How to manage virtual teams effectively in software projects

As virtual teams are on the rise, the question for Project Managers of “how to manage virtual teams effectively” is becoming more frequent. It is the responsibility of every manager to learn and implement best practices when working in virtual teams. Furthermore, considerations to manage virtual teams are different, and they should be taken as an extension of the on-site team’s best practices.

How to manage virtual teams

In the globalization era, companies like Hexacta have started to adopt the modality of cooperative development teams working virtually in various parts of the world. In this sense, Sebastian Reiche, professor of Managing People in Organizations at IESE Business School, wrote in a Forbes article that “this virtual team strategy has many advantages, but it presents its own set of managerial challenges; working online is less formalized, and companies frequently lack clear policies on how to manage virtually”.

These kinds of enterprises have found themselves facing challenges related to multi-site projects management, cultural diversity, virtual team concepts, and adaptation to new communication technologies solutions that could let them convert from collaborative face to face teams into virtual ones, among others.  (This might be interesting: How do you select your technological partner? Key points to make the right decision)

This modality of work comes with a set of defiances, new practices, and benefits that should be taken into account if we want a project to succeed.

Let’s take a look at 5 of some of the most important facts that will help you to answer how to manage virtual teams effectively:

1. Educate team members to build strong alliances with their partners

A key point of working with virtual teams is that every member needs to learn to appreciate and respect his/her partner in order to successfully establish a relationship with people from other cultures that could be totally different to theirs. If we don’t succeed in building strong alliances between people from different cultures, then it will be almost impossible to have a strong and fluent communication inside the team, and for sure, the project will fail.

 2. Get converted into a virtual Project Manager

How to manage virtual teams

Managing virtual teams effectively will not be possible if we do not realize that the characteristics of a multi-site team are different from those of an on-site team, and the project management aspect becomes another key challenge.

It is important for the Project Manager to understand the peculiarities of a virtual team in order to know how to benefit from that. They need to be really careful in the project planning, as well as in the division and assignment of tasks. Moreover, the Project Manager should take their time to study and learn every team member’s personality and skillset in order to take the best benefits during the planning and delegation of tasks.

Here are some good practices you can perform:

  • Divide  the team into development cells, and designate a team leader in every cell.
  • Be clear that the role of every cell leader should be to serve as the main point of contact for that specific site and to keep the Project Manager informed about the progress of the functionality he oversees.
  • Keep constant communication within the virtual team, making sure that every member participates during the planning decisions and meetings.

If the time zone allows it, having daily meetings is a crucial aspect that should be considered since it helps to keep team members synchronized. In case the time zone does not allow it, the Project Manager could encourage every member to send a status report to the rest of the team at the end of the day. Daily meetings or daily reports allow people to perceive an accurate depiction of the project status.

One last thing, the Project Manager should ensure that the information that is conveyed is accurate and updated. (Read more: 5 Keys you can’t skip on your agile process).

3. Take advantage of time zones

Another challenge for the team is to learn to see the advantages of being in different time zones. At first glance it seems to be a disadvantage, but when tasks are well partitioned and planned, we can benefit from that. Teams from different locations can be organized to work around the clock, minimizing the development phase of the project and impacting favorably on the resulting budget. (Read this: 4 reasons to outsource in Argentina).

4. Use tools and a well-defined development process

Business meeting

The choice and usage of a development process is crucial when talking about how to manage virtual teams effectively.

A well-defined process will encourage people to be organized, not only in the development phase but also during the rest of the project lifecycle (analysis, design, testing, etc.). This will let people have a clear understanding of the project scope and current status.

Take this advice in mind:

  • Consider using tools that provide tracking capabilities such as tfs, jira, trello, trac project, etc., to register and follow all kinds of tasks that could surge during the lifecycle of the project.
  • Use Skype or similar platforms as a communication tool to let everyone chat in real time.
  • Consider also using Google Drive, Dropbox, or Sharepoint as a tool for documents sharing.
  • Be sure to have daily stand-ups, retrospectives, and planning sessions since they are key ingredients to successful teams, especially if you are working with Agile methodologies. (Do not miss this: Say no more “buts” and stop asking yourself why Scrum is not working).

5. Learn to capture the best of everyone

One thing to consider when working in multi-cultural teams is that we experience an interchange of ideas coming from different patterns of reasoning. Learning to take advantage of that diversity could benefit the team with providing a wider range of ideas, resulting in the personal growth of every member and thus, a project with enriched results.

To Sum Up

How to manage virtual teams

By learning, applying, and adapting these best practices for managing virtual teams, you have a better chance of leading your teams toward project success. The challenge of knowing how to manage virtual teams effectively benefits not only people and projects but also the company itself, by letting it grow with the pace of globalization.


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