A few years ago, Sweden was in the headlines for experimenting with a six-hour workday.
As organizations started adopting a remote or hybrid approach to work over the last year, leadership and management have had to balance priorities and goals with employee wellness. Not only did companies have to revisit the timelines of their ongoing projects, but project planning had to be redone for projects that were in the pipeline. With so many people still working remotely and no longer in the same office space, it has now become essential to factor in the additional time spent on communication and collaboration while developing a project plan.
To learn how enterprise leaders are doing project planning differently this year with a remote workforce, we talked to a few industry experts to get their advice for present and future project leaders.
Establish a Protocol for Remote Project Management
A successful beginning is half the battle won. Starting a new project requires that you create an agenda, share it with your stakeholders, and enlist their help in planning and reviewing the agenda. You must also create a project charter and detail the roles and responsibilities of the project team.
Mary Beth Imbarrato, owner of MBI Consulting, says that “the project team should be discussing critical issues like how they are going to work together remotely, which collaboration tools are they going to use, what is considered an emergency, do we have protocols for working hours, how will we be reporting on status, will we have meetings, and if so, which tool will we be using for our meetings. Establishing these team protocols in advance can help the team be incredibly successful.”
These discussions help each team member achieve clarity about the scope of the project, the milestones to be covered, and the potential risks associated with the project. In addition, it helps teams be better prepared as they now know “how” to collaborate along with what’s expected of them.
Imbarrato further adds that “by having a clear and definitive project definition, you will be removing any level of interpretation on the part of the project team members or the organization. You just elevated your level of success by clarifying the project effort upfront before kicking off the project.”
Communicate Effectively with Remote Team Members
Communication as an area always requires specific focus from organizations regardless of how good they might think they are at it. Imbarrato summarizes the issue with communication: “Everyone I have ever met tells me that they excel at communication. Yet, communication continues to be one of the top five reasons for project failure year after year.”
In order to solve a problem, you must start by recognizing it. As project lead, you should be asking questions and listening to the answers. Project leads need to ensure that they use any and every form of communication available, from literal to visual. There is no such thing as over-communication. According to Imbarrato, “By providing the team with a visual component, you will be removing any interpretation on their part.”
Akram Assaf, co-founder and Chief Technology Officer at Bayt.com, shares how this worked for his company. “We were able to adapt the overall approach to our project planning to fit a remote workforce by focusing primarily on two factors: providing clear feedback and setting direct goals that can be measured effectively.”
Identify Roles, Responsibility, and Stakeholders
Role mapping takes the crown as one of the most important areas of project planning. Understanding your role and responsibilities might sound trivial, but it’s only when everyone in a team understands their specific position, role, and responsibility that the team starts to work like a well-oiled machine that doesn’t break at every bump and turn. It’s essential to understand your role and the roles of other team members, and it is a must to review the responsibility matrix right at the beginning of the project.
Arthur Iinuma, co-founder and President of ISBX, finds this approach to work well. “We set clear goals and expectations to ensure all our employees understand their individual roles and responsibilities. This is conveyed throughout our organization with our remote communications tools.”
It is also important to figure out who your stakeholders are; one should understand all the people that will be impacted by the project implementation.
Involve End Users
Imbarrato recommends that “you should not be getting any new software until the project management practices and protocols have been introduced, tested, improved upon, and locked down. I have witnessed many organizations purchase project management software, yet the employees were never part of the discussion or decision.”
One must understand that software purchases end up being implemented for the entire business or specific functions, not just for the CFO, CIO, or the project lead. It is usually a huge expense and should not turn into an even bigger loss. Iinuma shares how these tools, when chosen well, can be useful: “We have added a range of project management tools to empower our remote workforce. Repetitive tasks can be automated, freeing up our employees to work on more strategic areas.”
Identifying the right software tool for your organization, like Polaris, the world’s first self-driving PSA, is a completely different ballgame. Polaris offers professional services leaders with a solution that can do anything — from analyzing real-time data to providing live recommendations on the best possible picks to oversee project delivery, utilization of resources, and overall profitability. Therefore, it’s important to understand all your departmental, divisional, and business unit needs before proceeding with a software that you feel might be the best fit.
Assaf says suggests that you “make sure you invest in the various tools available to us today. You also need to ensure that you’re utilizing these tools to their full extent because that’s what makes them so great. New digital tools can either be a blessing or a curse, depending on how well your team utilizes them. Experiment, test, and adapt fast.”
The bottom line, according to Imbarrato: “…projects can be planned effectively with a remote workforce, but you need to plan it accordingly.” A lot of organizations end up looking back after months of implementation on where they went wrong. It’s usually at the beginning. Therefore, a proper project plan formed after a detailed analysis of each of the above-mentioned steps can be a great help to every leader aiming to get their remote project management right.