countries and speaking several languages, and roll it up into a highly effective, salable product.
The electronic highway means different things to different people. For software developers it is a method to collaborate inexpensively and globally with people of complementary skill sets. For example, culinary experts, photographers and musicians created text, audio and video portions in Italy. Material was edited in Ottawa, London, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Programming and usability testing was done in Victoria and Ottawa. Video and audio remixing was performed in Toronto. Advertising, packaging and promotional material was crafted in Santa Monica and Santa Rosa, California, and consumer-tested globally.
This fragmented multidisciplinary team posed some very interesting challenges. Many of the team came from different cultures and had never met, let alone ever worked together. Team building, bonding, and getting to know each other was obviously difficult not only due to geography but also due to time constraints. Try building enthusiasm and a quality focus via short, terse e-mail messages.
Tools that accelerated our success were a private intranet site and copious quantities of e-mail and teleconferencing. The Internet was instrumental in delivering work products from team to team. For example, contracted photographers would scour Italy for material, scan their photographs in Milan and e-mail them as JPEG files to Victoria. Music, recorded exclusively for the CD, was digitized in Florence and mailed electronically as WAV files. Videos shot in Rome and Tuscany were edited locally in Ottawa and sent to Victoria. Using the Internet clearly reduced courier charges and reduced project time lag.
Over the course of the project our internal Web site was populated with storyboards, draft program screens, sample packaging, sample advertising, and other items in progress. With an intranet site, team members could collectively review and exchange ideas. The intranet thus became a great brainstorming medium. One team member was designated as an informal Joint Application Design (JAD) facilitator, to filter all the feedback and to compile and determine the impact of all change requests.
The Internet also greatly facilitated quality reviews. Reviewers of selected backgrounds were recruited from Internet newsgroups and briefed. Within cyberspace the location of a tester was no limitation. Our testers came from far-flung places like Singapore, The Netherlands, England, Germany, as well as all across North America. An FTP site was implemented and beta copies were downloaded by the volunteer testers. The quality, timeliness and thoroughness of the results were quite impressive, yielding favorable reviews by the consumer media.
Of all the project's resources the Internet was clearly the least expensive, costing less than our monthly coffee bill.
Working against the clock in such a virtual global environment required strong yet flexible project management. From the onset, a clearly defined statement of work and product descriptions had to be communicated and understood by all. Standards and quality reviews had to be rigidly followed. With time to market being critical, the age-old directive to “do it right the first time” was paramount. As the project manager, it was also necessary to work at all hours. Early morning was great to confer with people in Italy and Britain; late afternoon was opportune to review work products with people on the West Coast.
Despite all the variables and the hectic schedule, the final product has been an unqualified success. The CD-ROM has received accolades in San Francisco, Chicago and Ottawa. Several newspapers have nominated it as best of its class, including a five-star rating by two publications. Compared to the typical 12- to 18-month development time frame for most CD-ROMs, critics were amazed that it took less than eight months to produce a product with such functionality.
USING CYBERSPACE ENABLED people of a variety of skill sets and talents to be linked together electronically at minimum cost to produce stellar results. But the critical common denominator was good, strong project management. ■
Richard Burke, director of product development with Epicurean Technologies in Gloucester, Ontario, Canada, is a member of PMI and currently in the PMP certification program of his local chapter.
Reader Service Number 5021
PM Network • April 1998
PMI research shows project teams that draw from an array of perspectives and skillsets deliver powerful outcomes.