When Marilyn heard, "Earth calling Marilyn, come in please," she suddenly realized that she'd been staring blankly at the Gantt chart. The wall-sized Gantt chart. The hopelessly outdated wall-sized Gantt Chart. Her mind had wandered.
"Marilyn here. Over," she replied. "So how do you think it happened?"
Phil was stumped too. "It's a puzzle, isn't it? Project of the Year to red-listed in three months. That chart is just expensive wallpaper now — actually, I kinda like it for the men's room."
"You would. But really…why is this project so different?"
As they talked, they kept returning to their decision not to use local talent. Back when they couldn't even get approval for contractors, they'd decided to use the Wellington people, who were 2000 miles away. And then, three weeks later, they added the two European teams. That made the score: time zones 4, languages 3, continents 2. They had had no choice…after September 11, travel became impractical, even when it was allowed.
Marilyn and Phil are struggling with managing a geographically dispersed team.
If you haven't had that experience, imagine a little four-month experiment.People work better together
when they know each other
- First month
- Replace all team meetings with teleconferences. Visiting a teammate's office is not permitted. Use the phone or interdepartmental mail instead.
- Second month
- Continue as last month, and eliminate hallway conversation. Use snail mail or overnight delivery instead of interdepartmental mail.
- Third month
- Continue as last month, but limit telephone conferences to three per week, at 7 AM or 11 PM. All other communication is by fax or email. Team members may not lunch together.
- Fourth month
- Continue as last month, but now in-person meetings are permitted — provided they are held at least a full day's journey away by air.
After four months, you'll understand a little of what a dispersed team deals with — if you still have a project left.
Here are some tips for managing dispersed teams:
- People work better when they know each other
- What we don't know, we make up, and what we make up is often scary. When we know each other — even a little — we like each other better.
- Have an in-person kickoff meeting
- An in-person kickoff meeting is essential, because people have to know each other before they can trust each other. Leave plenty of free time for socializing.
- Face-to-face meetings are necessary
- People need to meet face-to-face once in a while. It's the way we're made. Budget for it.
- Count on trouble
- Communications are more problematic the more remote they are. Face-to-face is safer than phone is safer than email is safer than fax is safer than overnight mail is safer than silence.
- Get training in video, email, and phone
- Since we aren't born knowing how to conduct a videoconference, we need training to do it well. Training in email and teleconferencing is also helpful.
Using a dispersed team might be a way around the bureaucratic constraints, but it isn't cheap, because you need budget for travel and training. Most important: go slow. It takes time to prevent (and sort out) communication mix-ups. Top Next Issue
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
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More articles on Project Management:
- Nine Project Management Fallacies: I
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we "know"
just isn't so. Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability
to complete projects successfully.
- The True Costs of Cost-Cutting
- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are
expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually
worked that way...
- Project Improvisation as Group Process
- When project plans contact reality, things tend to get, um, a bit confused. We can sometimes see the
trouble coming in time to replan thoughtfully — if we're nearly clairvoyant. Usually, we have
to improvise. How a group improvises tells us much about the group.
- Managing Wishful Thinking Risk
- When things go wrong, and we look back at how we got there, we must sometimes admit to wishful thinking.
Here's a framework for managing the risk of wishful thinking.
- The Risks of Too Many Projects: II
- Although taking on too many projects risks defocusing the organization, the problems just begin there.
Here are three more ways over-commitment causes organizations to waste resources or lose opportunities.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
- And on August 19: Motivated Reasoning: I
- When we prefer a certain outcome of a decision process, we risk falling into a pattern of motivated reasoning. That can cause us to gather data and construct arguments that lead to the outcome we prefer, often outside our awareness. And it can happen even when the outcome we prefer is known to threaten our safety and security. Available here and by RSS on August 19.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.
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