Sooner or later, an international company will find itself in the situation that its organisation is distributed across several locations and in several countries. But can a team which can only pool its resources virtually work as well as a classic team which is concentrated on one site? Yes, provided that they look at one or two aspects which are the key to success from the start through to the end of the project.

 

A company which wants to acquire
this know-how does not have to reinvent
the proverbial wheel. This is because there
are consultancy and technology services which
have already perfected this form of virtually
networked collaboration. Often, they not only
pass on the relevant knowledge, but also help
optimise the necessary processes
at the same time.

 

They provide advice on organisation and methods – rather like helping you to help yourself – to clients so that they learn to master and control technology and application development themselves using the dispersed teams. So which factors allow virtual teams to take over the working environment and make them fit for purpose in real life?

The key milestones are set – unsurprisingly – right at the start. Whilst in a classic team, a lot of the knowledge transfer takes place « on demand » at the coffee machine or photocopier; in virtual working groups, there are few opportunities to meet and exchange ideas personally. If a team never meets face to face, it can be difficult to develop an understanding and feel for one another. Therefore, each company should choose a service partner which categorically insists on an actual kick-off meeting between those involved in the project. Communication will improve in the course of the project, and trust within the group will move to another level with time.

For the rest of the project, it is worthwhile to arrange regular meetings each day and each week for exchanging information. This defines the routine needed to exchange ideas and ensures continuity in transferring knowledge. The problem of different work patterns across time zones can be eliminated, therefore guaranteeing that team members can be reached.

The third factor for success lies in the fact that processes must be standardised as far as possible across all sites. The quality standards, corporate culture and the methods to be applied should be homogenous and binding. Standardised guidelines should also apply to the use of communication tools and knowledge transfer – what is documented and how, where it is kept and who must be involved when and how. Video conferences are clearly preferable to phone and email communication for collaboration and communication, since facial expressions, gestures and reactions can be seen by the people at the other end and often provide small but crucial details regarding comprehension, acceptance or motivation.

The next point sounds innocuous, but unfortunately, it isn’t: the supplied communication tools must of course also function in an « emergency ». The infrastructure must be stable, available and fast, since changing tools in the middle of a virtual meeting causes delays and frustrations, worse still if the tools don’t work at all; sometimes an entire team is prevented from starting a new sprint, resulting in lost time and extra costs.

A project is a living organism. It changes over time. Processes which were ideal for launching the project may prove to be obstacles later. A continuous optimisation process is therefore essential. Incremental reviews help in identifying potential improvements in retrospect and adapting processes for the future.

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