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Top 5 tips to effectively manage complex projects whilst working remotely

02 September 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has seen a cultural shift in remote working. A recent Gartner poll showed that 48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic. Remote work is here to stay.

The freedom to work from the location of your choice and enjoy a work-life balance are just some of the benefits of working remotely. There are also benefits for the employer, such as more satisfied staff members and reduced overhead costs. However, remote work does have its challenges, in particular when working on complex projects.

Here are our top five tips for how to make remote working, work for your business.

Tip 1: Communication excellence

Effective communication is the most important part of managing remote projects and also the most difficult.

The more complex the project, the more important consistent and clear communication is. Regular meetings are always a must (video and face-to-face), but the remote project manager’s situation is well-served by conducting additional communication such as daily status updates with the project team and customer.

Since the customer can’t reach out and see you, the more status updates, discussions and project health checks you can provide the better. It will only serve to increase their confidence in your ability to deliver. In our experience, no customer has ever said, “I wish they would stop giving me regular progress updates”.

The same is true with your remote project team. More frequent team meetings will strengthen team cohesion and collaboration and help eliminate any frustrations that would otherwise come with team members not having close access to their project manager.

Tip 2: Manage priorities

When working on any complex project there are bound to be unforeseen events and challenges that potentially block or even derail progress.  When working on these in a remote environment the challenges are magnified because they are often not as easy to spot and harder to overcome with quick decision making.

When managing remotely you may need to make some hard decisions to ensure your team stays focused on the project goal. When deciding what to focus on, return to these three questions:

  1. What is the goal of the project?
  2. Does this task / activity / action help us achieve the goal?
  3. Are there any other tasks / activities / actions we could do to achieve the goal more effectively?

As project manager, make your approach to prioritisation visible to the rest of the team.  This builds trust and improves productivity.

Tip 3: Assemble your dream team

Assembling a high-performing remote team goes beyond just hiring the right team members. When working remotely it is often harder for individuals to see how their role fits with the wider goals of the project and the business. The key is to make sure team members are empowered to work and act independently.

In terms of the make-up of a project team, this will of course depend on the type and complexity of the project.  In our experience we have found that the most successful remote teams share the following characteristics:

  • Are cross-functional. The ideal remote team is made up of individuals with different skills and capabilities who work together towards a common goal.
  • Focus on a single project at one time. It is not always feasible, but successful teams work together on a single project until it is complete. This eliminates waste generated by individuals shifting context throughout their working day.
  • Are self-sufficient. Project managers are fully embedded within the team while the project is underway and the team works as a single unit towards the project goal.

Tip 4: Have the right systems

Without the right systems your team cannot operate effectively, and your complex project can quickly derail.  Choosing the right project management software can help overcome these challenges. But selecting the software that best suits your business needs careful consideration.

When it comes to evaluating the right project management software it is worth considering the following:

  • Single source of truth. Will the software provide (or use) one source of information that everyone in the company agrees is the truth?
  • Clear workflow and audit trail. Can the software deliver a seamless workflow from start to finish for the project? If not, does the software integrate with other systems in the business to deliver this end to end workflow?
  • Real time information for customers and staff. Can your team and your customers access the software anywhere, and get real-time updates on the progress of the project?
  • Effective resource management. Does the software allow you to schedule resource (labour and materials) to ensure you meet agreed deadlines and utilise your remote team in the most productive way possible?
  • Automated communications. Can the software save you valuable time by automating communication (internal and external) to notify stakeholders and move the project along?
  • Budgeting and financial management. Will the software accurately track costs of the project against a budget and trigger alerts when profit margins are threatened?

There are almost endless options for project management software but choosing the right one will depend on what your business needs. Often, the more complex the type of work, the more bespoke the software needs to be to achieve the productivity gains you are looking for.

Tip 5: Always make time to review

At the conclusion of a complex project it is vital to review and gather data to see what could be improved for future projects.  Particularly for remote teams, it is too easy to move onto the next project without first looking at ways to improve the process.

The review should be built into the project schedule and take the form of a group discussion where all members of the project team are asked:

  • What went well during this project?
  • What could have been improved?
  • Do the software tools you are using help you work efficiently?
  • How can communication be improved?
  • Were you able to meet the schedule assigned to you?
  • How can things be improved to make the project team more productive and effective next time?

Summary

Effective management of complex projects does not have to be a burden on remote teams. With the right team, software and processes, you can deliver complex projects more profitability, more often, and develop a workplace culture where team members thrive in an environment that promotes autonomy, flexibility, and trust.

At Blue Wren, we have the expertise and the project management software to help you effectively manage complex projects remotely. So, if you would like to discuss how we can help, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

You can do so by calling the office on 01772 823734 or selecting one of the options below:

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