Maybe remote project management is your dream job, or maybe the situation with COVID-19 forced you into it. No matter the reason, you must make it a success. Managing a project remotely doesn’t have to be difficult if you keep a few keys in mind and let yourself be a little creative. Here are 3 keys (and one thing to avoid) for successful remote project management:
1. It’s all about people
This is a key for any type of project management, but it’s even more important for managing projects remotely. Gone are the impromptu chats around the coffee pot or before the meeting. Instead, our days become chunked into one-hour or even 30-minute conference calls. It may be tempting to just get right to business – that is after everyone connects to the call, figures out their mute button, and settles down whatever is going on behind them. Make sure you have an agenda item, or even a note on your own, to ask people how they are doing – to connect. You don’t need any crazy icebreakers, just a few minutes of chat. You might find it makes the whole meeting go smoother.
If people are late, have trouble connecting, or go on mute or get quiet, don’t jump to conclusions that they are not interested or slacking off – assume positive intent. What does that mean? Well, there is a lot going on in people’s lives right now, especially during this time when your colleagues may be trying to juggle education for their kids or an anxious pet. Most people are trying to juggle a lot. If inattentiveness becomes a pattern, don’t make a huge point of it on the call, or worse, talk to their manager. Follow-up afterwards and check in with the person. It’s another opportunity to build a connection.
The moral of the story here, is now is the time to be more flexible with people. The more people feel you care about them, the more eager they will be to do their work for your project.
2. Communicate, communicate communicate!
Now is the time to over-communicate with your team. Be as transparent with your team. Remember that reporting is not communicating. It won’t be enough to send out a status report and assume that everyone reads it. If there is something that a team member or stakeholder needs to see, call it out separate from the status report. Make sure your meetings are effective with clear and published next steps. Make sure every action has an owner.
Now might be a good time to send daily, bullet-point updates to your sponsor or project stakeholders, especially if your project is at a critical point (e.g., close to a go-live). A good rule of thumb here is to communicate until someone tells you to stop. It might also be a good time for a quick 10-15-minute standup call every day to make sure your team is raising any issues as early as possible.
Finally, follow-up and follow through. Again, you never want to assume that everyone read an email or opened an attachment. It might be time to deploy the secret meaning of PM – professional mosquito.
3. Use the right tools
The third key is a good tool set. Having some type of chat mechanism is critical. Most companies provide this, but if not, you might want to look at tools like Google Hangouts, Slack, or even WhatsApp. Whatever tool you have at your disposal, use it. Reach out to people regularly and not always about work. Try to have some fun.
This might not be a good time to rely on a large project plan tool, such as MS Project, as the main communication tool for project progress. It might make more sense to whip up a quick presentation or checklist to share with your team. It might be a little more work on your part, but it could save you some headaches.
If you are using an agile methodology, low-tech might be best, I once held a sprint planning meeting by aiming my camera at a wall and using post it notes. Be creative and use what you have at hand.
If all else fails, using the good ol’ telephone might be as good as any tool. The trick is all of this is that the tool cannot over-complicate things. The simpler and intuitive the better. And don’t use email as your main tool. It’s good for creating a project record and memorializing conversations, but it’s not a good tool to drive action and make human connections.
What not to do
Above all, now is not the time to run silent and assume everyone knows you are doing a great job. Don’t let those texts or instant messages age. Be as responsive as possible. If you use the keys above, you’ll avoid this trap. Running silent can lead to isolation, detaching from your team, and worse, false assumptions that all is well (or all is terrible). Now is the time to reach out and be human. Remember, people are key, and more communication is better. Tools are good, but they cannot get in the way. Remote project management is a great way to hone your skills, get creative with what you have, and be more agile (no pun intended).