It is important to be aware of the many challenges that project manager’s face when they are managing globally distributed teams. Most of these challenges can be attributed to communications and technology as outlined below:
- Language and cultural differences
- Various holiday and work schedules
- Lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities
- Poorly defined expectations
- Poorly defined deliverable
- Conflicting management direction
- Mismatched practices and processes
- Slow network connectivity
- Software incompatibility
- Available hardware
All of these challenges can lead to higher costs and missed deadlines if they are not addressed.
Thus, highly skilled people, lower labor costs, and globally distributed teams come with a price. The interactions between distributed team members are affected by the absence of the rich social communication and coordination that is possible only when team members are located together. This loss of social and physical interactions can lead to problems:
Problems related to the team’s social functioning:
• In distributed team meetings or conversations, team members have limited access to the social cues that are apparent in a co-located interaction. For example, team members who want to observe a colleague’s reaction to a comment can quickly glance in their direction and see the colleague’s body language. The loss of this awareness of social cues can be very difficult for distributed teams.
• Distributed team members are limited in the spontaneous interactions that can occur with other team members. This is exacerbated when there is little real-time overlap between team members’ workdays and team-building becomes nearly impossible to achieve.
Problems related to the coordination of the team’s work:
• Unlike a co-located team, because of time zone and work schedule differences, distributed team members cannot easily observe what other team members are working on by simply stopping by their desks or otherwise receive environmental clues as to what tasks are underway, what documents are in progress, or what the status of an activity is.
• Coordinating the assembly and review of deliverable can be cumbersome for distributed teams. In distributed environments, communication relies on channels such as phone, instant messaging, and e-mail, which are often slowed by transaction delays.
• Distributed projects often generate a significant amount of fragmented but vital content. It is common for critical project information to be stored in the e-mail archives of team members. If the project information is not stored or organized with an eye toward discovery or retrieval, significant inefficiencies result. This is most common when new members join a project team and are faced with discovering and assimilating the project information.
• Distributed team members manage their project documentation electronically. This presents numerous challenges, including version control, user access, and digital rights management
What are some of the challenges you are seeing with your distributed project teams?