The Global Quality Challenge in the Age of Virtual Teams


1.  Introduction

Janelle Abaoag, the Marketing and Public Relations director from Project Insight.com, gave a webinar entitled “The Global Quality Challenge”.   I have added the phrase “In the Age of Virtual Teams” because her specific subject was how quality is impacted by the use of virtual teams.

This webinar is one of the “Fundamental Series” of webinars given by Diane C. Buckley-Altweis of Core Performance Concepts.   I had the pleasure of working with Diane in conjunction with the PMP/CAPM Exam Prep Workshop put on by the Orange County chapter of PMI.    Her company supplied textbooks and teaching materials to the workshop which I took in the Spring of 2012.    I studied for and passed the CAPM test I took in October 2012, and then I turned around and became a volunteer to help PMI-OC put three workshops (Winter, Spring, Fall) in 2013.

After I moved to Chicago, I decided to stay in touch with Diane Altweis’ company by attending some of her free webinars put on by her company.    That is why I listened to the webinar given Wednesday, December 11th–and I’m glad I did!    Having been part of virtual teams when I worked at a Japanese auto manufacturing firm, I was well aware of some of the issues regarding virtual teams, and was happy that she had as a guest Janelle Abaoag to talk about the impact of virtual teams on quality.

The purpose of the webinar was to describe the quality challenges companies face with virtual teams and to review tips and strategies that can help in delivering quality standards while utilizing virtual teams.

2.  Quality Challenges with Virtual Teams

Janelle started out with a poll:   where does your organization stand in the Global Quality Challenge.   The possible answers were the following (these are followed by the percentage of those who responded)

  • We have not seen any reduction in our project delivery quality in the past few years (18%)
  • We only see quality issues with team members that work from home in our local market (7%)
  • We only see quality issues with those that work from other countries (20%)
  • We have seen quality impacted throughout our organization (50%)
  • Other (7%)

So half those polled saw quality impacts throughout the organization, whereas approximately one-quarter saw those quality impacts limited to either team members that work from home or those that work from other countries.

Then Janelle went into the both the plus side (benefits) and minus side (challenges) of working with virtual teams.

Virtual Team Benefits

Virtual Team Challenges

1.  Lower Office Costs

2.  Greater availability of talent

3.  Increased employee retention

4.  Lower cost of employees

5.  Reduced travel time

6.  Increased productivity

7.  24-hour workday

8.  Greater workforce flexibility

1.  Physical distance

2.  Feeling of instability

3.  Impact of routine tasks on motivation

4.  Personal life and work-life imbalance

5.  Intercultural conflict

 

On the benefit side, this mostly has to do with reduction of infrastructure and travel costs.   The 24-hour workday, although a benefit from the company’s point of view, may be directed related to one of the challenges (personal life and work-life imbalance).

Regarding the effect of routine on motivation in the “challenge” column, that means that tasks that are given remotely are often those that are more routine, so those that work in virtual teams sometimes end up lacking the motivation of doing new things, or being stimulated by other ideas from co-workers with whom they are not in daily contact.

When you take away the face-to-face component of communication, you end up increasing the risk of miscommunications either coming language barriers or cultural differences.    Communication includes communication about quality, and that is how virtual teams end up impacting quality.

In sum, virtual teams may end up increasing work while decreasing quality, the worst of both possible worlds, if not managed correctly.

3.   Tips and Strategies for Effective Virtual Teams

i.   Tip #1:  SLOW DOWN AND DOCUMENT!

Poor documentation of requirements from the beginning of a project often causes increases in rework.    Also keeping track of the configuration of the requirements is important so that everybody is working off of the same version of documents and processes.

