Understanding Virtual Project Management

Project management in general can be a challenging and complicated activity that encompasses estimation, schedule planning and tracking, risk analysis, people management, measurement and metrics. Effective project management requires the need to focus on the people, product, process and project.

The project managers concentrate on planning, organizing and managing resources to bring about the successful achievement of goals and objectives of the project. Virtual project management (VPM) is a similar attempt by Project managers except that all the members of the team need not be at the same location, but can be at locations spanning different states or countries across the world. VPM adds a new facet to project management as it is broadly influenced by use of collaborative software tools and the internet.


VPM also has distinctive challenges. Since the team members are spread across the world they have different cultures, working schedules and expectations. Without being able to micro manage, Project Managers have to manage the team members they may not have met or had first hand experience with and get them to communicate and work together to complete the tasks for attaining common objectives. The management is utterly dependent on technology and its powers of communication.


There is a requirement for special tools to work in a global environment and communicate effectively. These tools must equip the Project Manager to communicate, manage, track and ease the handling of projects. These tools are expected to have features such as being Web based, enable Creation of schedules and tasks, help to Assign resources and activities, incorporate Reporting functionality, facilitate Document Management, Collaborative software and Notification features.


Collaborative Software is software designed to help a work group involved in a common task to accomplish their goals and is the base for computer supported cooperative work. Software systems such as email, calendaring, text chat, wiki etc belong to this category.


Collaborative Management Tools (CMT) helps to assist and manage group activities. Some examples are tools used to schedule events and send reminders to group members (electronic calendars), tools used to schedule, track status in a project (project management systems), collect, organize and share information (knowledge management systems), enterprise bookmarking tools, sharing of structured information through online spreadsheets etc.


Collaborative Project Management Tools (CPMT) is similar to CMT except that CPMT is much more detailed and covers all aspects of the collaborative activities required for the project. Another difference is CMT may include social software whereas CPMT is more business like. In addition to tools used by CMT, CPMT may also include Video/Data/Synchronous Conferencing tools, Electronic meeting systems (EMS), instant messaging, HR/Time/Cost management tools, Document versioning/retention/ sharing/repository tools etc.


The demand for integrated solutions arising out of newly developed and existing software is increasing on a daily basis. This leads to shortage of skills in the newly created markets. Virtual project and collaboration methods provide a broader spectrum of knowledge and skills with potential resources available across locations. Virtual Project management can remove two major barriers in any project execution – company affiliation and physical geographic location.


Some suggestions to master the art of workgroup management in a virtual environment are outlined as follows. The Project Manager should master the collaboration tools so that each project can increase turnaround time by the art of automating processes at increased pace.


The Project Manager should take time to know the strength and weaknesses of the team. Team members should be properly introduced to each other and roles clearly defined and the necessary information for successful workflow properly communicated. Team members should be alerted to obstacles and sensitive matters ahead and made absolutely clear of deadlines. Workflow is a major challenge and should be well constructed. Since projects created by virtual collaborative teams can be uncontrollably dynamic, troubleshooting techniques should be adopted and environment made flexible to changes.

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