Data is a differentiator. Companies that can capture what customers buy, like, and use can interrogate that data to provide insights that help them stay ahead of the curve. Big data is the term given to the storage and analysis of workplace data for the purpose of creating meaningful management information.
The data from collaboration and project management tools is a subset of all this data. Real-time project analytics can add huge value to streamlining project management processes and in identifying early warning signs for projects.
Being able to parse a discussion thread from your collaboration tool and single out potential risks and issues could change the role of the project manager in the future. Furthermore, natural language searches will make it easier to include narrative discussions, meeting minutes, and more in the data analysis, saving hours of time when investigating or predicting problems. All of this data could be used to predict the future success (or otherwise) of projects.
There is already work happening in this sphere: The PMO Flashmob here in the UK held a session recently looking at the role of AI in the project office and project management domain. While I didn’t attend, they did publish some interesting Inside PMO report on the topic.
There’s also been a discussion around RPA – robotic processing automation (in other words, using algorithms to process info instead of humans – it’s not ‘real’ robots sitting at a desk next to you doing PMO work). There is a lot of scope for development in this space, freeing up knowledge workers to – you know – actually use their brains for stuff and building relationships to help get projects done.
Data presentation techniques
Allied to the big data revolution is the rise of data presentation techniques, because the trouble with all that data is that it is very difficult to understand. There is a trend toward simple, clean designs for websites and tools with high usability and a very visual impact. The growth of social media sites like Instagram and Pinterest, plus the sudden, recent spike in the number of infographics doing the rounds on sharing sites shows that users are gravitating toward images.
This is relevant to project management collaboration tools because project managers have to adapt the way they communicate to suit the needs of stakeholders. If the needs of stakeholders are evolving to include a requirement for more visuals, then project managers will need to move away from text-based project reports to a more engaging way of sharing status updates.
Visual data presentation is not new to project management—after all, that’s really what a Gantt chart is. Kanban, too, is a visual project management approach and many agile teams work with visual plans. We could well see the visual preference for presenting data manifesting itself in more tools that use images and visual workflows in conjunction with traditional Gantt charts.
This article includes a few points that were made in my PMI book: Collaboration Tools for Project Managers. Given what we’ve been going through and seeing so far this year, it felt appropriate to try to pick out some comments on tech for teams and where that might be taking us – because it seems to me that virtual working is here to stay.
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Virtual meetings can be a huge time and cost saver, but the last thing you need is to be stuck on project calls that take up all day.
If you’re anything like me, I’m sure you will have been on calls where you’ve sneakily gone on mute because the meeting isn’t relevant to you, or you have nothing to add, or some other reason. While it’s better not to multi-task during a virtual meeting, and even better to not go to meetings that aren’t relevant for you, sometimes virtual meetings are a must.
You can make virtual meetings better. This quick video shares 3 easy tips for making virtual meetings that little bit more productive for everyone.
These tips came from a fantastic presentation on virtual meetings at a PMI event by Dr Penny Pullan. You can read more about that presentation here.
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Managing virtual teams is a skill. You can learn how to do it better, but getting the best out of a virtual team takes practice.
Let’s give you a head start. I spoke to five experienced project managers about how they manage virtual teams.
Here is what they had to say about making working virtually a success.
I have gone to great lengths at times to actually meet someone in person. This is particularly true of suppliers that don’t want to come in. I go there instead. The cost is worth it, especially if they are international.
We are increasingly working with European suppliers. Meeting them seems to be the key and conferences are good opportunities for this.
Paul Nicholson, MBCS, UK
Keep the lines of communication open. Meet face-to-face either in person or via video conferencing as often as possible. Even conference calling is better than relying solely on emails.
Listen carefully to what the team are saying and seek clarification if things aren’t crystal.
Helen Curel, UK
Oooh, difficult one... This is a subject where I know I have lots to learn, but:
Communication is key. Regular update calls, followed up with action task lists specifying who is doing what and by when. Don’t assume anything is being taken care of. Always double check.
