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Imposing a Common Deadline on Remote Teams


Mark Woeppel - October 9, 2013

It’s rare to find a project without a deadline.  Due dates and deadlines drive the entire project management process.  I’m not talking about the dates for each task (which is wise to avoid), but dates that drive task priorities.

Projects can have a single date for completion and for important milestones like progress payments, client reviews, feature releases, etc.  These are the dates.  The important ones.  Where we get paid.

Managing (and meeting) the dates and deadlines in a project is touchy even for the teams that see each other every day.  In a previous post, I talked about the communication problems of distributed teams and the importance of managing content.  Dates are often the most important bit of content to get right.

Distributed teams have a much more difficult time with due dates and deadlines for the following reasons:

Haystack Syndrome: The amount of data, unimportant and important, coming from multiple sources overwhelms team members so no one can form an accurate picture of the true progress.  How to find the most critical bit of information that affects the deadline?  Project teams spend a lot of time sifting through data, working to identify the most important.  When they’re far apart, just finding the data is a challenge.

Reliability:  Project managers need to ensure that their whole team has the correct information that affects delivery and deadline dates.  Team members in distributed teams sometimes withhold information, obscure the real situation, or delay providing negative information, hoping that the situation gets better.  This is particularly true working in cross-cultural teams, where delivering bad news can create a problem in a local team.

Inconsistent vision:  Most people work in their own bubble of their own tasks, unaware of the big picture of the project and how their work fits.  What is important is not always recognized.

Managers of remote teams are often frustrated with their inability to get traction on meeting deadlines.  The challenge is to get the entire team focused on a common set of objectives – including dates.  If you’re not present in the work area, the number of options is fairly limited.

Project managers need a tool one that provides a

-Single consistent window for seeing progress across all task elements and locations, in real time

– Shared view of project status

-Shared view of the obstacles

-Shared understanding of the work to be done to overcome those obstacles

One of our clients found itself a victim of success, struggling to meet critical delivery due dates for a new product that had much higher demand than forecasted.  The company had components from 5 different suppliers tested by 2 different subcontractors.  Part of the solution we helped them implement was a visual project board.  It was good for the local team, but the need for remote collaboration was critical.  We developed and implemented a date – driven visual project board web app that allowed every team member at remote suppliers to see the project’s status, identify the critical bits of information, and collaborate (without losing face) on accelerating progress.  Getting everyone on board with the same deadlines was a critical element in the success of the project, which in the end resulted in improvements in product flow and delivery reliability.  They also found 5 times more capacity, quadrupled output, and reduced lead-time by 23%.  And of course, most importantly, the delivery dates were achieved.  And they got paid.  A lot.  You can get more detail on the viewpoint case study here

Read more about our solutions to the problems distributed teams face and other success stories of the solution implementations in our new eBook, Remote Control: How to Get Productive Teamwork from Distributed Project Teams

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