Project Management Institute

Virtually agile

Remote teams can be managed the agile way.

THE AGILE Project Manager

Remote teams can be managed the agile way.

BY JESSE FEWELL, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

The Agile Manifesto declares, “The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a [project] team is face-to-face conversation.”

But what if your project team is spread across multiple vendors in different cities? What if those cities are in different time zones with conflicting work cultures? What if part of your team works from home? Today’s virtual work environments mean getting valuable face time can be a struggle. However, with a few extra steps, you can adapt to this new business reality without sacrificing agility.

REMOTE IS THE NEW AGILE REALITY

The world has changed a lot since the agile movement was formalized in 2001. The only remote collaboration choices at the time were email and conference calls. Since then, there has been an explosion of technology from video conferencing to broadband to mobile everything. The value of face-to-face communication comes from combining visual, verbal and textual information. But with the help of today’s technology, virtual teams can reproduce that same dynamic. For instance, use two screens in order to share a document and have a video chat going at the same time. Or, assign everyone in the conference room a “back-chat” partner, a virtual team member who has permission to message you with a tablet when he or she can’t be heard over the presenter. To streamline remote interactions, it’s worth investing a little time to set up these tools before the scheduled meetings.

And speaking of meetings, many global teams report improved productivity when they limit meetings to “collaboration hours,” the time that overlaps in their different time zones. This will also force a conversation around how many of your meetings are really necessary.

HUMAN IS THE NEW VIRTUAL

Agile also emphasizes the value of team culture. Creating a solid, human connection between members goes a long way with a distributed team.

To create this, project leaders could perform a team chartering activity to establish rules like: “We share time zone inconveniences” or “To encourage unity, we dress business casual, even when working from home” or “We hold everyone accountable to the same quality standards, regardless of your office location.” These shared working agreements help harness the best of corporate and ethnic cultures. For international teams, consider a one-language rule as a way to create a sense of unity, even if it means using language-translation tools and more written messages than phone calls.

The most difficult part of not sharing an office is making a human connection. One way to facilitate social connections with the virtual team members is an always-on webcam or monitor in the break room, ideal for informal chats. Or, dedicate a social chat room online where fun and personal interactions are encouraged.

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Managing a distributed team takes a little planning and effort, but that’s true of any effective team facilitation. The key point to remember is this: If all you’re doing is emailing and conference calling, then you’re doing project management the ’90s way. PM

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Jesse Fewell, CST, PMI-ACP, PMP, participated on the core team of the Software Extension to the PMBOK® Guide. He can be reached at email@jessefewell.com.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

APRIL 2015 PM NETWORK

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