How project managers can deliver a successful project remotely

Apr 24, 2020

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By Jacki Hodgson

Director of Professional Services

Jacki is an experienced & passionate Delivery & Operations leader with over 15 years’ expertise delivering HR technology on a global and local basis. Building a strong organisational, team and project culture to drive real results and enable individuals to thrive in disruptive organisations is her passion. Find her on Linkedin.

Given the current situation with Covid-19, there’s a lot of project teams out there considering options for the new challenge of how best to continue their delivery remotely (where they’re in the fortunate position to be able to do so.)  If you’re used to working in person or in an office situation with your team or suppliers this can seem daunting, but the great news is that even full projects can absolutely be delivered fully remotely … and it’s not rocket science!  With just a bit of outside-the-box thinking, you and your team can produce fantastic results.

   1. Get together and try to avoid emails

The simplest point is genuinely the most impactful in my experience – and this is no different. In any form of remote delivery, technology is your friend!  Many of us have already started to use video conferencing technologies such as MS Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts etc to get in that much-needed face time.  In remote project work, these can all absolutely work wonders in the same way.

You will likely be working together across a number of months on a potentially complex delivery.  Don’t rely on email as your main communications route (please!!). Speak to each other and use video conferencing tools to have an even deeper conversation on absolutely everything – status updates, discovery sessions, testing and training. When we talk face to face, we naturally build better relationships, avoid confusion or misinterpretation and are much more likely to be more engaged in meetings. I know the pull of my mobile is all too strong when I’m not on video. Video conferencing allows us to fight this temptation and stay engaged.

Set expectations with your team, your client and your suppliers from the beginning that all calls will be on video. Put this down as a key term or reference for your project from the outset and make it happen!

   2. Get the right tools in place and ensure everyone can access them

Some questions you should ask yourself and your team at the offset are:

  • How will we share documents?
  • How will we track issues?
  • How will we track open action items?

In the theme of ‘avoid emails’ what tools do you have available to you to centralise all of your document sharing, enforce version control and centrally track issues, actions, etc? JIRA can be great for tracking progress through actions or issues in shared Kanban boards; Sharepoint, Teamwork and many more for secure document sharing and version control. 

As much as possible keep all documents, tickets and notes in these central points for absolute clarity on the latest – this is even more important if you’re working across time zones and need varying locations to be able to come online and move forward quickly as they come online. 

Can you set up a Slack or Teams channel including the project team and supplier contacts for any other ad-hoc discussions, to further reduce your email needs?

Once you’ve got the basics decided, you’re ready to get started on your project. These tips will help with your project delivery:

   1. Have a great project launch – remotely!

We don’t have to be face-to-face to enjoy a good kick-off meeting. Use your Project Launch meeting to really galvanise the team and to set clear roles and responsibilities. Take care of the basics first – clarify who will be responsible for which elements and draft a detailed communication plan for how you will keep in touch and stick to timelines. Start your Project Launch meeting with an ice breaker or quiz for the group. This will help your remote team gel and build a productive and engaged working relationship.

You’ll also get everyone excited for what’s to come!

   2. Choose your core project squad carefully

When working inside of a remote project team, the engagement of the team and a close working relationship are even more important than normal.  Most people find it harder to engage in conference calls with large audiences vs a small ‘hit squad’.  Choose your core squad carefully and empower them to work together in small remote working groups.  Information should be cascaded out of these groups into a wider audience in a separate forum – but don’t fall into the trap of rehashing decisions. Make sure the target is to cascade and inform when you’re sharing with the larger group.  In this way you’ll get more out of your working groups, avoid project delays through large group indecision and avoid conference calls with lots of silent or unengaged participants. 

   3. Increase meeting frequency and add daily standups

When running projects remotely, you lose the ‘water cooler’ or ‘pop over’ conversations. To combat this, diarise frequent project team calls, increasing the volume across critical project times such as User Acceptance Testing.  Daily standups across critical project times (even if just for 5 or 10 minutes) are hugely valuable and should of course also all be run via video conferencing where possible!

Lay out your communications plan at the beginning of the project, but take lessons learned and pivot quickly if anything isn’t having the desired benefit once you’re in flight.  This will be even more challenging when working remotely so ensure everyone on the team is willing to be agile and change tact quickly.

   4. Keep a central ‘parked items’ log and prioritise as you go 

Particularly in the current situation, you might not have access to all of your records. It could be that you can’t get to the filing cabinet in the HR office, the spreadsheet on your desktop computer or just easy access to floor walk and speak to managers in the business.

Make the assumption that eventually you’ll have access to what you need and put a plan in place for agreed change down the line, or just a known list of items which can’t be actioned right now. The most important thing is that these are captured and prioritised – if there’s absolute clarity on what’s most important you can create a plan on how to work through them at the time.  Ideally you will be able to continue momentum until the known gaps can be plugged.

    5. Think outside the box!

Remote working is a great way to drive creativity – not just from the current crisis but through taking lessons from the long history that some companies have of running remote projects and deliveries. 

I was recently working with a testing team who were planning to work onsite together through a time critical UAT pre the COVID-19 lockdown.  They were committed to progressing and deciding how they could get the same positive outcomes. The team knew they worked well together with the ability to easily ask questions or clarifications, ensure speed of resolutions together and avoid bouncing emails/chats while time was of the essence. 

After much deliberation, the team decided to work across their full testing days ‘together’ by having a Hangout channel open all day. All of the team members sat on the Hangout while working away in the background.  Whenever a question, comment or issue arose they popped off mute, shouted out to the group and everyone was already there ready to chip straight into the discussion.  They even made time for quick tea breaks and a catch ups together to break up the very focused day!  This is one of my favourite examples of some simple, yet outside-the-box thinking that had hugely successful results.

So in summary – yes, it absolutely is possible to deliver a project fully remotely.  There may be bumps along the way and challenges to overcome but by working with your supplier or project manager closely and having open and honest conversations, anything is possible. A strong team mentality and a dedication to overcome challenges creatively together will help you to achieve a fantastic end result. 

And most importantly to finish – make sure to book in that remote celebratory session for when you inevitably deliver your project!

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