This January I spoke at my first conference DPMUK and did a 15 minute lightning talk on managing projects remotely.
Here’s a long overdue blog on the talk I delivered.
Having read a book called remote by 37signals last year (which I’ve done a mini review of) it really got me thinking about how we no longer need to be tethered to our desks.
I look at the Manchester tech seen and there’s an array of amazing co-working spaces as many people now have the flexibility to work from anywhere in the world. I for one have found myself in an industry where you no longer have to be in an office to get the job done, yet when discussing project management the perspective of managing projects in a remote context has been missing.
So hopefully after this intro and a quick fire overview of my background you’ll see how the topic of remote projects is something I was suitable to talk and now blog about.
It’s important to give explain what spurred me to focus on this topic. In my previous role as a PM at an international agency there was no in house studio with designers and developers, rather I had a network of suppliers to work with. This approach allowed us to get the best match of skills to our client’s requirements, however it wasn’t only clients that we’re remote but also our partners.
This blog covers off my 4 key learnings of how to manage projects remotely. The lessons that I’m going to cover off are relevant for those of you who do work remotely or rather PMs who are in the office most of the time but also have team members, clients and or suppliers who also work remotely and don’t share the same work environment as you.
It goes without saying that unless you have the right technology in place you won’t get far. Getting the right solutions in place for your business will be the underpinning of any successful remote projects and I look at the tools that work for me in the vocal section.
The first of my key learning’s is about being smart.
For me this very much starts with the brief, or scoping, requirements capture etc. depending on where you work.As mentioned the way I previously worked with a network of partners meant that we required clarity and sign off on a brief. When your team isn’t across your desk to add in an extra bit you forgot to mention it forces you to follow best practices.
I’d get the designer in (either physically or virtually) and do a full brief and then leave them to deliver the results, though this approach is still important when working with in house designers as it’s all too easy to take for granted with briefs on email. Taking the time to have that initial conversation can tease out ideas and questions that might not have come to light yet.
My second key learning is about being prepared and keeping your eye on the ball.
I have learnt over the last 2 years the importance of not assuming that just because we’re on a holiday in the UK doesn’t mean that the client is, even on the continent Spain and France can take different holidays.
My top tip here is to ensure these cultural variation in holidays are built into any plans for the start.
When in the briefing stage ensure you capture everyone’s vacations, this still very much applies to UK based teams as we can forget to allow resourcing for when people are away. In my new role at mN we even ensure bank holidays are factored in from the start. Simple yet effective practices to help keep you one step ahead!
The third learning is the importance of being Timely.
Time boxing your workload into am and pm slots allows you to manage time more effectively. For example internationally the following slots worked well.
Asia office 8-10am
US clients 4-6pm
Though again even in a UK context you might have some clients that are early birds who you know will be on the phone at 9am! Others who are 4pm kind of people which is fine so again take note and think about what you ask of them too and make sure you’re prepared for when they’ve time boxed there day.
When working on a recent Arabic website project it was important to note that for many Arabic speaking countries they don’t work on Fridays. These learning’s also link to the previous comment on ensuring your project timings allow for these time zones.
A key management practice to follow when working across continents is to ensure there are set hours of overlap for collaboration which helps to form ground rules on availability. As if you don’t manage your time in a smart way you can quickly find yourself in trouble!
My final learning is the importance of being vocal.
This is particularly crucial when managing projects with remote teams. There are a number of tools which are invaluable when working remotely are:
Skype – is great for screen sharing with developers where we can show how a small pixel change in firebug looks to help get front end styles just right.
GoToMeeting and WebEx tools for conferencing, depending on what kind of corporate environment
InVision – which at the moment is my favourite tool to review designs, again great for sharing visual concepts remotely with a client. You can even collate feedback directly on the design.
Messaging apps like Lync or better still Slack are great for those quick instant queries with the team. Skype also fits the bill here as well. Sometimes it can be liberating to take conversations off email as it all can get overwhelming though not to forget the importance of conversation
Underpinning all of these tools is selecting the form of communication that works best for team and client, some clients can be relaxed with more informal transparent tools like Trello, and others may only want email updates. Not forgetting agreeing to weekly project status updates to keep on top of all those actions flying around!