Are the requirements and use cases fully documented?   Are they modeled?    You should require that the developer document and prove testing to the use case.    Especially where there are multiple project managers and business analysts involved in a project, the requirements need to be documented and kept track of in their various iterations.  When you ask somebody to do something, don’t be vague and say “fix it!”:   be specific!    The time you take in making your request specific will be time NOT spent in having to rework a problem that somebody misinterpreted because of vague instructions.    Tell the developers the specific scenarios they need to be testing.

b.   Tip #2:  INVEST IN TECHNOLOGY

Technology is not just “equipment”, it is the training that people need in order to USE that equipment.    How many meetings have you had over the phone where somebody has not muted their speaker phone and you can’t hear what somebody is saying because of background noise?

Again, TRAIN people in the best practices involved in using technology, especially when it comes to videoconferences.

c.  Tip #3:   GET ON THE PHONE!

Overreliance on e-mail is one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.   E-mail is easy for the user to send, but especially on a virtual team, you often have NO clue as to whether the person read the e-mail (although some systems do have ways of signaling that the person at least OPENED your e-mail), and if so, whether they understood it.   E-mails can sometimes impede effective communication:   saying “well, I sent you an e-mail” does not absolve you of your responsibility to make sure the person understood.   Does your e-mail send to the receiver the right clues as to its urgency?   If not, then if it gets ignored, then it may not be the recipient’s fault.

Invest in good remote tools so that you are not speaking to the person on the phone in a vacuum, but are referencing some common document.

There are many times of tools to assist in teleconferences:

Tool Type Tool Example
Document co-creation Google Docs (now Google Drive

ConceptBoard

Collaboration tools Teambox

Huddle

PM Tools Project Insight
Document Storage Tools Dropbox

Zoho Docs

Meeting Tools WebEx

GotoMeeting

Conferencing Tools Skype

Join.me

Instant Messaging Tools Google Talk

Jabber

Social Networking Tools Chatter

Yammer

Scheduling Tools Doodle

There may be confidentiality issues that limit the available of tools for your organization.   In any case, you will need to allow for time to train people on the new tools.

d.   Tip #4:   LEARN GOOD TROUBLESHOOTING TECHNIQUES

Telling somebody “it doesn’t work” isn’t good enough.   You need to be more specific and have documented steps.   REQUIRE EVERYONE ELSE TO DO THE SAME.    Sometimes the problems is not with following procedure, however, but rather with unforeseen complexity.

In that case, especially during rapid application development, relying on e-mail is NOT OKAY.   What is the intent of the agile methodology?   It is to more iterative and show results more quickly.    But just because you are working in agile, it doesn’t mean that you don’t document.   E-mail is great for communicating and refining decisions, but not for documenting.    The documentation has to reside in whatever you need for your project (user guide, administration manual, etc.).

e.  Tip #5:   DEFINE THE LEVEL OF QUALITY THE PROJECT REQUIRES

The quality has to be well defined, and you have to be diligent in expressing expectations of people on the other side of the phone in understanding that point.

Define the project success criteria early on.   When issues arise, review against the expected quality level.   Yes, spending time documenting troubleshooting is difficult.   But are you willing to trade that time for increased costs that will come by NOT spending the time?    You need to follow up meetings with virtual team members with one-on-one phone calls to make sure quality is understood from their perspective.

f.   Tip #6:   HAVE EFFECTIVE MEETINGS

Keep everyone who is critical to the decision engaged in the meeting.    Use web tools to have people watch & interact—the meeting isn’t about you.    Ask questions of critical people and gain confirmation.   If people are not participating who are critical to the project, don’t be afraid to call them out.   Silence does not mean agreement,

You may give them a call later on if you don’t want to call out someone who is obviously not just participating, but not paying attention.

g.  Tip #7:   MAKE GOOD USE OF DOCUMENT REPOSITORY

A document repository is not a document graveyard, where documents are buried that are never referenced.    You need to make sure that everyone can access it, and if you use Sharepoint, use it even during meetings.   This will encourage others to actively use it on the project.

These were all great tips from Janelle Abaoag, and it is a very timely topic.   I hope to catch more of the “Fundamental Series” webinars next year from Diane C. Buckley-Altweis of Core Performance Concepts!

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