Virtual project teams – OPEN

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Topic 10.5: Virtual project teams

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Whereas operational work units are usually co-located - meaning they are all working together under one roof - project teams often work remotely, only ever communicating via email, video conference and other file-sharing technologies.

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The project that developed IPM Open, for example, was managed from Australia, but had specialist team members working on it in China, India and the USA.

It also outsourced smaller parcels of work to Romania, Croatia and the Netherlands!

The virtual team format is very compelling in that it makes it possible to:

Form teams of people from the same company who live in widespread geographic areas

Add special expertise to a project team that would not otherwise be available

Accommodate employees who work from home offices

Form teams of people who work different shifts or hours, and

Include people with mobility limitations or disabilities.

We have already discussed the distinct challenges of leading projects, including the problem of authority (or lack of) that comes with managing ad hoc project teams.

So what additional challenges do you think are faced by virtual project teams?

Firstly, technological interdependence is critical when working over distance. 

Although it has improved in recent years, basic incompatibility issues still exist even between PC and Mac operating systems. 

Team members using different software, or even different configurations of the same software, can bring serious chaos to otherwise straightforward projects.

At the same time, communicating and collaborating becomes more problematic for virtual teams the more dispersed they are. 

This is because the further apart the team members become, the greater the chance is that they will be working across different time zones. 

And as the membership of a virtual project team begins to cross organisational boundaries, the integration of work methods, organisational cultures, technologies and goals increases in complexity.

This is especially problematic when trying to identify issues or risks

As we already know, the early and iterative identification of things that can and have gone wrong in projects is a critical factor for success. 

This is especially true the more complex and interdependent project tasks become. 

If there is a delay in realising that something is amiss, the impacts may be felt exponentially across time, cost and/or scope.

Yet because these challenges are all reasonably foreseeable, they can be addressed as part of your risk management process.

For even though there are clear cost and expertise efficiencies to gained by globalising or outsourcing elements of project work, these benefits need to be balanced with the requirement to integrate all the component activities into a single deliverable.

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