There’s a lot of talk about working in the “cloud” these days. If you’re like me, you have some personal storage in the cloud, a handful of the apps you use every day are in the cloud and your company is always looking for new ways to work in the cloud.
Earlier this month, Mark Thiele suggested, “As an IT community we are still stuck in the past relative to the strategic nature of cloud. Many of us are looking at the adoption of cloud as just another technology, and are leaving the decisions on how to adopt, own, and manage the cloud up to engineers.” Managing the cloud “…is not an engineering decision—it’s a strategic one,” says Thiele.
I agree. What’s more, managing work in the cloud just makes strategic sense to me—particularly with distributed teams. I know of a number of project managers that regularly work with teams spread throughout the country, and the world for that matter, who deal with time zones, languages and the communication issues associated with the every day. The cloud makes it possible, but they’ve all developed strategies that make it work.
The world has become a pretty small place since I started my career—the technology that allows me to interact with colleagues instantaneously from around the world continues to blow my mind. Computers, cell phones, VOIP, and video conferencing allow me to work from almost anywhere in the world. Although my adult children harass me about growing up when dinosaurs ruled the earth, we did get a lot of work done without cell phones, personal computers, or SKYPE
As convenient as things are now, there are some unique challenges to working in a global project environment. Organizations regularly working with teams from around the world need to consider their strategy for dealing with cultural, language, geographic, and time differences that can sometimes make working with global teams problematic.
- The Challenge of Different Time Zones: Collaborating with teams in South America, China, the UK, and Cincinnati can sometimes be problematic. For example, as I write this at 7:45 am local time, it’s 11:45 pm in Tokyo, 2:45 pm in London, 12:45 pm in Rio, and 10:45 pm in Beijing. The challenges of putting together a project team meeting with a globally diverse workforce are sometimes as basic as determining what time to hold the meeting.
- A Possible Solution: Nobody on the project team should be asked to regularly stay up until 2:00 am just to make it more convenient for you. Everyone on the project team should be able to share the burden of an inconvenient meeting time once in a while. A simple solution is to try to hold team meetings when everyone is at work, which might be early in the workday where you are and later in the workday where part of the team is located—at least everyone should take turns meeting at inconvenient times.
- The Challenge of Bringing the Team Together: Sometimes it’s important to bring the team together, which has the potential to be pretty expensive.
- A Possible Solution: At @task, we have global project teams that work out of Europe and Asia. Although we don’t get together often, we do get together. Online project management tools help organizations collaborate and work together in different countries, timezones, and languages—but the need to get together doesn’t completely go away. Personally meeting together as a team once or twice a year is important for building morale and team esprit de corps.
- The Challenges of Different Languages: The nuances of different languages beg for miss-communication. Even where your particular language is spoken as a second language, it’s critical that communication be clear. We need to be cautious, particularly where the lion’s share of communication is written, where body language and facial expression are not available to aid understanding.
- A Possible Solution: Video conferencing is a good option, but at the very least, make sure emails contain all the information necessary to communicate your ideas clearly. I try to address all my emails with a salutation and a name to remind me that I am actually communicating with a real person. Even amongst my co-workers, where English is our native language, we sometimes misunderstand and misinterpret an abrupt email.
- The Challenges of Cultural Differences: If part of what defines us is our shared experiences, taking time for global team members to become better acquainted, and share experiences to create a team culture is important. This is true even if your team only spreads across your own country.
- A Possible Solution: Take the time for global project teams to become familiar with each others varied customs and cultures. It might be as simple as sharing a regional dish for lunch. In this regard, a little effort goes a long way.
Working in the cloud allows us to work globally, but it should also encourage us to think about how we use cloud-based tools strategically. Simply having the ability to collaborate on projects, tasks and issues with team members from around the world isn’t enough—we need to think about how to do it best. How do we use our cloud-based tools to maximize the contribution of everyone on the team—regardless of their location?
What do you think? Is project management in the cloud tactical or a strategic play?