Three key things to remember when managing projects… remotely

By Colin McKee
27 April 2020

Following on from my colleague Russell Knight’s latest post – which I encourage you all to read as it offers excellent insight into what’s needed for a successful software implementation – I’d like to offer a narrower view into the role a Project Manager plays in one.

Project Management, and the core ideas and time-tested processes behind it, plays a major part in almost everything we do at work (and at home). In this list, I’ll share three pointers helpful to keep in mind when managing your projects. While basic perhaps, they are essential at fostering a trusting relationship between you and your stakeholders and provide a strong foundation for future collaboration. At SS&C, running projects remotely is not something new to us and some may say that the consulting or professional services industry as a whole has been heading in this direction for some time now. Nevertheless, given the situation most of us find ourselves in around the world, where in-person interaction has been put on hold for the most part, these points especially are things we should be keeping an eye on.

Communicate early and often to manage expectations smoothly

It’s been said that PMs normally spend up to 90% of their time communicating. The earlier you open the lines of communication and get the information flowing, the better the experience will be for you and all your stakeholders.

Identify them early on (project sponsors, internal team members, supporting functions like risk or finance, other 3rd parties etc.), and do a stakeholder assessment with the project team to make sure you have everyone accounted for. Then take it the extra step and come up with a strategy on how you’ll manage them – regular email updates, 1:1 phone calls… Now more than ever, as face-to-face interaction remains limited, we should leverage video conferencing applications or other PM collaboration tools to make the communication a bit more personal and inviting.

Establish a clear, well-defined, and agreed baseline from where to manage change

How can we agree on where we are going if we don’t agree from where we started? Where are we now and how much is left to go? Setting a baseline, a key component of our Advent Implementation Methodology, is a very important exercise in managing projects and should consist of a common, shared understanding of included or excluded scope, a picture/plan of where you are going, as well as success factors to know when you get there. This baseline should be discussed and agreed (there’s that communication again) with the stakeholders you’ve identified. This ensures everyone’s expectations are aligned and also helps to prevent surprises down the line.

Your change management process should also be sorted out early on in your project to keep the baseline “intact”. Changes are inevitable and will affect your project at any point in its lifecycle. The only control we have over them is how they are managed (communicated, agreed). How they impact or change your baseline is critical to project success and being able to finally close your project. (Remember all projects have a beginning and an END).

Ensure appropriate resources are available and know their roles

Maybe not as exciting as the first two, but equally important, is your resource plan. Resources are people, their knowledge of current workflows/use cases, budget and the necessary amount of time needed to get the project done. Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them (preventing surprises again) – and encourage your project team to speak up if anything at any point is unclear. Too often time is lost due to resources being unsure of what they are supposed to do. Provide an environment and build a rapport that promotes open and honest communication with everyone on your team.

As most of our project teams are usually spread-out physically across multiple locations, I personally am in Hong Kong and work with internal teams and clients from London to Wellington – we are accustomed to having meetings over the phone. With the travel limitations currently in place and the similar situation we’re all facing, we find ourselves turning on our web cameras more, opening our homes to our colleagues and clients, often with kids or pets making appearances. This will only help to build the atmosphere and environment where your team will feel comfortable speaking up – a practice we should continue long after this is behind us.

I have realized over the past several months that relationships and trust between stakeholders and team members, fostered through regular and open conversation and dialogue is what will keep things progressing during these unprecedented time. I hope these pointers prove helpful in doing just that and best of luck in all your projects!