Companies all over the world are making their operations work remotely for the first time. If you work in an industry where teamwork is crucial, a sudden request to work from home doesn't have to be a strain on you or your team. There are unique opportunities and challenges that come with working outside of a traditional office.

Here we define what remote teams are, explore advantages and disadvantages and how to successfully work from home.

 

First, what are remote teams?

The best way to understand remote teams is to think of them as small groups of people who are committed to achieving specific company objectives. They often work for the same company and answer to the same boss but live in different cities or even countries. You can also think of remote teams as being similar to virtual ones. The reason for this is because both deal with very similar opportunities and challenges. However the difference is that virtual team members answer to different managers while working together on the same project.

 

Advantages to working from home

Many people are discovering that working from home is a great advantage, and companies are inclined to agree. Hiring a contractor over an employee, and using that employee to build a virtual team for projects, is advantageous in a number of ways:

    • Improvements in employee work/life balance
    • Little to no travel time
    • Flexible work hours
    • Project collaboration and file sharing is easy now
    • Overall increase in employee productivity
    • Employee satisfaction
    • Easier to attain and retain top talent

While it is apparent that pulling in virtual workers for a team project is a great idea, it’s also important to make sure the business avoids the following possible overall pitfalls. If these issues are successfully deterred, then working from home in a team project works well.

 

Embracing the “disadvantages”

Most companies worry a remote team could take a lot of time and effort to get started because all team members must learn to effectively communicate and get to know one another. However, this shouldn’t be seen as “lost time”. In fact, this is far more beneficial to the company than anything else.

Since communication amongst remote teams is often dispersed across longer periods of time, team members learn to communicate deliberately. The result is employees with better communication skills and stronger unity. Remote teams are also capable of developing stronger bonds with one another because they learn to connect with one another on deeper levels.

Another common fear managers have when using remote teams is that team members aren’t synchronized due to their different time zones and work schedules. What many don’t realize is that this is actually a positive factor. Since consistent communication is difficult to maintain, it puts pressure on workers to complete work on time in order for the next to begin. This will prevent future delays or confusion.

 

Making remote work a success

Setting up a remote team is the first step but once you have it up-and-running you’ve got to know how to make it successful. There are a few things you need to keep in mind during the start-up phase and all throughout the rest of its development:

1. On-boarding
Home cannot be forced upon member of your team: whoever prefers a detached, professional collaboration with no soft commitment will eventually have their way; but on the corporate side it should encouraged and tied closely to corporate culture and values, to a strong branding and to on-boarding. Based on how this process pans out, both employees and consultants can either feel important contributors to the organizations or just another fly on the wall.

Supportive communication has an enormous importance. How well you welcome and integrate members into the team, make requests for feedback or encourage spontaneous interactions are fundamental elements leadership should consider. It’s important to advocate autonomous work while keeping track of progress.

For that reason, the integration of collaboration tools and project management technology is particularly relevant in the project leader portfolio. A potential tool to help facilate this process is ITM Platform Teambot. This is an app for Slack that enables our user base to review their current projects and tasks, report hours, track progress and interact within the platform without ever leaving Slack’s IRC-type chat interface.

Combining the collaborative power of Slack with the PPM capabilities of ITM Platform is a great example of keeping all project members on the same page, multiplying team interactions and ensuring that project planning and execution are strictly aligned.

ITM Platform Teambot with Slack

2. Stay Focused
When you work from home, losing focus is more of an issue than in an office. No matter how dedicated a worker is to a project, staying on task might become challenging. Avoid this situation by remaining highly professional when it comes to work. Becoming exceptionally organized, and understanding your role on the team. This will help you maintain focus and stay on task with the project, because you will avoid being frustrated with lack of understanding.

3. Be Flexible
Today’s virtual world runs on a global scale. Be mindful of the cultural differences and communication barriers that you may encounter. Anyone who has been on a virtual team understands this issue. While the project is in the planning stages, remain professional. Speak on a professional level, and use textbook English in all written communication. It is important to do this to avoid as many misunderstandings as possible. As the project moves forward, make sure communication barriers are broken down by asking for clarification when necessary. Most businesses will appreciate a question over having to redo a portion of a project due to a misunderstanding.

4. Make sure you have the right tools
All project team members must have access to the right technology to do the job, such as survey tools or company passwords. Remote projects depend on this access almost exclusively to get projects finished. Often, businesses will set up secure passwords for each team member. This way, if a team member becomes dishonest and acts in an unethical manner, the company will know where the breach happened. Be sure to keep your security information secret, only use it to work on projects, and never act in a way that would cause anyone to question your integrity. Make remote team projects work by acting as you would if you were sitting in an office with a boss breathing over your shoulder.

