I ran across a White Paper by Barry Fliker “Working at Warp Speed: Project Collaboration with Distributed Teams”. (sponsored by Go-To-Meeting). The paper is well written and worth the download/read. It focuses on one of the most critical parts of creating a virtual team, getting the team going at the start.
Barry presents 6 main points:
- Getting Focused
- Connecting the Team
- Optimizing Virtual Meetings
- Defining the Goal
- Documenting Assumptions
- Collaborative Planning
I want to add some detail to the last point. Building the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) needs to be a group exercise, this is a key way to get the team member to take ownership as individuals for the work assigned to them and to take ownership as a team for the overall work; ensuring handoff’s happen and progress moves from element to element.
To build the WBS as a group, call a meeting. This work is not a good candidate for Delphi type methods (send an email, wait for response, send another email). The team needs to be pulled together where they can react immediately to each others comments and suggestions. That can be a conference room or an online meeting room. Here are the steps to create a successful WBS build meeting:
- Have everyone introduce themselves, their role on the project, their expectations. The key here is to break the ice, get everyone to talk and participate.
- Review the goal, in Barry’s White Paper he calls it a “Project Objective Statement” (POS). Regardless of the form, everyone should be fully onboard with the goal, and this step should just be a review. If not, you’re team is out of sync and may fail; change the agenda and explore the goal, get everyone on board before attempting to build the WBS.
- Ask the question “how do we go about doing this”?
- Listen, write responses on a white board or virtual white board.
- Listen, link work together based on team member comments.
- Question, challenge, query, then listen some more.
When everyone is agreeing that the work is well described, adjourn the meeting, put the WBS on “paper” and send it out as the meeting minutes. Then you’re ready to start gathering estimates.
In my experience, when I didn’t get the team started off right, I was never able to get it to come together along the way. Read Barry’s White Paper, it’s a good overview of a very critical area in project startup processes, especially for virtual teams.