Practical Solutions to Common Pains of Virtual Project Managers (Part 2)

To write all project management issues that people face on daily basis, we would have to come up with a long list! Here we are continuing with the list of top 10 issues that virtual project managers face nowadays (Part 1 here). It’s a hectic world, one that requires relentless spirit, motivation to tackle obstacles with aplomb, and, often, making, uncomfortable decisions. That brings us to the next pain on our list, which is:  

6. Breaking bad news.

When you are put in the position to break the bad news to team members, you are in front of a difficult dilemma – should you take the challenge or politely refuse? Often, you are left with no choice. You just have to do it instead of a CEO who has both the authority and, perhaps, better skills, but no time to do it. After all, it’s not the same who gives voice to an important message. Even if you think you are not the best person for the particular news, since you are already in the game, you might just as well accept the delegated role with grace and go with it. Instead of imagining how nice it would have been to possess the acumen of police officers who go through a special training about communicating bad news to friends and family, borrow some of their wisdom and apply it in the project environment. So – what can you do? First, choose your words carefully. Second, think why you find the news difficult in the first place and deal with your own emotions. Third, choose the right setting and the context for breaking the news. Next, choose the right time. And finally, accept that even if you do all of the above, you cannot affect the situation positively up to 100-percent, and prepare to deal with another’s discomfort.  

7. Ill-defined goals and unrealistic deadlines.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll never get there” – the proverb about sums it up. Vague ideas, loose deadlines, and too many scattered resources don’t work in the virtual project environment. Since you are already dealing with dispersed teams, time zone difference, and cultural expectations, you need some structure to prevent poorly defined goals and projects running behind time snowball into something much bigger.  

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Start by setting clear goals on a kickoff meeting and ensure everyone knows them. Select the right software to create project plans. Make sure that strategies, plans, and roadmaps reflect the company needs. Once everyone on your team is clear with what they are trying to achieve, it’s easier to keep them accountable. Create workflows and standardized practices, and properly track and communicate real-time progress.  

8. Lack of team member skills.

Hopefully, you haven’t made the mistake of hiring someone wrong for the job, and the lack of skills is due to the newly arisen project needs and changed project scope. To prevent problem number one from happening, ensure that the people on your team fit not only the skills, but also the role and the values of your organization. Changed project goals can actually be a good thing, indicating growth. The solution for this is simple – training.  

9. Localization constraints.

Regardless of how far you extend your team, a part of the work will need to be done locally and you may need to deal with limited local resources and other localization constraints. The reality of borders is that they restrict and protect at the same time. Product owners and product managers need to deal with local vs. international regulations, offshoring and nearshoring practices, and outsourced competition. They maneuver within a space that can be both supportive and prohibitive.  

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For virtual projects, borders are fluid, and, in the end, such fluidity reflects concurrent problems and opportunities. This is something project managers were born (read: trained) to do. Eventually, it all comes down to managing project scope, time and cost, just the stakes are bigger.  

10. Transparency shortfalls.

With so much going on in terms of scope, time, and cost, it can be agonizing to let unrecorded or untracked events pile up. Despite how small or unimportant you consider things, in a global market, everything counts. You can’t let lack of visibility affect your team’s performance or leave you stressed due to thinking you’re losing control. Transparency is important as a tangible reminder of everyone’s input. Therefore, apply easy-to-understand metrics, provide access to reports to multiple users, and implement visualization tools. Cloud-based systems effectively blanket the majority of virtual project problems, as they let you simultaneously calibrate all three factors – scope, time, and cost. A huge problem-solver for virtual project managers is the awareness that they are not alone with their problems. Just knowing that your colleagues share the same pains from this list can ease down the stress of the workload. In conclusion, project managers need to take charge and come up with unexpected solutions to old problems  – think creatively – sometimes solutions can be found in surprising places!  

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