Avoid messy digital communications. Emails, though important, is becoming a thing of the past when it comes to organizing and communicating with your team. With different time zones and locations, continuous email chains become difficult to manage. Maintain productivity by taking advantage of amazing project management softwares such as ITM Platform. This way, you can prioritize what’s best for your business, control project tasks and financials, and use real-time information to report how projects are performing.

5. Connect with your team
Lastly, you should think about ways to reach out and strengthen staff relationships. Oftentimes, remote teams organize staff retreats or even meetups for those who live nearby. If these aren’t possibilities then think about creating fun social media groups via twitter or facebook. This allows co-workers to share funny memes, gifs or videos; all simple ideas to help strengthen the bond amongst remote teams. Why not a virtual happy hour?

If you’re interested in creating your own remote team or successfully managing the one you currently have, sign up for a free trial with ITM Platform. Our team is here to support you every step of the way.

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The users are the ones that bring a project management system to life, either as collaborators or external consultants. It is imperative that the PMO believes, manages and offers support to all of them.

 

Collaborators or suppliers, everyone is a source of talent.

 

Responsibilities  

A good PMO provides a framework that helps project managers allocate resources correctly because:

  • Projects frequently borrow resources from other business units.
  • Assigning responsibilities haphazardly normally leads to management problems down the line.

A PPM software tool offers various options to help you define the roles in each project from configuring access permissions to the specific function of every project member. You can also assign a ‘task manager’ to each task. This task is now converted into a sub-project and the assigned task manager can follow up on it.

 

Organization

Integrating the company org chart into a PMO tool is a useful way to classify and identify projects/people/activities etc. within the functional hierarchy. Later on, you can also use it to analyze outcomes.

 

Capacity: Planning and Follow-up

Managing capacity is a task requiring the utmost efficiency. It is crucial for the PMO to find the balance between:

  • Efficient management that avoids both over-allocation of resources and non-productive time.
  • The competing demands of business units and cross-unit projects vying for a limited pool of resources.

Managing capacity should be linked to demand management. Frequently, over-allocation of resources is a sign that you cannot keep up with demand. The PMO should have the means to identify this situation and the power to fix it.

The following example offers an excellent module that allows the PMO to plan globally, while analyzing individual capacity and availability.

Whatever its responsibilities are, at the very least the PMO should offer a long-term view of the demand on resources and raise a red flag when imbalances are detected.

 

Communication

If people are the beating heart of project management then communication between them makes project management possible.

 

The PMO’s role is to set up formal communication channels, and to promote and facilitate informal communication between collaborators.

 

Formal communication is related to following up on tasks; it involves specific channels to help team members learn the status of projects and tasks.

The PMO must define key moments when relevant information will be delivered to stakeholders, with the PPM system as the backbone of this process.

  • Formal communication ensures that the required information is delivered to the relevant people in a timely fashion.
  • Informal communication enhances efficiency, enabling team members to discuss and deliver information with all the background at their fingertips.

 

Documentation

Whether it is a task, risk or purchase, every element of every project can generate its own support documentation.

The PMO has several roles when it comes to documentation. The main priority is to reinforce clear management, standardize procedures and ensure that information is properly used.

  • Defining which documents are indispensable, when they should be created and to what entity they should be assigned.
  • Defining documentation formats, in coordination with other business units.
  • Offering an access system to templates and supporting documents, as well as the procedures to use them.

Depending on the responsibilities, the PMO may use some features or other benefits of its PPM tool. For example, the role of project templates can associate documentation models in the different sections of the project.

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Here at ITM Platform we often hear PMO professionals say, “our maturity level is too low for PPM” or “we are not ready yet for project management”. In this article, we delve and explore into what project management maturity actually means and how a PPM solution is a bridge and not a roadblock to increasing your maturity level.

Truth is project portfolio management is not just for big corporations or businesses with complex processes.

Regardless of the size or maturity of your operation, it is possible to implement simple and effective project portfolio management. Different maturity levels require different features.

 

 

 

What is “Project Portfolio Management Maturity” anyway?

Project Portfolio Management Maturity refers to how ready your company is to smoothly execute a project, program and portfolio management strategy.

This can be assessed on a wide spectrum, ranging from an individual assessment to applying a formal maturity model assessment.

