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Why Do Projects Succeed or Fail? Remote Collaboration

project management

Mark Woeppel - May 22, 2015

Last week, I shared an overview on the Improved Coordination level of the Viewpoint Project Execution Maturity model, which focuses on achieving reliable delivery and improving communication among remote teams. If you missed it, you can read that post here.

If collaboration in one location seems challenging, then collaboration among far-flung teams in different offices—or different time zones or continents—probably feels impossible. Different locations cultivate different work cultures and loyalties, which naturally impede alignment and synchronization, and the potential for miscommunication increases with every additional mile separating team members.

With remote teams, you have all of the same challenges you had in your local team before you achieved Basic Collaboration:

  • Work is done out of sequence.
  • Resources are unavailable when needed.
  • Work priorities are incorrect, and team members don’t know what those priorities are.
  • Resource overloads in remote locations will go unnoticed.
  • The risk involving those teams is difficult to see and understand.

All of these have the same effect: slowing the project and increasing its duration.

To close the gaps among team members, managers must conduct collaborative meetings across distances to share information, expectations, updates, and responsibilities in a timely (and therefore relevant) way. However, we’re not just going to have a get-together. Effective communication and synchronization across distances—Remote Collaboration, the first element of the Improved Coordination layer of the Viewpoint Project Execution Maturity Model, pictured below—demands a different and higher communication discipline.

new maturity model graphic

Since time shifting and distance are unalterable conditions, your team must be purposeful in two dimensions: frequency and content. The collaboration process must explicitly identify what value-added information (the information that causes forward progress) must be communicated and how frequently communication must take place.

To ensure that your team’s communication is relevant, you must be clear on the content of your communication (what information is critical?), and focused on the issues (what problems need to be solved?) that will make a real difference (what action is needed?) to the project results.

To create meaningful collaboration, you must consider how you’ll be sharing the project status or your Visual Project Board (VPB). Whatever you do—whether it’s video, duplicate boards, or a software version of your VPB—it must allow all of your team members to easily contribute, distribute, and share the most important information in an orderly format that visualizes tasks, timings, and responsibilities to be completed; in short, a shared, clear vision of the project (functional alignment!).

For Remote Collaboration to be effective, you’ll need a slightly revised set of collaboration and meeting rules to foster the appropriate behaviors in all participants. As Collaborative Execution, these meetings require a facilitator, but with remote collaboration, you’ll need one at both ends. Ideally you should have everyone standing up in front of a board, with no muting, so side discussions don’t take place. The facilitators should make an effort to foster interactions among all participants while focusing on issue identification, pressing for accountability, and addressing all other facets of Collaborative Execution.

With a shared vision of the situation, your collaboration with remote teams will be more effective. When you can accommodate on-the-fly contributions and insights, your time together will encourage innovative problem solving and accountability that reinforces team action. Instead of preparing defenses, your entire team will work quickly and collaboratively to tackle problems together and move forward.

The Remote Collaboration process replicates the basic collaboration strategies beyond geographic or organizational boundaries so that the remote teams are fully in sync with the local teams. In short, the remote teams:

  • Have a common view of the work status, issues, and work plans
  • Make decisions that reflect global organizational goals
  • Understand the relationships between current project status and achieving project, portfolio and organizational goals

As a result, the remote teams get the benefits of Basic Collaboration:

  • Increased employee engagement
  • Improved situational awareness
  • Identification and elimination of bottlenecks
  • Increased productivity
  • Reduced project durations
  • Quick response to problems
  • Increased accountability for results
  • Reduced inter-functional conflict

Remote Collaboration brings the entire team to the same level of execution maturity, so the organization can turn its attention away from fighting fires, to improving the project delivery process –further increasing productivity and achieving consistent on time delivery.

Next week, we’ll be discussing the second element of Improved Coordination, Managing Bottlenecks, so subscribe to my blog today to receive the updates straight to your inbox, or download our webinar, Getting Your Distributed Team to See the Big Picture – How to Successfully Manage Distributed Teams to learn more about how to manage and improve the collaboration in your remote teams.

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