What are the best remote project management practices?
1. Assemble a high-performance teamThe first step in successful remote project management is to assemble the right team. Ensuring that you have a well-rounded team of people with the skills and expertise needed to bring the project to fruition is key. You can even get team members' input on who should be a part of the project, in turn, setting the scene for autonomy and self-sufficiency. Once you've put together your A-team, it's time to trust in their expertise. As a project leader, your primary goal must be to ensure that your team members don't feel micromanaged and frustrated, especially because they're all working remotely.
2. Outline the objectives and specifications of the projectWhen working with remote teams, communication is critical. And that's why, irrespective of the complexity of the project, it's important to share the specifications of the project with the entire team. By doing this, you can provide your remote team with a set of guideposts that they can turn to throughout the project to ensure that they're on the right track.
Ideally, you must ensure that you cover the following points —
- What is the goal of the project? What problem are you trying to solve?
- What is the desired result that you're working towards? Is the end-goal clearly defined?
- What is the timeline of the project? Are there any dependencies or critical tasks that may delay the project?
- Who is responsible for what? Are all the team members assigned tasks throughout the project?
3. Create a project charterSimply put, the project charter is an all-inclusive document that lays out the project vision, scope, team and their responsibilities, key stakeholders, the implementation plan, and other relevant information. The project charter is essential because it helps legally authorise the start of a project and align the goals of the team with the expectations of the stakeholders. When working with remote teams, it's important to keep all the relevant information in one document so that any team member can access it at any given point in time, irrespective of where they're located.
4. Schedule a project kick-off callBecause you're working in a remote setup, you can use a video-conferencing app like Zoom to hold a team-wide call at the start of the project. This call is an opportunity to get everyone together to ensure that any potential roadblocks are dealt with before they can cause bigger problems at a later point in the project cycle. Not being in the same room can make effective communication a challenge. Here are some ways to overcome this —
- Choose the right meeting time using a tool like Every Time Zone that suggests the best times for a call based on the team members' work schedules and time zones.
- Ensure that everyone is seen and heard. Avoid glitchy videos and muffled audios by using a video-conferencing app that has the most reliable quality.
- Create a meeting agenda before you get on the call and send it to everyone beforehand. This allows team members to prepare for any questions or doubts that they might have. Ensure that you stick to the plan, so your meetings don't run overtime.
- Document everything — notes, questions, processes, decisions, and other relevant data. Share the document with the team after the meeting ends so they can refer to it later. Doing this ensures that every team member is on the same page, and nobody is missing out on crucial information.
- The absence of face-to-face collaboration makes it harder for remote team members to get excited about what they're working on. And that's why it's important to motivate and acknowledge your team during the kick-off meeting to create enthusiasm about the project.
5. Set-up task tracking systemsOne of the simplest yet foolproof remote project management strategies is to create a central task-tracking system. In-house teams may get away with being lax about updating tasks — but without regular face-to-face meetings, keeping your remote team accountable requires diligence. A robust tracking system will allow you to add tasks, assign deadlines, and track the progress of your team. Keeping a central tool ensures that your team knows what they're responsible for, what needs to get done, and when. There are a plethora of task-tracking tools available today, such as Trello, Basecamp, Jira, and Asana, to name a few.
6. Document important insightsEven the most organised projects can sometimes derail if the team working on it doesn't have all the necessary information. And that's why documentation is so crucial to the success of any project. Remote or fully-distributed teams must document and formalise every process, irrespective of the size of the team. Because there are fewer opportunities for remote project managers to remind someone of a due date while walking by their desk, documentation becomes even more crucial. The simplest way to start the documentation process is to create a list of standard methods that your teams often repeat across each project. This creates a guidebook of sorts — a resource that every remote team member can easily access.
7. Automate frequent tasksIn a nutshell, automation is about enabling people to have the energy and time to focus on their core tasks while repetitive tasks are automatically taken care of. For instance, let's consider that your remote team is in charge of content marketing for a software product. In such a scenario, their daily tasks may include notifying editors about content, notifying designers to create graphics, email marketing, social media marketing, etc. All these tasks are shared across content marketing projects, making them the perfect candidates for automation. Tools like IFTTT and Zapier have become increasingly popular across remote teams to automate low-value tasks so that they can spend the majority of their team on high-impact work and drive the project forward.
8. Avoid micromanagingEven though your remote employees do not clock in and out of work every day, they still need boundaries and defined work hours. If your remote team is globally distributed and works in different time zones, you can't expect them to be available at the drop of a hat. Instead, you must take into account everyone's schedule and deadlines and respect their time. If you keep checking on your team members every other hour or continuously monitor their activities, they're going to feel frustrated and even demoralized. Rather than micromanaging them, take a step back and let them manage their own time and tasks. The reality is that remote employees get more work done when they're on their own, so productivity shouldn't be a matter of concern unless proven otherwise.
9. Practice accountability.Creating accountability is one of the most important things to know about remote project management. Working with distributed teams means shifting the burden of answerability to a bottom-up approach — every team member is responsible for their own decisions and work. In a traditional workplace, you can gather your team in a conference room and ask them what they're working on. In such a scenario, accountability is naturally built into the process. However, with remote teams, this process is challenging. And that's why you must decentralize the process and let your team members hold each other accountable instead. For instance, you can try trading in videoconferencing stand-ups for quick asynchronous status updates where each team member will have to answer the following questions.
- What were the highlights of last week?
- What are my priorities for this week?
- What are the potential blockers that aren't allowing me to do my best work?
10. Maintain project visibilityWhen working with remote teams, choosing the right project management and collaboration software is critical. Often, remote project managers overlook project management tools that will do most of the work for them. The simplest way to ensure 100% project visibility is to use a central project management software that is fully accessible to the entire team. The software you use is the key to keeping everyone in sync, in turn, avoiding the need for frequent meetings and updates. By using shared spaces with social updates, collaborating on documents, storing essential data on the cloud, and organising processes, team members from across the globe can work on the same project without any chaos or confusion.
11. Create prioritisation systemsTo manage your remote team and hit the project deadlines, effective prioritisation of tasks is crucial. Often, because you're working on multiple complex projects simultaneously, you may end up juggling conflicting priorities, in turn, missing deadlines. The best way to avoid this is to build a foolproof prioritisation system. Start by making a list of all the tasks that must be completed along with their due dates. The next step is to determine the order in which they should be completed. The key is to remember that no two priorities are equally important and that what really matters is the overall objective of the project. Whenever you encounter conflicts, always prioritise the option that gets you closest to the goals outlined in the project specifications and charter. Ask yourself some important questions —
- Is this feature in line with what we envisioned for our product?
- Do we have to fix any bugs and issues before creating new features?
- Is this 'new' feature essential? Is it one of our end-goals?