Working remotely is a dream come true for many people. It rids them of the commuting hassles and gives them more freedom in managing their time and workflow. Employers like the idea too. Going remote means saving on your regular office expenses. GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics calculates that this saving for each half-time remote employee could reach $11,000 per year. This number accounts for some factors such as “increased productivity, lower real estate costs, reduced absenteeism and turnover, and better disaster preparedness”.
A lot of people might have the idea that for managing a remote team they should follow the same path as managing a typical office team.But if you’re managing a remote team of employees, you know it’s easier said than done. It demands a level of employee management and project management skills beyond regular.
Get your project plan in order
Regardless of the project management technique, you intend to use, as a team manager, you need to have a clear project plan and make it accessible to every team member. The crucial information you should include in your project plan include:
Project goals: clearly mention the objectives of the project in the project plan and make sure everybody understands them.
People involved: each of your team members is in some way or another completing each other’s work. So listing all the members of your team with a brief description of their responsibilities is needed.
Workflow and tasks: you need to divide your project into different phases from initiation to completion. Then define the tasks that should be done in each phase. It’s a good idea to hold a kick-off meeting with stakeholders and discuss the phases and tasks with them. As you break down phases and tasks, you need to assign initiation and completion dates to them as well.
Communication plan: effective communication is so important in project management that you need to have a plan for it. You need to define what should be communicated to who and how and when it should be communicated. Make a list of people involved in the project along with their contact information. Make sure people understand the goals for communication and what they should deliver. You should also define communication methods (phone, text, video, etc.) and how often it should be done.
Review and optimization: even after all the project milestones are reached, it’s necessary to take some time to test and review. In many cases you need to make some minor changes in the final project to improve its quality.
Project planning is more easily done if you use the right planning tools. Collaboration features, designing tools, and customizable templates in these tools allow you to do project planning right.
Let’s discuss some of the necessary project management methodologies for managing a remote team.
Scrum is an agile project management methodology with a focus on delivering products as fast as possible. A scrum team is a small group of (no more than 9) cross-functional professionals that are responsible for the project as a whole. A Scrum master makes sure that all team members know the objectives and milestones of each phase of product development, which is called “sprint”. Each sprint will last no longer than a few weeks and the development team is responsible to finish deliverables in the form of “Increments”.
Although nobody can tell the development team how they should finish Increments in each Sprint, they are required to hold short daily Scrum meetings to discuss any challenges on the way. At the end of each sprint, there will be a “sprint review” meeting so that the scrum master and the owner of the project could verify that the progress made during the sprint is acceptable. Even after the sprint review meeting, the team should hold “Sprint Retrospective” which is a meeting that enables the team to reflect on the past achievements and find ways to improve in the future sprints. Scrum guide is rather a comprehensive resource for learning more about Scrum methodology.
As a more aggressive agile project management methodology, Kanban is all about releasing products faster by focusing only on the tasks that are important. A Kanban team uses a Kanban board to visualize the work-flow and help reduce the time needed for completion. The board could be physical or an online tool with three simple categories (or workflow states) of “To-Do”, “Doing” and “Done”. The visualization of the workflow makes it extremely easy for the team to identify what needs to be done based on the team’s capacity and who is responsible for it. It also keeps the team focused on the tasks in progress.
A Kanban board on Monday.com -- source
A Kanban team’s goal is to reduce the amount of time a unit of work takes to travel from the moment it begins to its completion. To do this, the team limits the number of work-in-progress units in each workflow state so that the team has more focus on finishing the task in hand. Contrary to Scrum which allocated a fixed time (i.e. sprints) for the completion of the tasks, Kanban has a continuous flow at the discretion of the team.
As the name suggests, Scrumban is a combination of practices from Scrum and Kanban. Instead of using timeboxed “sprints” for tasks, Scrumban uses an on-demand principle to pull in the tasks as the team accomplishes them without having to worry about a sprint’s time limit. It keeps the work in progress limited so that the team can focus more on the task at hand.
This hybrid methodology takes daily meetings, reviews, and retrospectives from Scrum to make the team consistently review the work and make reflections for future improvements.
Waterfall approach to project management is rather a traditional methodology that sets different phases for the completion of the project and expects the team to stick to the requirements. It’s the exact opposite of the agile methodologies in that it values extensively planning the work before-hand and setting requirements once and for all. The team is expected to complete each phase of the waterfall before moving to the next one. There will be little room for change in the progress.
As shown in the image above, a waterfall is typically divided into five phases:
All the deliverables and requirements for a project should be documented in the Requirements phase. A project manager should communicate extensively with the client to understand all the requirements. Once this phase is over and the objectives are clearly determined, the designing process begins.
This methodology is ideal for projects that have known and fixed requirements. Solid planning and designing before implementing the process reduces the number of errors during the project. It’s also a good approach for short projects that require predictable outcomes for a fixed budget. However, if the project’s requirements are not certain or fixed and the project owner might need more changes in the deliverables, waterfall might not be the best approach.
Invest in tools:
Having the right project management tool for remote teams is a must. These tools are often online and provide you with features such as charts and reports, file sharing, planning, project boards, task allocation and management, and most importantly efficient communication.
Some of the most popular project management tools are:
Transformify is a full-stack freelance management platform for businesses of any size. One of the features it offers is the possibility of assigning projects to your remote team members and being able to manage them.
Monday.com is probably the most popular project management tool. But it’s famous for a reason. It has a clear and intuitive interface that makes organizing the sequences of your work easy. The tool is a good fit for quite any project management methodology you choose.
Teamwork is a tool that offers all the features you need for managing a remote team. You can easily create projects, upload files, comment on tasks, track the time passed for the project, etc.
Wrike is a popular work management platform for remote teams. Project managers are able to create custom workflows easily and share them with team members. The platform is easy to set up and has comprehensive task modeling features.
ProjectManager is a hybrid tool that allows you to adapt to changes in your methodology for any project you’re working on. The tool has powerful features for making Gantt charts and Kanban boards.
As a modern collaborative tool for managing remote teams, Mavenlink has great resource management features. The service-centric business intelligence reports and insightful dashboards allow you to have a better understanding of your projects.
Here’s a more comprehensive list of the project management tools for remote teams.
Collaboration is key
It’s a fact for most project managers that adhering to one methodology is not going to solve the complicated issues in the modern workplace. Survey from the Project Management Institute shows that 89% of project managers use hybrid project management practices to complete their projects. Top factors for deciding what methodologies to use are simplicity or complexity of your project, flexibility of your work environment, client expectations, organizational goals, etc.
More important than deciding to be loyal to one particular project management methodology is encouraging collaboration in your team. Doing projects as a team demands a high level of communication and collaboration between team members. As explained above, having a communication plan explaining what, how, when, and to whom team members should communicate solves a lot of communication issues.
Meetings are also quite the standard for all project management techniques and methodologies. For example, Scrum encourages development teams to hold meetings at various intervals. Short daily meetings are meant for discussing the challenges the team is facing. Sprint planning meetings are meant to encourage team members to propose ideas and plans for completing the Sprint ahead efficiently. Sprint review and retrospective meetings are ideal for discussing if there’s any room for improvement for the tasks completed.