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Working with Remote Project Teams

August 3, 2017

Capital Project Teams are large, with sub-teams across countries and even continents working toward the same goal. How can you build a solid relationship that supports high-quality work and good communication with people thousands of miles away?


Here are seven key steps to success that we learnt from our own experience as well as the experience of those brilliant teams and organizations we have had the chance to work with:


1 |     Make communication skills and interface management a core competency.


A project interface is the boundary between two parties working on a project; you might also think of it as the point at which one person, team or contractor hands responsibility to another. In many cases the interface exists at the point of connection between two physical systems that were developed separately - like an airplane fuselage and the electrical harnesses that connect it to the aircraft - but it can also be a key deliverable based on the combined work of separate teams.


It is imperative to manage these interfaces in a structured, accountable way. Develop a clear set of interface management techniques and principles, then train every project professional on using them. Teams working on complex projects need to communicate consistently and effectively.


For example, a remote team could benefit from focusing on the critical points of contact between their component design, planning and assurance teams, to ensure that everyone knows when and with whom they should share information. Most integration teams focus on milestone planning and resource allocation, paying little attention to the quality of communication between teams. That needs to change.



2 |     Establish a single point of accountability in cross-functional project teams.


Deliverables and associated requirements are more likely to fall through the cracks when remote teams are working together in an unorganized way. Making one person accountable for every deliverable - large or small - helps solve this problem. Adopting the single-accountability rule improved clarity around roles and responsibilities.


3 |     Find non-intrusive ways to oversee remote teams and audit interfaces.


Establish systems of continuous, non-intrusive monitoring and control. Leadership and management teams must be able to easily identify where there is a risk of miscommunication between the design, planning and execution teams working on the project. Consider the case of the Airbus A380, where development teams working separately in Germany and France failed to recognize that the plane’s fuselage was incompatible with the electrical harnesses. The failure to communicate cost the company millions of dollars in rework.



4 |     Identify each risk, and make one person responsible for mitigating that risk


Identify specific risks associated with the remote work, record it in the project’s risk register, and assign a single person to oversee and mitigate the risk. For example, if foreign-trained engineers work to a different standard, assign one team member to review the work to ensure it meets the appropriate standard.


5 |     Build bulletproof, automated work processes.


First, strengthen your work processes around key deliverables. Then, keep your team on track by mandating the use of automated systems to move work through the established process. Instead of bringing the document down the hall for review, a remote team member will select “ready for review” in your automated system. Problem solved.




6 |     Don’t assume that remote team members have a common understanding of the project objectives and requirements


Document the project scope, objectives, guidelines, communications and reporting protocols, corporate culture and anything other key drivers. Distribute these documents to everyone on the team and follow-up with alignment conversations. Make sure office engineering, planning and execution leads have the same understanding of these requirements. Get - and keep - everyone on the same page. Adopt and enforce the single source of truth rule.


7 |     Create a positive association with issue reporting


You need to know where the system is breaking down. Find an incentive that works for your team, and use it to encourage team members to report issues they encounter in their work. Alternatively, penalize the failure to report.


These simple strategies can dramatically improve performance.



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