Category Archives: Solutions

Update on Whiteboards for Virtual Teams

whiteboard example
The design goal of many collaboration tools is to reproduce as closely as possible some aspect of the face-to-face meeting experience so that virtual project teams can be as productive as co-located teams. What I have found is that some tools developed for virtual teams actualy work better than the process they were built to replace. A great example of this is the whiteboard. Online whiteboards available today for free make many common whiteboarding tasks easier than the old fashioned flip-charts or dry-erase markers. You can use electronic whiteboards to brainstorm, problem solve, describe complex concepts, create flow-charts, or even vote on issues as a team. All it takes to be successful is a tool that has a minimum of features that are well-implemented and intuitive.

Just like desktop sharing tools (see my last blog), online whiteboards have come a long way in the past few years. There are now many free tools that have some excellent features and would be a great addition to any virtual teams’ tool box. I will mention a few here and comment on their pros/cons. Note: this is just a sample of current offersings and not intended to be an exhaustive list nor an endorsement of, nor recommendation for, any particular tool. Continue reading

Resolving Disagreements in Virtual Teams

conflictOne of the more difficult team dynamics project managers must face from time-to-time is conflict. The ‘conflict’ can be project-related or interpersonal, but either way, strong feelings are often involved, making rational resolutions difficult. For virtual teams where face-to-face time is rare or non-existent, conflict resolution can be especially challenging, even for the highly skilled virtual team manager. Continue reading

Hybrid Meetings

images1What is a hybrid meeting? It’s a term coined by Commute Zero author Carol to refer to a meeting in which some attendees are face to face in a conference room and others attend remotely, either from home or from an office or from another conference room. Hybrid meetings present some special challenges, not just technical problems (flat-sounding speaker phones) but also cultural issues .

Continue reading

When meeting face to face isn't better

Have you ever done affinity diagramming? That’s the brainstorming exercise in which each participant in a conference room is given a pad of sticky notes and asked to write as many ideas as possible about an issue or solutions to a problem on them, one idea per sheet. After a few minutes, the meeting facilitator invites participants to arrange their notes on a board or a wall, placing similar ideas together. After a few minutes of elbowing and toe stomping and dropped bits of paper, the stickies end up clumped together and some major answers emerge. It’s a very powerful technique for thinking as a team. 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:

Continue reading

Vision and Mission Statements Revisited

I’m sure you have had a chance to write a vision or mission statement at one time or another in your career. In my 25 years in high-tech corporate life, I’ve seen hundreds. Unfortunately, most of them were poorly written because the authors failed to capture the true goal of a vision statement, and missed the boat completely on what they called a Mission Statement. I think the reasons for this are obvious…we were never taught how to write them properly. Isn’t that the reason for most of our problems in life? In any case, let’s begin with the Vision statement.

Continue reading

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