Two years ago, I switched from working in a school district to working for engage2learn (e2L). Two major differences hit me at the same time. First, the pace of work at e2L was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Second, employees at e2L all work remotely. It was a steep learning curve for me, but I learned some valuable lessons both as a leader and as an individual. Some of these lessons are shared below.
Every day, in the workplace, individuals are leading projects of varying complexity and often without the benefit of formal project management expertise. This work can be challenging, even in a traditional office environment. Adding a virtual component to the work environment will add another layer of complexity. At e2L, we have been operating in a virtual environment since the company was founded in 2011. Our team members are located across the state of Texas and beyond. Over the years, through trial and error, we have developed processes and procedures that ensure every aspect of our work is managed with efficiency and effectiveness. These processes are multi-faceted and include everything from Virtual Meeting Protocols to Performance Management. In this article, I will share project/task management tips for organizations and individuals that have been essential to our success as a virtual company.
Project/Task Management – Organizations
|Essential Steps||Key Insights|
|Purchase a Project Management Platform||Every organization can benefit from a project management platform. Think about any efforts your organization completes. If this effort has a beginning, an end, and desired results, then you are managing projects, and a project management platform will support these efforts. At e2L, we use Wrike, but there are numerous options, and it is important to find the right one for your organization’s needs. This article lists several systems to consider.|
|Establish a System for Organizing your Project Management System||Experience has taught us that PM systems can quickly become out of control and overwhelming without proper planning. Before the platform is rolled out to all users, work with cross-functional teams to determine the most desirable system for organizing projects. For example, our projects are organized by department. Wrike allows for the creation of folders to contain projects. We created specific folders for each department, documented this information, and informed team members during the rollout process. Taking some time to analyze needs and establish clear guidelines will save time in the long run.|
|Differentiate Projects and Tasks||As previously mentioned, projects are clearly defined efforts with a beginning and an end, and PM platforms are essential tools. However, tasks (individual assignments that are not part of a larger project) can also be managed in the same platform. It is important to differentiate between the two, and the organization of the folders should allow for individual tasks as well as projects, especially in a virtual working environment.|
|Stop Managing Projects / Tasks via email||Managing these efforts via a PM system will save time for everyone involved. Once a task is created, all relevant resources can be attached and communications should also be handled via the same task. This creates a clear, concise record of all related activities. The same could be handled through email but the result may be dozens of emails to sift through rather than viewing all information related to the single task.|
|Establish Protocols for Assigning Projects / Tasks immediately||Virtual meetings should always be actionable. Details are available on page 2 of this Virtual Meeting System resource. Every meeting should have a person designated to add action items to the PM system and assign them to the correct individual. In fact, our meeting agendas include roles for participants. Before meetings begin, we sign up for roles, and the person assigned to the “Wrike” role will input all action items into our PM system. The expectation is that these will be input the same day.|
|Monitor Projects and Tasks||All PM systems include reporting capabilities. Leverage these reports to monitor timelines of projects and tasks. At e2L, we’ve even included aspects of these reports into our performance management process.|
Project/Task Management – Individuals
|Essential Steps||Key Insights|
|Immediately take note of the Project / Task||Most systems will send an email notification to individuals when a task is assigned to them. In fast-moving companies, tasks can occasionally come through at a quick pace. Don’t let these pile up in your inbox. As soon as it comes through, review the assignment and ask questions if there is a need for additional clarification. Remember to communicate via the project itself (rather than using email).|
|Schedule time on your calendar||For many of us, our days are often filled with meetings. It is important to use available time in a purposeful manner. Timeboxing is a productivity technique that works well when managing tasks and projects and it aligns well with project management. After reviewing an assigned task or project, immediately find a block of time on your calendar where this project/task can be placed. Don’t worry if this is an enormous project that will require dozens of hours of work. The important thing is to get it on your calendar so that you can begin to analyze needs, schedule meetings, etc. Wrike allows for the project to be added directly to my Google Calendar from the Wrike project. This is convenient because when I get to that time slot on my calendar, the task and all associated details are included.|
|Monitor Projects and Tasks||I find it useful to review open tasks every morning, along with checking emails. Others like to review open tasks at the end of the day. Regardless, it is important to monitor frequently.|
There are so many ways that a project management platform will contribute to organizations with remote workers. Efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, and clarity of responsibilities are just the beginning. I would encourage all leaders of virtual companies to consider this option.