Keep your virtual project team from driving you virtually insane

Make smart use of your smartphone

Listen to the quiet. Even in bustling business centers, no one works with the people around them. They are engaged virtually, via e-mail, instant messaging and texting, coordinating with people around the corner or around the globe.

With smartphone use becomes widespread, we are becoming smarter about using them in the most efficient manner. This includes increasing productivity of our project teams. A study done by Forrester Research revealed that 14% of information workers across the U.S., Canada and the U.K. used smartphones to get work done while on the go, while 65% would like to. We suspect it is much higher in the project management field, where 90% of the role is communication. A smartphone facilitates the communications that are key to successful project management.

Here are some tools that can help you get the most out of your smartphone when managing your projects:

Instant messaging. How many times have you accidentally called someone at 5 a.m. because you forgot that they were in a different time zone? Or how often do you wait to contact a team member until an appropriate hour only to find out that they were up at 3 a.m. working because they couldn't sleep? When you are working in a virtual environment, it can be hard to see the availability of all of your team members. With an instant messaging service such as AIM on you smartphone, you can easily see the status of your team members: "Away," "Available," "Be back in 15 minutes" -- the possibilities are endless. When you get the buy-in of everyone on your project team to get and use this application as a team norm to communicate availability, suddenly your project team becomes more accessible.

Basecamp. You may have heard of the project-management collaboration software called Basecamp before, but did you know that this tool is available on your smartphone as well? Basecamp makes collaboration and communication easy and clear. You can share files and images with project stakeholders, as well as assign task responsibilities and deadlines. You can even save best-practice PM templates to reuse for future projects. So the next time you are sitting on the subway, you can go from the planning phase to the execution phase while the person next to you plays Fruit Ninja. Now that's a competitive edge!

Learning apps. With so much happening on the go these days, learning has to be mobile as well. How do you ensure that your team is effectively capturing their most up-to-the-minute knowledge capital and can share it effectively? One way is by using a learning application that helps the user get the most out of a mobile learning experience and makes it easy to share entries via e-mail and Facebook. By using this application throughout a project team, the team can easily capture, store and share their knowledge capital from anywhere in the world.

Phone calls. One of the best features on smartphones is the ability to dial a person's number and talk to them, real time! I'm being only partly facetious. In today's high-tech society, we often opt for the less direct methods of communication, such as text, e-mail and Facebook posts, rather than a phone call or in-person meeting. But to have the richest form of communication without actually being in the same room as someone, a phone call is best. A phone call carries more weight. And it needs to be used when clarifying more weighty topics such as project team members' roles and responsibilities.

Communication is the key to sanity (and success) for any type of project -- it's both technology and technique.

Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is the founder and CEO of Cheetah Learning and author of the books Cheetah Negotiations and Cheetah Project Management.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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