 

Identifying your company’s maturity level, yourself

In most cases, companies identify their own maturity levels on their own without any formal assessment. If you´ve ever caught yourself saying, ¨my company isn´t at that maturity level yet¨ then perhaps your own expertise and experience at work has led you to this conclusion. Have you ever had this conversation at the office?

  • - Hey, how do you keep track of projects here?
  • - We ask the project manager.
  • - I see. And do they use any formal or standardized way to do it?
  • - Well, so and so do, but not really.
  • - Then, how do you know how your portfolio is performing?
  • - Eh, we just focus on the projects that are causing problems now.

… Say no more. You´ve already pictured your company as having a low maturity level and reckon a PPM software solution will do nothing more than create confusion and frustration. However, it doesn´t have to be so challenging. Even if you found that the maturity level is low, you can still help your company grow in maturity with the right set of functionalities when applied at the right time.

 

Applying a maturity model assessment

A maturity model assessment is a specific set of criteria defined for each level and categorizes companies to their respective project portfolio management´s maturity levels.

Some models have six levels, others have four or five. But what’s most interesting are the category axes or dimensions that are used for classification. These are the most relevant, explained with basic examples:

 

  • Processes: Consider this the train tracks over which work flows. In our hypothetical conversation above, the fictional you asked about the processes in place. Other examples can be whether the company has formal resource management, risk management, cost management, program management or strategic alignment processes.
    You get the idea. If you’re a PMI fan, you already know them all.
  • People: Maturity models tend to put people first and assess questions like: does the staff understand and embrace project management? Do they know the processes of which they are involved in? Are they use to working on a project-oriented organization rather than a functional organization?
    People are vital to any organization and it`s important to consider human resistance when assessing the maturity model of your organization.
  • Organization: This is where processes and people come together. Some questions about the organizational model usually are: Does your company have a solid PMO (or a PMO at all)? Is Human Resources integrated in the portfolio management? Is top-level management on it? Is it a project-based organization?

 

 

Depending on the model, you will commonly come across these axes plus others such as technology or competitive landscape.

The takeaway here is that there are models out there that can help you objectively measure what you already suspected.

You can also use this online PMO & Organization Self-Assessment that measures three categories: Organization, Talent and Conditions  and in return,  providing a set of recommendations based on the results.

Our own findings

Most companies we´ve talked to find themselves somewhere in the medium-low / medium range spectrum. They tend to assess their company as having a lower maturity level than they actually have.

This happens in all countries we operate in even though there are clear market maturity differences among them. In most cases, this is because companies measure themselves against their own market/countries and not globally.

Furthermore, dealing with leaders across the world, we´ve noticed there is no strong correlation between the company size and its maturity. The general assumption seems to be that big companies are more likely to have a solid PPM methodology in place. However, it’s more related to the nature of the business rather than the size. The more project-oriented the business is, the more mature those organizations tend to be.

 

How is all this relevant to the decision of implementing a PPM software?

Project portfolio management solutions should be flexible and scalable enough to start small, grow gradually and add processes over time. This will allow you to create a consistent and sustainable project portfolio management ecosystem sans big initial investments and blows to your company.

Logical reasoning would presume: “if my company has a low PPM maturity level, first I need to increase it and then implement the tool”. This obviously happens to those who are aware that there is such a thing as PPM maturity. This persona is usually someone who has either used or has knowledge of complex PPM systems in the past.

And it’s true, six to twelve-month implementations and significant amounts of money are enough to set off any initiative, especially if the organization is not ready. Many would wisely argue that spending more on tools than the ROI they have on their projects is a poor move.

Processes and tools go hand in hand. Implementing one without the other is not ideal, since the tool enables the process and the process is transmitted through the tool. You just need to find the tool that can grow with you and adapt itself on that journey.

Pro tip: Changing from Excel and email to MS Project, then to a collaborative project management solution and finally to a PPM solution is not really growing. It’s breaking and recomposing processes, people and organization at every step of the way.

 

How ITM Platform supports every level of maturity?

The key is to identify the PPM solution that can provide the features according to your needs. Sound simple? The reality is that optimizing your company´s maturity levels need to take multiple factors into account and is anything but simple. And, like anything else that´s really complicated, most of us are looking for better tools to achieve tasks. Companies need a solution that in tandem adapts to your maturity level and enables you to add or remove features according to your needs.

ITM Platform gently increases maturities with the least possible hassle. It is equipped with easily adaptable features that grow with you no matter the stage. It’s comprehensive, intuitive and its seamlessly easy learning curve is just what you need to get your PMO up and running.