Claire Sezer, FCILEx, UK
One-on-one calls are important when you have a virtual team. Dealing with a problem or individual task follow-up on a team call that you could have resolved with a phone call to one or two team members wastes everyone else’s time.
The Common Theme: Communicate!
Virtual working is often chosen because it has a stack of benefits, not least that it can be cheaper as there are no office overheads, less requirement to travel and you can use outsourced (i.e. cheaper) resources from wherever in the world is best placed to provide them.
As you can see, communicating is a key strand that runs through all these pieces of advice. A virtual team needs as much, if not more communication than a co-located team. Reducing the ‘virtual-ness’ of a team will help them gel much faster and give you a greater insight into how to get them working together productively so that the work can progress at pace.
Got any other tips for making virtual teams work successfully and not just turn into a cost-cutting exercise? Let us know in the comments below.
I was at the PMI Global Congress EMEA in Dublin last this week and I attended a presentation by Dr Penny Pullan about making the best of virtual meetings. In my last article I wrote about why we have so many virtual meetings – some people attending the presentation were spending over 20 hours per week in virtual meetings – and also the frustrations project team members have when they are participating in virtual meetings.
If virtual meetings are so bad, but we have to do them for cost and other reasons, what can we do t make them better?
“If you put in a little bit of really focused preparation you can improve them,” Penny said. Here are some tips from her presentation to improve your virtual project meetings.
What time is it?
Don’t make project team members in India stay up late for a conference call with the USA contingent unless you really have to. If you do have to, find a way to minimise the impact – do it as early in the day for the USA people as possible. Use this meeting time calculator to find the most convenient time.
Is the technology available?
Penny spoke about working in West Africa when the only technology available to her project team was the phone network. Don’t organise virtual meetings when some participants won’t have the ability to participate because the technical infrastructure isn’t available or reliable.
Can the participants use the technology?
Even in places where the technology is available and reliable, you may have some project team members who are uncomfortable using it. If they don’t know how the web conferencing software works, they will slow down the meeting for everyone else and the project team members who are technically literate will lose interest. Ask a tech-savvy person to sit with anyone who is not comfortable using the computer or the video conferencing suite. It doesn’t have to be a project team member: their PA or a desktop engineer from IT would also be able to ‘drive’ it for them until they are used to it.
What would it cost to fail?
If the meeting is to discuss something critical, what would the impact be if the meeting is not a success? If you are trying to recover a failing project, or discussing bug fixes that will stop the next software release, or gaining agreement on anything that has the ability to have a significant impact on your project, stop and think about whether a virtual meeting is the right way to go. If the cost of failure is more than the cost of travel, bring everyone together and have the meeting face-to-face.
Can you split it?
“You can do short things quickly virtually,” Penny said. But if you have lots to do and meetings that will go on for a while, it is better to meet face-to-face. She recommended an hour and a half as the longest time to spend on a virtual meeting. If you need to meet for longer than that, factor in some breaks. Give people the chance to put down the phone and stretch their legs. It takes a lot of effort to focus in a virtual meeting, and long stretches will impact the productivity and energy levels of the project team.
What else do you do to manage the impact of virtual meetings?
Meeting virtually means conference calls, webinars, video calls, and any type of discussion where you are not in the same room as the person or people you are talking to.
Travelling to meet someone face-to-face normally incurs a cost. In several of my previous companies we have had multiple buildings in the same town and the ability to walk between them – but even that takes time. And time is money.
A few years ago, there perhaps wasn’t the driver to cut down on travel, but now there are many reasons why project teams would choose to meet virtually.
Penny listed some drivers for virtual meetings from her research:
She summarised that more people are working virtually for a number of different reasons. So why do we all still fall asleep on conference calls?
Penny went on to describe the frustrations that project teams had raised with her when asked to attend a virtual meeting. They said:
With all those issues plaguing project conference calls and virtual meetings, it is a wonder that we get anything done on the phone or via video conference at all. Penny had some suggestions for how to improve virtual project meetings, and I’ll talk about them next time. In the meantime, what other reasons for conference calls or frustrations with virtual meetings do you have to add to these lists?