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Working in a Virtual Team (Part Two: Remote Resource Management)

Posted on September 2nd, 2008

Happy Designers makes for happy clients and even happier PMs. When working in a remote studio situation it is important that the Designer’s personality is taken into consideration just as much as his style and skill set when assigning projects. It is also imperative that the Project Manager knows the capabilities, speed, and expertise of each of her reports. Appropriate designer assignment should have input from the Art Director, but the PM must make sure that the job gets done on time so assigning deliverables based on style can’t be the only consideration. The PM’s job becomes easier the longer she works with designers because she knows what to expect in terms of quality and timeliness. She can then meet their needs while managing the other aspects of the project. Her available pool of designers may also become smaller if designers aren’t up to delivering in a virtual studio environment. A PM can’t afford to have designers on her crew who do not deliver quality work in a timely fashion. A lot of trust is involved when you can’t just walk over to someone’s machine and see what they’re working on. Talent isn’t the only critical element in choosing a virtual staff. Many designers thrive in the virtual studio paradigm but some just aren’t cut out for it. The PM will quickly learn who is a fit and who is not.

It’s important to be clear about the PM’s expectations, the project scope, and to open a dialogue with the designer. Regular check-ins, input, and follow-ups are a good idea. It’s also helpful to have your designers on IM when they are on their machines just in case there are some quick questions or an emergency. Regularly scheduled phone or Skype calls are also helpful. Complex projects may require calls to the designer several times a day. If the designer is in a different time zone, it may be required that the designer and/or the PM shift their workday for a while until the difficult portion of the project is complete. It’s important to tailor the method and frequency of the contact to meet the needs of both the project and the designer. The PM must not only stay in touch with the designers as needed for the project but also to keep the designer informed and feeling like he is meeting the correct expectations.

Team meetings are a wonderful tool when running a project and there are collaboration tools that help facilitate this (such as Campfire). Project-based team meetings make sense in the virtual paradigm but status meetings don’t. It is more cost efficient to do one-on-one’s or meet with the multiple designers assigned to a project (thus encouraging their interaction and idea sharing as well as getting everyone on the same page) rather than having the entire virtual staff sitting around listening to different project reports. In-person meetings are very valuable for team building, but the virtual work environment is not conducive to creating a company-wide team of designers.

Again virtual project management tools such as Basecamp are very helpful for collecting hours and monitoring budget and scope. It’s important to be very clear about the maximum number of hours designers can spend on a project before they start. Encourage them to stay in touch especially if they see a problem with meeting that time constraint. Communication on all levels is important. The PM must be flexible, pay attention, and hone the amount of touch and review to meet the projects’ needs and keep her designers in their comfort zone.