CEO, TimeLinx Software, Inc.
Project & Service Automation
Remote project management isn't for everyone. The PM must be organized, in charge, have great experiences and successes under their belt and the confidence it takes to manage and motivate and keep on task a skilled team and awaiting and anxious project client to pull of the successful role and project rollout. And the project manager must be a master communicator. That goes for all PM roles, but especially for the remote project manager.
That said, I'd like to discuss 4 key myths about remote project management. I've been doing this at TimeLinx long enough to know there are some negative thoughts that come to mind immediately for those stakeholders who are in some way, shape or form involved in your project. So let's consider those now...
The customer wants face to face.Your customer has a day job and it is likely not just this one project. They may not have even asked for this role so whether you are close to them or thousands of miles away, you can manage the project and the customer effectively from Day One. Likely they don't really want you there face to face. Some that are more anxious or micro-managing may think they want you there, but after you show high communication skills and show during project kickoff (which definitely should be face to face if at all feasible) that you are confident and prepared and experienced enough to take on this initiative, then they will give you a chance to show that during the actual engagement. And you will show that.
The team needs face to face. The team does not need face to face. In fact, your highly skilled professionals on the project team likely come with big enough egos that they'd rather work independently and not have you showing up regularly at their desk to make sure they are developing a solution and not prowling Facebook. I've never met a tech lead that wishes I was sitting next to them. And I've been a tech lead before I was a project manager or consultant – and I certainly didn't want anyone in charge of the projects I was working on hovering over me. Communication is key, collaboration is necessary, and being extremely available and helping to serve as a buffer for your great team between them and the customer – especially during testing times (whether that is the team testing the solution or the customer running through user acceptance testing (UAT) will take care of any anxiety on the part of the team felt by not having your warm breath down their neck..
You can't manage the real stuff from afar. You can and you have. Even if you're team was co-located, you have probably managed a customer from afar. How much more work can it be to manage the team from afar? They are on your side. It is all about effective and efficient communication – which is Job One for the project manager whether they are remote 100% or onsite 100% or something in between. Issues, risks, testing, requirements, sign offs, demos, and even training can all be done form afar – with good communication and collaboration and today's tools. I realize it's not always for everyone, but it must be in your scope if you're reading this.
Time tracking and task progress tracking is more difficult. I think this was once true. However, with improved communication and collaboration opportunities as well as better time tracking software that performs time and expense tracking as well as real-time analysis and reporting for managers across the organization – those pesky stakeholders - like sales, marketing, service delivery, and finance/accounting all in one tool. It becomes far easier for the project manager to truly have a handle on the financial aspect of the project to keep the budget on track throughout the engagement.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line for me and my teams on projects is this: work where you're most productive and when you're most productive and meet the deadlines. If you tell your team a particular task will be done by Thursday – do it. And reach out if you need help. You don't have to be sitting all in one room to act as a team, to be productive as a team or to communicate as a team. And being more willing to be available at odd times because you aren't using 2 hours to drive to and from work everyday means you're more rested, willing and able to handle those 2am calls and setup 6am conference calls with a project customer in a vastly different timezone.
What are your thoughts? Do you have you worked remotely? How productive was it? What were the key benefits? Key challenges? Please share and discuss.