Project management best practices in a fast-paced, global environment

Does any project management not take place in a fast-paced, global environment? Undoubtedly, but some of us have yet to encounter that. So the session on this subject at the recent San Francisco Bay Area PMI Open Space provided a welcome opportunity to share experiences with others in the same situation and to get some useful tips.

Communication seems to be the biggest issue in most workplaces, and it’s only exacerbated with a global team. Following are some tips from this session on how to facilitate and improve communication.


Templates can save time; they should also be flexible. In my group, we use templates for all our help documentation project plans and schedules, so we don’t miss key steps and so others can easily find information. We amend these as needed, and for smaller projects we might delete a good deal of the information. But they give us a place to start. It helps to fill in a meeting or project template as much as you can before a meeting, revising it as needed during the meeting.

Collaboration tools

Many collaboration tools are now available for project management, SharePoint being a common one. People have differing opinions on each tool, but the key is to maintain some kind of central repository and collaborative dashboard. It’s especially helpful for the tool to include a way to track a project from start to finish. My group is looking at a couple tools created internally at Adobe; I’ll report back with details when we start using them.

Meetings and e-mail

We’ve become so accustomed to e-mail that it’s standard to e-mail even someone in the cube next to yours rather than getting up and talking to them. E-mail has advantages, such as serving as a written record of communications. But it tends to proliferate and become hard to keep up with, and e-mails can get lost in the shuffle. One way to mitigate this is to convert e-mail to something else — record or track e-mails in another tool. And when there get to be too many e-mails on one subject, it might be time to call a meeting.

It’s challenging to hold meetings with people in different locations, let alone different time zones. There’s no getting around the difficulties of holding meetings early in the morning or late at night. But a couple tips can help when meetings attendees are in different locations. First, keep in mind that if several people are in one room and the others are scattered on the phone, those in the room tend to dominate the discussion. In these cases, it might be better for everyone to be on the phone, to level the playing field. And if possible, it’s helpful to use a video conference; though many of us don’t like being on camera, we get so much more information through visual cues that it really does facilitate communication.

Status updates

Every week, I send my project teams a milestones e-mail so they know what’s due and what’s coming up. But I liked an idea I heard in this session for giving status updates: Create a visual representation, on one page, showing a window in time — and include what’s been accomplished, what’s due or overdue, and what’s coming up. This has the advantage of showing people what they’ve accomplished and gives them something to feel good about. And we know that when people are happier, they’re more productive! So I’ll be trying this method with my teams.

My cat when you don’t respond to my message

A challenge I face with my milestones e-mail is getting people to respond to let me know the status of their tasks. I got a good idea from this session: tell people that if they don’t respond, I’ll come to their cube and talk at length about my cat (or if they’re remote, I’ll send an e-mail with photos). I tried this one week, only to find that my group is full of cat lovers — so this threat wasn’t dire enough.

My cat when she’s happy that you’ve responded

Later in the week, I threatened to call a meeting if I didn’t get a status update, and that got quick results. But I can’t always call meetings, especially with people in India or China. So the following week, I thought about what really motivates people, and in my milestones e-mail, I included a poem by Emily Dickinson on shame, just to add a little interest and get people’s attention. And I got a few more responses. Gradually, people are getting the message.

The things we project managers resort to — are we shameless?

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