Getting to grips with remote project management

Is it possible to effectively manage largescale projects remotely?

Project Management

Is it possible to manage a largescale project effectively without any kind of in-person interaction? In the current circumstances, it is something a lot of firms are having to find out for themselves.

Remote project management is nothing new, of course. In an increasingly globalised economy served by ever more efficient and reliable lines of digital communication, we’ve become used to working with partners spread over very large distances, relying on email, phone, video conferencing, file sharing and the rest to coordinate workflows.

But even then, the norm would be to mix remote management with face-to-face interaction. Getting all the key stakeholders together, however far removed, is often seen as important in kicking off a major project, to make sure that objectives and expectations are shared consistently and clearly, and that all questions can be answered to make sure everyone is pulling in the right direction.

Through the course of a project, site visits and smaller task-oriented get-togethers between partners would be used to make sure everything was on track. And of course, colleagues from the same company would work together as a matter of course.

But with COVID-related work-from-home orders likely to last well into 2021, even that is not possible right now. Internal teams are having to collaborate at a distance as they manage relationships with external partners. Service providers, contractors and freelancers are having to demonstrate value and quality without ever meeting clients face to face.

So is this aspect of the ‘new normal’ in business viable? Is it possible to achieve good outcomes with completely dispersed teams? Or will we see a rush back to face-to-face project management as soon as circumstances allow?

Tech tools for greater agility

Effective project management is possible remotely. But as with most of the challenges the pandemic has thrown up for businesses, success depends fundamentally on two things - the agility to adapt and the right technology.

For example, one of the big things that changes with the shift to remote working is communication. When you assign tasks and set objectives at weekly team meetings or monthly partner meetings, you rely on an assumed level of interaction between meetings to check on progress, address difficulties as they arise and, if necessary, tweak the direction of travel.

When everything is being conducted remotely, you have to make sure those informal interactions can still happen. So it isn’t just a case of switching to video conferences via Zoom or Teams and assuming everything else will run smoothly - it probably won’t. People need to be empowered to work together effectively at a distance, and that depends in no small part on choosing the right communication tools.

Video or even telephone calls might not be the most efficient solution for day-to-day interaction, especially when you need flexibility between one-to-one and group communications. Fast and flexible, instant messaging (IM) is a useful and convenient tool for keeping informal lines of communication open, whether in the form of a business-oriented collaboration platform like Slack or a straightforward mobile messaging app like WhatsApp.

As well as communication, you have to make sure everyone involved in a project has access to the resources they need, and that they can also work together efficiently using those materials. With IT and software development projects, this is made somewhat easier by the fact that most relevant resources are digital, and therefore can be readily shared over a remote network.

But you still have to choose the right tools for the job. The aforementioned Slack and similar so-called collaboration platforms like Troop Messenger are great for ad hoc discussion about work on the go, as they let users file or screen share in real time as they share ideas and suggestions. But for file and document sharing at a larger scale, including robust versioning and secure storage, you would also be advised to use a shared cloud drive like Google Drive or Dropbox so all project materials are ultimately kept in the same place.

One final challenge of remote project management is the core administrative side of keeping tabs on task allocation and completion, who is working on what, how each is progressing and so on. Again, relying solely on Zoom conferences for updates is likely to result in a lot of slippage.

Purpose-built remote management platforms like Instagantt provide the solution. Combining task creation, scheduling, progress monitoring and critical path workflows, the key point to Instagantt and similar tools is that it connects everyone involved with a rich, dynamic, visual breakdown of a complete project into its component parts. This means everyone can see exactly what is expected of them at all times and, by understanding the bigger picture, they will be more likely to keep on track.

Our partner relationship with clients means that we’ve supported them throughout this necessary evolution and adaptation of project management, and our experienced team are always on hand to provide advice and guidance to ensure that projects don’t slip and continue to achieve their objectives.

To discuss this subject in more details or to discover how we can support your project needs you can contact me on kevin.harper@fruitionit.co.uk or 0113 323 9900.

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