How to manage projects with remote teams

At Synergis, my colleagues and I are continuously learning about our industry and the skillsets we recruit candidates for. It is essential to the success of our efforts of matching talent with the right opportunities. That’s why the company sponsors and encourages us to attend seminars, webinars, conferences, meetups, etc. when it fits in our wheelhouse.

Most recently, I had the privilege of going to a project management event, the PMI Silicon Valley Symposium 2020 (virtually, of course). The Symposium focused on “Working Together, Apart,” which included leadership skills, tools and practices for building inclusiveness in remote teams. Something we can all relate to right now.

The one session that I was really excited about and intrigued by was given by Randall Englund, an executive consultant for Englund Project Management Consultancy. He also teaches leadership and management for graduate certificates online at Northeastern University, leads PMI SeminarsWorld and provides tailored consulting worldwide.

His session, “How to operate projects across organizations,” focused on how important working in cross-functional areas is to projects. He recognizes that running a project this way has challenges, but he has a proven process to overcome them. Interestingly enough, relationships are a key component.

The entire process consists of eight steps. He said he even used this process in carpooling when he lived in the Bay Area! Here are my key takeaways from this process:

Step 1: Introduce

In this step, it’s important to know your objectives and realize the need to influence without authority. Review your overview processes with the team including project management, leading change, the necessary skills and operating across your organizations. Place extra effort on relationships.

Step 2: Prepare for relationship building

Ask yourself, why do you need these other partners for this project? It’s important to be clear about your vision and mission for the project. If you’re working with people in other cultures, seek out a cultural informant to make sure you’re being sensitive to cultural factors. Also, adopt the complete project manager skillset.

Step 3: Establish relationships

Contact each person directly in your stakeholder analysis. Find out who else you need to contact to get them on board, get their feedback and then work on that feedback! Get explicit commitments from these people as well. And get buy-in on what the team will be doing. Throughout this analysis, practice reciprocity and speak truth to power.

Step 4: Develop team dynamics

Conduct a project startup event where you can get people excited. During this event, develop a shared vision and craft a purpose statement. A purpose is an enduring reason for a group of people to work together. It applies to each individual, the team and your organization. An example of a purpose statement could be: Lead the continuous improvement of project management across the company.

A vision statement is a vivid description of a desired future state when the project is successful. Criteria for a good vision statement are to:

  • Make it clear, concise, convincing and compelling (the 4 Cs)
  • Written in present tense
  • Desire future state
  • Unique to the organization and/or project
  • Fulfills fundamental needs
  • You will know when it’s achieved because it’s measurable

You should also establish and agree on a decision-making process, an issue resolution process, design change management and set goals.

Step 5: Create environment

Put everything together to create an environment for change! As the leader of the project, demonstrate authentic leadership and integrity. Also, show openness to coaching and an engagement level that far exceeds expectations. This means creating a people-oriented approach that establishes everlasting loyalty.

Step 6: Use virtual tech effectively!

This is probably the most unique to how we are working today. Leaning on our video calls and other collaboration tools is key to keeping a disconnected team working remotely and on the same page. Explore current tools for communicating and posting documents and choose the best ones for your team’s unique needs. And once you have the right tools, encourage active participation.

Step 7: Maintain relationships

In this step, TRUST is key! Creating an open environment with transparency will help build that trust. Be effective with your personal communications by adding a personal touch to all of them. And, as with any group, you will have conflict. Manage it by assessing it like an iceberg. There are issues above the surface that show themselves and are easy to identify. And then there is all that is going on underneath. Get to anything under the surface by asking questions.

Step 8: Adapt!

Keeping a positive attitude is how you adapt to whatever a project throws at you. And this means understanding the ebb and flow of every project and striving for balance. As the leader, you need to respond and enforce that everyone maintains a positive attitude as well.

Other nuggets of wisdom:

  • Demonstrate openness to coaching and an engagement level that far exceeds expectations.
  • Manage up the organization by taking the initiative to suggest actions needed from sponsors and all stakeholders who would be impacted by the program.
  • Excellence in project sponsorship is a necessary factor to ensure project managers and teams are motivated and guided to meet strategic goals.

No matter what kind of team you work on as a project manager, I believe these principles apply. And are a great place to start if you are the leader of such a team project.

As always, we are looking for project managers. So, if you’re interested, check out our open project management jobs. And feel free to contact us with any other questions.


About the author

Anna Geyer serves as a Technical Recruiter for Synergis in our San Francisco office. She has been with the company since the beginning of 2020, and has been recruiting within the PMO space for three years. She loves connecting with people in the industry to learn more about what is changing within the industry standards, and how people are adapting to these changes. When she’s not recruiting, Anna enjoys hiking, camping and being outdoors with her Huskies on the weekends!

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