2011/01/14 January

Project Manager, Process Technology Group,
Ford Customer Service Division Europe, Cologne, Germany

Successfully managing projects with global virtual project teams

Project work can be very rewarding: working with different people with different skills from different countries, learning new things and create something new. It can also be very frustrating with destructive conflicts, misunderstandings and failures. So what can you do as a project manager to stay on the bright side of (project) life?

The success of a project highly depends on having the right people with the right skills in the project team. But this is by far not enough; communication and motivation are two further key factors. It is key that each project member

  • understands what’s his task in the project team
  • that there is an atmosphere of trust which is prerequisite for an open communication
  • and that people are motivated to reach the common project goal.

Project work implies that new tasks are tackled that have not been done before which often results in unexpected issues. Also very often, the team members are from different functional areas, don’t know each other and have not worked together before. To successfully master these challenges a project manager needs both soft skills as well as analytical skills.

Virtual project teams increase both the opportunities and the risks of a project. Especially in global organizations with a large number of employees it is possible to select the most suited team members with the right skills and just virtually link them together for a project. However, it takes more than that to build an efficient project team. The risk of misunderstandings is much higher if people work in different cultures and don’t have a chance to just have a quick chat at the coffee machine. An extra effort has to be made to make sure that working relationships are established in which people can openly communicate about things they don’t understand and about risks and issues that occurred.

Based on many years of work as project manager in “normal” as well as virtual global project teams; I want to share my personal experiences and best practices with you.

Twitter minutes:

  • #BECF Today’s lesson learned: virtual projects save travel time, cost etc. But you pay the price: more effort to prepare meetings, building trust, etc.
  • #BECF Virtual projects need a different leadership style – how to lead without f2f contact and have never met before?
  • #BECF The challenge of running virtual projects in the “old economy”: integrating experts of various generations – and computer proficiency!
  • #BECF Ask yourself: what would motivate you to contribute to a common goal or project?
  • #BECF Would I like to work with this guy = Would I like to receive a Facebook invitation from this guy = Would I like to follow this guy’s tweets?
  • #BECF Detailed risk analysis is crucial for starting a project. Big question: what is the right level of detail? Answer: Listen to your gut feeling!
  • #BECF The challenge: how to set up a project and manage expectations within a multi-cultural environment?
  • #BECF Just watching a video about Ford operating SAP warehouse management system. Amazing just-in-time supply chain management.
  • #BECF Ford Customer Service (FSC) is closer to a retailer (like Amazon) than to a manufacturing company. FSC’s main challenge is logistics!
  • #BECF Ralf Gruber from Ford Europe is speaking about global virtual teams at the Berlin School of Economics today.