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Risk management with virtual teams

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A look at some of the issues with virtual teams from the perspective of a project manager

A look at some of the issues with virtual teams from the perspective of a project manager

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  • 1. Risk Management with Virtual Teams John C. Goodpasture, PMP Managing Principal Square Peg Consulting LLC www.sqpegconsulting.com www.johngoodpasture.com______________________________________________________________________________________Copyright John C Goodpasture, 2010 ©Page 1 of 5
  • 2. Risk Management with Virtual Teams Risk is the price we pay for opportunityVirtual teams present unique risk management situations, some effects of which can beaccommodated within planned buffers on the baseline, and others will be potentialimpacts that are ‘off baseline’ but identified on the risk register.Risk management in context with virtual teams begins with a consideration for the uniquestructure and organizational form of the virtual team. For risk managers, the nature ofvirtual team boundaries and remote interpersonal relationships strongly impact the risksassociated with virtual teams.Virtual Team BoundariesVirtual teams have more boundaries than relationships are defined and constrainedco-located teams. Some of these are by boundaries, each of which is to beinternal to the team, but others are managed for the risk to both budgetexternal and unique to the nature and efficiency and performancearchitecture of virtual teams. Thus, effectiveness.Virtual teams have more boundaries . that are unique to the natureand architecture of virtual teams. members. One mitigation is to use the rules at boundaries to establish a degreeNetworking of command control that is naturallyWith virtual teams, every team member present in co-located teams, but not so inis a potential node on a network and a virtual teams.point of interface with other members ofthe team. At each node for each teammember, there are governance rules. Work cyclesSome of these rules are general purpose Because virtual teams can operateand apply to every node, and others will around the clock, the need tobe very specific to the circumstances at synchronize configuration control of theone node and not apply to others. project’s intellectual property— documents, standards, designs, reports, data, and procedures. SynchronizationGovernance on the network errors can become a significant risk toThe purpose of network rules is to the integrity of the material. Rules forcontrol or direct workflow among team configuration control typically requiremembers, and to mitigate the risks of that check-in and check-out cyclestime and distance between team operate 24 hours per day so that no team______________________________________________________________________________________Copyright John C Goodpasture, 2010 ©Page 2 of 5
  • 3. member is locked out during their work processes to load and apply changes today, but this puts unusual stress on the run in batch cycles. One approach is tosystem because there is no time-out for rotate required downtimes among allstabilization, maintenance, and for work day cycles.Remote Interpersonal RelationshipsEstablishing effective relationships communication is strictly non-verbal butwithin virtual teams is perhaps one of at the same time remote. And, in manythe most important risks to be managed. entrepreneurial situations, the team mayIt’s not uncommon that virtual teams are be recruited virtually with members“teams of strangers”. Not only are never having met face to face withteams composed of strangers, but to company management or teamcompound matters very often leadership.It’s not uncommon that virtual teams are “teams of strangers” culture and values of the projectIt’s obvious that not only is the body leadership or the project’s host businesslanguage missing, in many cases we enterprise. Extra effort on the part ofcan’t imagine what it might be since project management is required to instillwe’ve never interacted with our virtual values and culture among participantsteammates in a common brick and that may only be transient members ofmortar space. To fill the vacuum, we the team or the business.find ourselves imagining reaction effectsand imparting a persona of our own Misunderstandings that arise frommaking. cultural differences can be profound and lead to risks of unintendedSo it is that other means of building consequences. For example--and fromrelationships come to the foreground. In my own experience--a failure of adoing so several distinct risks are project activity as viewed from theencountered that is the subject of the perspective of one cultural outlook mayfollowing discussion. be evaluated as poor planning and execution by the activity manager. But atFour attributes govern relationships, and the same time--viewed from theeach has unique risks when applied to perspective of another culture--that samethe virtual team. activity and result may be seen as appropriate risk taking, even though the risk did not work out favorably.Inheritance:Virtual teams--unlike there co-located Depending on what culture is inherited,counterparts--do not routinely inherit the the activity manager will either be______________________________________________________________________________________Copyright John C Goodpasture, 2010 ©Page 3 of 5
  • 4. penalized or rewarded. Certainly no thereby risking the near term scheduleproject manager wants a confusion of and perhaps the associated budget.values; ensuring the inheritance of acommonly understood risk attitude is a Lack of trust is among the most citedvery important project management task reasons for team failures. Virtual teamsto obtain a smoothly working project in have no easy way to establish trust buta virtual team setting. commonly employed mitigations usually involve occasionally getting team members together physically in someCohesion: way.Co-located teams draw effectivenessfrom the cohesion among members that Some projects have produced metricsshare a common environment, team that show better team performance ifgoal, project culture, and willingness to team members have been personallysupport each other. Such cohesion introduced. A prominent example is thedepends greatly on trust. Trusting early space programs that employed farrelationships do form in virtual teams, flung teams in remote tracking stationsbut they generally form more slowly, that had to work together on a common mission and pass information accurately and with timelinessTrusting relationships do form in virtual teams, but they generallyform more slowly the crowd is those same voices without phase (timing) coherence.Coherence:Coherence is an attribute of the familiar Communications and collaborationidea that teams can achieve more among team members is sensitive totogether than their members can when coherence. The time lags within virtualworking independently. In the absence team communications and collaborationof coherence there is often confusion, degrades coherence, raising risksambiguity, wasted effort, and sometimes because things are out of phase withan outcome that lacks essential customer each other.value. The common mitigation for improvingCoherent behavior is time sensitive. We coherence is to introduce an opportunityare all familiar with the difference for simultaneous communications thatbetween the noise of a crowd talking are time sensitive. Sessions for timeamong themselves and those same sensitive communications are scheduledindividuals singing in a choir. Singing is so that they overlap the working day foran example of coherence; the noise of as many members as possible. To make these sessions practical and productive,______________________________________________________________________________________Copyright John C Goodpasture, 2010 ©Page 4 of 5
  • 5. the working day may have to be time-shifted for some participants. Informal person-to-person communications is a form of coupling. The informal communications by casualCoupling: association that is a centerpiece of co-Coupling is a measure of sensitivity, located teams is all but missing in virtualcorrelation, and interference of one teams. These so called ‘water cooler’activity upon another. Within teams, conversations are a very importantactivities are more highly coupled than communications channel for couplingthe coupling between teams. But virtual one activity with another, but thisteams are not as highly coupled coupling mechanism is all but missinginternally as co-located teams, and this with virtual teams, raising thereduced coupling is a risk to communications risk.performance.SummaryVirtual teams present unique risk management issues, some of which can beaccommodated in the baseline, and others are risks listed in the risk register.Two risk categories are virtual team boundaries and remote interpersonal relationships.Boundary conditions may lead to inefficiencies and ineffective performance both withinteams and between teams. Relationships risks include lack of value inheritance, poorteam cohesion, absences of coherence in communications, and weak coupling betweenteam members. . In all cases, when these risks are recognized and understood, projectmanagers can take steps to mitigate these risks.+++++++++++++++++++++++++++ To read more from John Goodpasture, visit johngoodpasture.com and sqpegconsulting.com______________________________________________________________________________________Copyright John C Goodpasture, 2010 ©Page 5 of 5

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