Managing Virtual Teams Effectively
Prepared by: Majed Abdeen
In my experience in working with virtual teams, there were two major challenges I faced in one particular project. First was collecting the requirements from the end-users. Second, the customer didn't consider that the virtual team was really present, they believed that "since I don't see it, it's not there".
First, the project development lifecycle I used is an adaptive environment (agile), in which the requirements were not completely defined at the beginning of the project (not planned-driven). Virtual teams can exist in adaptive, changing environments. These environments can turn chaotic and can menace or destroy a team’s progress. Team leaders should lead in an adaptive way, helping team members understand the uncertainty and non-routine nature of their work (Duarte & Snyder, 2006, p. 87). This is what I did with support from the collocated team when they were collecting the requirements and making them clear to the dispersed teams.
The second challenge was that the customer didn't believe in the virtual team concept, and they kept saying that we didn't have enough teams working, because the collocated team size was small, from their perspective, and they compared our company with another one which collocated all of their team in the client premises, and the client was very happy with the vendor. However, after a while, the other project was terminated because of bad performance, and we closed our project successfully. I believe that the effort the virtual project leader does is not sufficient unless other stakeholders are collaborative, and if people are interested in collaboration, they will find a way, even if they work remotely.
Thanks to continuous advances in IS/IT, organisations nowadays are becoming more geographically dispersed, and projects are increasingly working with virtual teams (VTs) (Kimble, 2011, p. 7). Consequently, PMs of IS/IT projects must be ready for managing VT environment challenges; these include geographical distance, different time-zones, regulations/laws, and culture (Böhm, 2013, p. 115). Thus, PMs should consider team location, communication methods, technologies used, and other factors to manage the team effectively. Focusing on technology is not the only factor in ensuring successful projects when working with VTs, other Critical Success factors include: HR policies, training, standard/processes, culture, leadership, and competencies (Duarte & Snyder, 2006, p. 10).
Methods for effective Virtual Teamwork
Building trust is an essential factor for VTs, because it supports better communication and increases productivity with technical challenges/uncertainties as they arise (Kimble, 2011, p. 6; Ashmore, 2012, p. 10). Cultural diversity is a challenge relating to IS/IT VTs. Thus, identifying cultural differences and suggesting multiple project management actions to be taken to overcome resulting challenges among VT members, are approaches to deal with this challenge (Stetten et al., 2012, p. 137). Project activities' supervision aspects of global IS/IT VTs are supervision of Tasks, Communications, Time/Agenda, processes, and Environment variation (Niederman & Tan, 2011, p. 26). According to (Nunamaker et al., 2009, p. 114), the following are principles for improving effectiveness of VTs:
· Realign reward structures for VTs
· Find new ways to focus attention on the task
· Design activities that make people know each other
· Build a virtual presence
· Agree on standards and terminology
· Utilise anonymity when appropriate
· Be more explicit
· Train teams to self-facilitate
· Embed collaboration technology into everyday work
In his article, (Kimble, 2011, p. 6) discussed some of the challenges PMs face when managing VTs, and he suggested two classes of solutions: Primarily technical solutions, and organisationally-based solutions. Managing VTs requires effective collaboration and data sharing throughout the project lifecycle, which enables use of up-to-date information and positively increases stakeholder relationships.
An essential aspect in a VT environment which PMs must consider is communication planning. This can increase the time PMs spend setting clear expectations, developing protocols for conflict resolution, and understanding cultural diversity (PMI, 2017a, p. 333). Communications can take several forms based on time/place factors; research and methods used suggests the following communication characteristics for VTs:
Technology such as shared folders, video-conferencing, fishbowl windows, remote pairing, and other collaboration tools, help PMs and VTs collaborate remotely (PMI, 2017b, p. 46). In the IS projects, Collaborative Project Management software or Groupware tools can assist in managing VTs (Lientz, 2011). These applications are designed to help teams working on shared tasks to achieve their goals. Some of these tools are Google apps, Microsoft Team Foundation Server, Workplace by Facebook, Wrike, Jira, Yammer, and Zoho. All of these Groupware tools and more are used now for managing VTs effectively. However, a common pitfall when organisations apply any of these tools in global settings is ignoring differences in teams' culture, their local needs, and regional expectations (Böhm, 2013, p. 116). Thus, successful IS PMs always adapt available software as needed, and they realise that translating software into the local language is not the only factor to be considered.
I've worked with VTs for the last 10 years; I've faced many challenges in addition to the issues of working with collocated teams. Since PMs spend 90% of their time communicating (PMI, 2017a, p. 61), I did not find that working with VTs reduces the time we spend communicating. I used videoconferencing and audioconferencing tools such as GoToMeeting and Skype as a replacement for creating a fishbowl window. I used a SharePoint platform and online collaboration tools for social networks, wikis and knowledge sharing. Additionally, I used shared folders to save our lessons learned and retrospectives. I felt that communication and collaboration with the VT was not overly difficult, since I kept in mind that people will feel isolated if I do not work with them on a daily basis.
Referring to the rule of "One Size Does Not Fit All", and to ensure that VTs work effectively, PMs need to address both team and technology issues, instead of looking at one or the other (Kimble, 2011, p. 13). Some effective methods can include improving technology, finding team building activities, for instance, meeting face-to-face if possible, creating general chat boards, or even sending funny videos; all of these can contribute to effective VTs management. The cross-cultural distributed IT PMs must perceive that there are many approaches and methods to do so (Niederman & Tan, 2011, p. 26).
Ashmore, S., 2012. The Impact of Process on Virtual Teams: A Comparative Analysis of Waterfall and Agile Software Development. s.l.:Graduate Theses and Dissertations.
Böhm, C., 2013. Cultural Flexibility in ICT Projects: A New Perspective on Managing Diversity in Project Teams. Global Journal of Flexible Systems Management, 14(2), pp. 115-122.
Duarte, D. L. & Snyder, N. T., 2006. Mastering virtual teams: strategies, tools, and techniques that succeed. 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Kimble, C., 2011. Building Effective Virtual Teams: How to Overcome the Problems of Trust and Identity in Virtual Teams. Global Business and Organizational Excellence, January/February, pp. 6-15.
Lientz, B. P., 2011. Information technology project management. 1st ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Niederman, F. & Tan, F. B., 2011. Emerging Markets Managing Global IT Teams: Considering Cultural Dynamics. Communications of the ACM, 54(4), pp. 24-27.
Nunamaker, J. F., Reinig, B. A. & Briggs, R. O., 2009. Principles for Effective Virtual Teamwork. Communications of the ACM, 52(4), pp. 112-117.
PMI, 2017a. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
PMI, 2017b. Agile Practice Guide. 1st ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.
Stetten, A. v., Beimborn, D. & TimWeitzel, 2012. Analyzing and Managing the Impact of Cultural Behavior Patterns on Social Capital in Multinational IT Project Teams. Business & Information Systems Engineering, 4(3), pp. 137-151.