It´s possible to start on the right foot even though you know there’s a low project portfolio management maturity level in your company. And turns out, this is an excellent starting point!

Take the first step and try this free trial now! Experience first-hand what ITM Platform can do for you.

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Tracking expenditure and revenue flows answers one of the burning ques­tions of every board: “How much are we actually investing in our projects?”. This question often crops up when we are talking about internal, IT or transforma­tive projects. The planning and follow-up model should be agreed with the finance di­rectorate and business units, so that project managers understand the pa­rameters for action, how they should monitor budgets and use of resources.

The PMO should issue clear instruc­tions on:

  1. Which cost elements to monitor, especially in terms of hours and pur­chasing.
  2. How to incorporate external su­ppliers: hours or deliverables.
  3. Which metrics to use: hours, cost, profit, earned value, progress etc.
  4. How frequently to measure each parameter.
  5. Standardized periods for reporting working hours.
  6. Measuring income and profit mar­gins.

In the following sections we analyze these topics in greater depth, highli­ghting their integration into ITM Plat­form whenever possible.


Cost of working hours

If you require oversight of the esti­mated hours, actual hours worked and their cost, the module of stan­dard costs and provider rates must be defined. Carrying out the definition in collaboration with the finance and HR departments will ensure that the project’s financial management is line with the organization’s policies and procedures. ITM Platform offers a module to establi­sh the standard cost from an abstract level down to the most detailed one:

      • General: hourly cost of any task. Useful in the conceptual phase of the project.
      • Internal and external: whether you use your own people or out­side contractors this allows you to define the hourly cost in a generic fashion.
      • Cost per professional profile: allows you to define the standard cost of the internal personnel for each profile, within different time­frame.
      • Provider rates: similarly, provider rates can be fed into the system, allowing you to compare costs per person and per provider.


Purchases and acquisitions

Purchasing is one of the key activities in any company. When managed properly it enables easier planning and follow up of cash flow. Normally, purchase management is in­corporated in the early stages of matu­rity, typically before monitoring working hours. Nonetheless, it is important that projects synchronize their purchasing with the organization’s financial mana­gement, so that both are in agreement. The purchase flow is a kind of workflow and it must be linked to a procedure pre­viously agreed with the financial and purchasing directorates, ensuring that each project’s purchasing is in line with purchasing practices in general.In addition, budget accounts grouping purchases must be used homoge­neously.


Revenue

Similarly to purchasing, the classification and time management of the project revenues should be synchronized with the organization´s regular financial procedures. The system will then be able to create reliable margins and client profitablity.

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Choosing which projects to invest in is a strategic decision to be taken based on objective data. In this article, we explore the problem of subjectivity and analyze the solution that allows management to make decisions based on a business plan, in a rigorous and transparent way.

 

The Problem

In businesses where the source of income comes from making projects for clients, it is easy to decide which ones are to be put in place: (usually) those of greater profitability. And in some cases, all, if sufficient resources are available.

However, internal projects, such as those of transformation, tend to not offer such an obvious criterion as their value to the business is less evident and often more subjective to anticipate.

The fact that an expected value is subjective does not mean that its effects are not going to be real. It means that the benefits are hard to predict, and investment decisions can be based on perceptions.

This is a challenge that managing directors have always tried to address. The most used resource as a solution has been that of the "business case", which requires promoters to express the profitability or value contribution of their initiative in measurable terms, either in sales increase or in cost reduction.

The main difficulty presented by the business case is the human factor: a promoter of an initiative that has a strong motivation to give positive figures and show that their idea is profitable. Though it is desirable to have intrapreneurs on your team it is essential to validate their figures through a homogenous and and objective process.

The second difficulty of requesting profitability to internal projects arises from each promoter having limited vision to their area of competence, defending their plot without considering the overall vision. In turn, management considers these business cases as if they had been generated with the same criteria, which is not usually the case. Each promoter applies with different degree of ingenuity the data to the same template.

The issue at hand is knowing when to recognize, in an objective fashion, what initiatives will bring more value to the business when the projects deliver their expected benefits.

 

 

The Approach

When it comes to value, it is not always possible to apply a purely financial standard via project profitability based on forecasts in isolation and in comparison of each other.

