Category Archives: Process

A Great Time to Practice Telecommuting

strike

photo by gak

We are a week away to a possible BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) strike in the San Francisco area…again. If your people can’t get to work, what will you do? Your competition elsewhere in the world is not encumbered by your particular transportation woes! They will take this opportunity to move ahead of you while you are shutdown because your people struggle to get to the office to man (people?) the phones or work on that critical project.

So, what better time than right now, this week, to practice your emergency plans for business continuity for natural disasters and the like. Surely you have such plans already in place just waiting to be triggered! Well, okay, if you don’t, at least ask as many of those affected by the pending strike to work from home one day this week. See how things go. Fine tune your processes and telecommuting technologies. It is better to be ready to activate your plans or at least be aware of your potential problems than to scramble to keep things together when disaster strikes.

For tips on how to run teams virtually, or how to better work remotely as a telecommuter, check out the rest of this site.

Knowledge Management for Virtual Teams

Properly managed project documentation is critical for all types and sizes of projects.  After all, the project documentation is the only real output from most projects. It is not the prototype that matters.  It is the production documentation that includes things such as material lists, part drawings, assembly instructions, diagnostics, and source code that defines our products and services.  I’m sure this is nothing profound to any of you.  However, what you may not realize is that making it easy for everyone to find the latest version of a given document is especially important for virtual teams.  Virtual teams often consist of people from different time zones or who work different schedules (i.e., a four-day week).  As such, these teams rely more heavily on online sources of documentation throughout their work week.  If they struggle to find the latest documentation on some aspect of the project that affects them, they’ll waste time sending e-mails, calling around or worse still, end up using an outdated version by mistake. Continue reading

Knowledge Management for Virtual (and non-virtual) Teams

Properly managed project documentation is critical for all types and sizes of projects.  After all, the project documentation is the only real output from most projects. It is not the prototype that matters.  It is the production documentation that includes things such as material lists, part drawings, assembly instructions, diagnostics, and source code that defines our products and services.  I’m sure this is nothing profound to any of you.  However, what you may not realize is that making it easy for everyone to find the latest version of a given document is especially important for virtual teams.  Virtual teams often consist of people from different time zones or who work different schedules (i.e., a four-day week).  As such, these teams rely more heavily on online sources of documentation throughout their work week.  If they struggle to find the latest documentation on some aspect of the project that affects them, they’ll waste time sending e-mails, calling around or worse still, end up using an outdated version by mistake. Continue reading

Whiteboarding for Virtual Teams

One of the most useful things I have learned leading teams is that pictures are a very effective way to help people understand complex ideas. I am sure you have all heard that there are auditory learners and visual learners, but in my experience, a good visual is much better than audio for most people. I have been in countless meetings where a discussion goes on and on with no apparent conclusion or convergence toward an answer until someone goes up to the board and draws a picture of the ‘situation’. The dynamics in the meeting immediately transform.  Understanding increases, more people are engaged to help draw the picture, and things get moving again. People need a way to form a mental image of complex problems, to connect abstract ideas with things they already understand. This is why drawing even a simple flow or relationship diagram can help people understand the most difficult concepts. Continue reading

Multi-Tasking in Project Meetings

In my many years in the technology industry, I’ve spent thousands of hours in meetings, most of them as boring as all get-out. During this time I’ve seen many interesting changes. I’ve seen meeting presentation technology evolve from flip charts and story boards, to overheads, to video projectors, and most recently, to laptops in front of each participant. I’ve seen virtual meetings evolve from a rarity to a common occurence. But, one thing that has persisted in all the years is people not paying attention. Continue reading

Project Progress Trend Analysis

If you are like most project managers, you wish you had a better real-time handle on the progress of your project so you could predict when you will finish or when a change is needed in order to stay on track.  I have used a simple yet powerful method that is applicable to most projects and can tell you months in advance if you are off track or if scope creep is threatening to destroy your schedule.  The method is straightforward and only requires a detailed task list and that the tasks are checked off as the project progresses.  If you spend the time with the project team to develop a detailed work breakdown schedule (WBS), you have all the data you need for this method. WBS data should be available for even the simplest projects and is often in spreadsheet form as a simple list of tasks, making the method described here very easy to implement.  The method is far easier to use to monitor progress and identify when things are going awry than either PERT or Gantt charts.  Here is the method:

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Communicating Effectively in Virtual Teams: Part 4 of 4

In this final part of my series on communications in virtual teams, I will discuss the most important medium to evolve so far during the computer revolution: e-mail. Pretty much everyone has an e-mail address these days, and many of us have several. E-mail is the primary information channel in corporations across the globe. It allows us to send everything from short text messages to detailed project proposals with product specifications to anyone, anywhere on the planet, at any time. It is a non-real-time mode of communication as messages are queued up in one’s inbox for reading when convenient. Continue reading

Communicating Effectively in Virtual Teams: Part 3 of 4

In this part of the series on optimizing virtual team communications, I’ll cover Instant Messaging, or IM as it is commonly called.  IM has evolved a great deal from the early consumer versions in the mid 90’s. It is now recognized as an important additional channel of communications in the corporate world, filling a hole between the telephone and email. A phone call requires extra time for greetings and salutations and often includes casual, non-work chit-chat. For this reason, those of us under pressure to meet critical deadlines will use IM to get an answer to a quick question rather than make a phone call. The other option we have is email, but most people do not reply to email immediately, so urgent questions go unanswered. Continue reading

Communicating Effectively in Virtual Teams: Part 2 of 4

In part one of this series I talked about the problems with speakerphones in virtual teams.  In this installment, I’ll discuss the problems with another type of phone, the Cell. 

Most modern cell phones have a built-in speakerphone feature, and will therefore also have the problems mentioned in the previous article when used in this mode.  I won’t repeat the problems and recommendations for speakerphones here, but cell phones do have several other nasty problems that I will discuss.  They are: latency, dropouts, and signal fade.   Continue reading

Communicating Effectively in Virtual Teams: Part 1 of 4

We all know that effective communication is critical to every well-executed project. Everyone involved in getting that next product to market must constantly exchange bits of information with many people. Everything from project proposals to release-to-manufacturing documents must be created, discussed, edited, reviewed, approved and distributed.  All of these information exchanges require clear communication for the outcome to be a good one.

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