Practical Solutions to Common Pains of Virtual Project Managers (Part 1)
Many project managers have a bad rap. The somewhat false image that follows them is that they are the people who want to do as much as possible with the least resources. They are also the people who breathe down one’s neck until they fulfill their project purpose. A part of this picture is for sure true – no one said that managing people, tasks, and performance, is an easy job! If most team members have streamlined tasks, it’s the task of the project manager to streamline them and keep everything going in the right direction. When working in geographically dispersed teams, the project manager needs to take an even broader perspective. Naturally, this role includes some extra perks, too, which are not available when you work within close geographical boundaries. Local teams provide their own set of challenges, while remote teams add a new element of abundance and choice to successfully develop digital projects. The digital market is all around the globe and staying constricted within the limits of your country or region is not always favorable to a company’s growth. Therefore, when juggling people, goals, and costs, virtual project managers face numerous pains. It’s difficult to list them all, one by one, because they usually snowball into a big headache! But if we want to ease down that headache at least a little bit, let’s try to summarize them into the most common categories and see how we can resolve them.
1. Changing the scope of the project
When you start a project, it looks like you have a full picture. All is clear, and the project seems to be flowing nicely toward a bright end. All of a sudden, a client decides to add a new feature. A bit further down the line, new market information comes in, you need to go back to where you were with the features, and bring what you thought was already dead to life again! Amending features too often and bringing in new people are just a couple of examples of how project scope can be gradually changed. Small requests add up. Once this happens, it’s impossible to stay within the initial project scope. Therefore, make realistic plans and document everything possible. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for everything. Make sure that you are heard. Understand that you will occasionally need to take the upper hand when dealing with clients.
2. Lack of understanding about who needs to do what
Nothing is more painful than misunderstandings about assignments. When virtual team members jump on a team, they usually know what’s their job. However, many job descriptions miss precise executables and deliverables, especially in areas with a lot of creative work, in which it’s not easy to put metrics to completed tasks. In the head of a project manager, numbers and structures play a big role. Don’t satisfy with vague task descriptions. Get down to work to make them more tangible. One possible solution to this pain is to create role templates. Role templates state who needs to do what and tie in the project to the role, not to the person. In this way, even if a new person comes in, you’ll be sure that they know what they need to do.
3. Team dispersion
Working with remote teams can be a challenge for project managers, but only if they are used to working locally. In contrast, many project managers find working with local businesses too restrictive, expensive, or just plain uncreative. When working on a global digital market, most of the time, quantity breeds quality, too. Talent is not localized. One particular fear of virtual project managers is agile project management, which puts additional pressure on an already busy schedule. But thinking that you need to stay in the tight vicinity of a team to oversee and pull the belt tighter to keep it cohesive is a bit conservative. Physical closeness is only one way of achieving team cohesion. When working virtually, you can solve the bonding problem by using collaboration and communication flow tools. These are innovative ways to connect that can help you overcome some of the most painful local limitations in terms of high costs and closed markets.
4. Unexpected issues
This is not a joke – the project manager must be a bit clairvoyant! At least that’s what most clients expect from you. You must be able to see things before they happen. When clients push forward, they often forget that things can crop out of the blue and sidetrack the team from the main goal. So, it’s your job to communicate that risks are part of the project plan. They are not something to be pushed to the side and forgotten about. So, do your research, collect information, and anticipate risks at the project start. Identify risk management strategies and keep them close at bay to deal with unforeseen issues. Don’t leave them to chance, but also keep in mind that, occasionally, you’ll need to take an unexpected blow in the face. It’s a fact of life!
5. Personality problems
Those guides about “How to Deal with Difficult People” don’t always work in a digital product environment, or elsewhere, to that matter. Many personality issues are a question of different styles and characters. Often, highly skilled team members can pose a challenge for project managers in terms of personality, but can also bring great value to a project. You won’t always have the chance to get both qualities from a person. When you don’t, make sure you factor in the personality in the project execution (and costs!). When you do, take some precautionary measures for getting the best people on board. Create a positive work environment. This can sometimes include silently swallowing a bitter pill or “taking one for the team”! Most importantly, conduct interviews to see if the member fits in the company culture. Compromises on values cost the most, both in money and headache! Stay tuned to find out more about most common pains virtual project managers face in the second part of this blog post!