  • The value contribution of a project to a strategic plan may be broader than profitability, even if the savings or earnings have been realistically calculated. For example, a process automation project can throw modest savings, but positively influence a priority target of customer quality perception.
  • Strategic project planning should not consider initiatives in isolation, as the result of the set may be greater than the sum of the parties. It is common for the result of some projects to enable others, and its set to offer strategic value. This is why program and portfolio management exceeds project management.

The strategic management of projects lies in the competence of the management and must be facilitated by the Project Management Office (PMO) to the extent that their objectives are the maximization of value and not only the transversal coordination.

Thus, the strategic planning approach to the composition of the project portfolio should consider two main elements:

  1. A strategic plan that exposes the objectives of the Organization
  2. A list of project proposals (initiatives)

With these two elements, we can prioritize initiatives that will order them from higher to lower value, generating an orderly list of approved projects (portfolio backlog).

Strategic management of project portfolios

A great advantage that offers prioritization of projects by value is that it supports applying resource constraints as a cut-line to its output. If we have a list ordered by value and – for example-a budgetary limitation, we will be able to establish the approval of projects based on those that contribute more value and that are within the available budget.

 

The Process

Once we have the two main elements (objectives and demand), we can start two classification processes that can run in parallel or go in sequence. What is important is to isolate each other to ensure objectivity and ease of adaptation to the general standard.

Process 1: Prioritization of Objectives

Participants: Board of Directors
Objective: To put some objectives in front of others, with specific weight of each one on the total.

Sometimes strategic plans already specify priorities, but in others they do not give explicit weight by objective. For example, how much more important is "to grow in sales by 20%" than "to increase operating efficiency by 15%"?

There are several techniques that can be employed to achieve a table like the one above. From something as simple as an agreement amongst the Board of Directors to the most sophisticated such as an Analytic Hierarchy Process (AHP). The latter could be considered more rigourous, though its execution could be simple if you have a Pairwise Comparison Tool, like the one provided by ITM Platform.

This simple table will generate an orderly and quantified list of objectives.

As an added feature, ITM Platform calculates a "consistency ratio" that indicates how logical and objective the prioritization is. In this article, you will find an explanation of how this index is calculated.

It is possible to make different sets of the same objectives through scenarios, and even use different objectives for different programs. The reality is complex and there is not always a single combination or scenario.

Process 2: Contribution of project value to objectives

Participants: The Project committee and promoters

Objective: To determine how much each project contributes to each objective


Ignoring for now the relevance of each objective on the strategic plan, this step will assign a weight to the contribution of each initiative to each objective. This weight will be translated to a number base on 100, but if you use ITM Platform you can also use the comparison by pairs previously used or use a qualitative methodology based on ideograms such as the image (Harvey balls), providing a visual support.

Process 3: Analysis of the optimal selection of the Portfolio

The two previous phases provide the necessary parameters for the system to calculate the value of each project, based on 100 and depending on the value of each objective.

List of initiatives orders by value

If money wasn't a problem, then we would probably carry out all “reasonable" projects. But in a real organization, the resources available are finite and the previous list of initiatives is not enough to make a good selection of project portfolios.

Thus, it is not only enough to select the most valuable projects, but it is also necessary to filter those that fall within the constraints, be it economic, technical and human resources, or temporary.

In this article, we will use the available budget as an example of a main constraint because this is the most frequent case. Imagine that we should select a portfolio of projects that does not exceed $900.000. Taking the previous list into account, the "New Star Product" ($ 1.5 M) exceeds that amount and also provides a similar value to other more economical projects.

So, with the data we have, we choose the combination of projects that are closer to the available budget: a total of $885.400 and a value of 61% accumulated in three projects.

With this selection achieve the given criteria. But note that the efficient central border graph is indicating the selection is not optimal (value/cost) and that there are better combinations: similar value for less money or greater value for the same sum.

And, indeed, with a portfolio of a total of $528.840 we achieved a contribution of value very similar for 35% less in cost.

If you are interested in understanding how the calculation scheme is made,

Download the guide here.

Conclusion

It is possible to apply rigorous standards in the selection of a portfolio of projects, basing the selection on the value they bring to the business strategy.
Key points to consider:

  • A separation of work between the management team that defines and prioritizes objectives, and the teams that analyze the benefits by project.
  • A process sponsored by management requiring rigorous standards when making investment decisions and implementing transparency between teams.
  • An integrative platform that combines information and exposes the results.

If you want to know more about the management of organizations by projects, download the white paper, where you will learn to:
- Connect management of your Organization with that of projects
- Manage portfolio of projects to create competitive advantage
- Agile Portfolio Management

 

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