Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Working in a Virtual Team (Part One: Remote Client Management)

Increasingly we have been working with remote clients and talent. Because we are international with studios in multiple locations in the United States and Europe, remote project management is a necessity. Virtual project, resource, and client management is a new paradigm that has challenges and requires a new awareness not found when working in the same location together.

Human communication is difficult face-to-face with someone you know well. Communicating via electronic means is more of a challenge. Syntax, tone, frequency, and method of communication play a larger role in the success of the project when using electronic means as your management tools. We find that we must tailor every project not only to the deliverables but also to the client and the resources involved.

A certain amount of psychology is involved:
• You must pay attention to your clients’ needs and comfort levels.
• You must know the strengths and weaknesses of your resources and assign them appropriately.
• You must recognize how often or infrequently to touch the client and in what way.
• It’s important to keep your project management feelers out and pay attention to the voice in your head/feeling in our gut that lets you know how things are going.

In fact, your emotional reactions become your biggest asset when managing virtually. The more removed the client, the more you must rely on your human instincts.

Some clients require more attention than others. Weekly reports and/or phone calls may help keep everyone on the same page. Other clients might do better with the update email and calls only when there are deliverables presented. You can’t have a one-size-fits all approach to remote project management. You must be agile, responsive, and pro-active.

There are certain tools that we use to help keep our communication efficient. Here is a short list of some that we recommend using:
Conference phone lines
  Budget Conferencing
  Concept Share
Project management
  Base Camp
Screen sharing
Video conferencing & int’l calls

Even with the advent of these online tools, we try to customize the client experience based on the client need and not just rely on them as a crutch. In summary, keep in mind the following when managing virtually a project:
• Change with the project as it changes to the benefit and with the buy-in of the client.
• Keep the clients’ best interests at the forefront of your interactions, recommendations, and deliverables.
• The ultimate success of the project – serving the financial, business, emotional, and strategic needs of the client – should be the motivating force.

This is not altruism but good business.