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Success: On the Road or Wherever You Go

(December 23, 2008) For the past two decades, I've run my business without an office and largely from my backpack. What I learned during that time was that the key to my success is using my Project Management skills and giving my team Project Management tools and training that allowed them to be successful in a virtual workplace.

Here are four tips that anyone can use to succeed in a virtual environment:

1. Use the Right Communication Tools to Stay in the Loop
Working virtually means creating the systems to enable people to do their work from anywhere and everywhere. There has to be a very strong commitment to giving people the tools they need to help run the business and serve customers.

Since hotels often serve as my office, I have my list of "must-haves" so I can conduct my business from theirs:
    * Online and Phone Connections
    These days wifi sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, the problem can be that you get to the hotel and find out that when you log-on, you are crawling at a snails pace. Nothing is more frustrating when you need to get something done quickly. So, when booking a hotel make sure they also have dataports in the room so you can plug directly into the network if the wifi is slow or spotty.

    * Business Support and Conveniences
    A hotel that includes topnotch business support is top in my book. Personal and administrative business services such as copying and printing often save the day when Im working on a deal or closing a new contract. A 24-hour business center is meaningless if the equipment is outdated and not working.
Other tools I use to keep communication tight, regardless of my location, include:
    * Wiki, a collaborative workspace online that is now part of Google. We use the Wiki as a central hub for our work where we coordinate our projects and processes. It has increased the productivity of all of our departments and has created a central "memory" for all of our work. Using collaborative workspaces encourage teams to share information and build on each others ideas. It also provides transparency and accountability when teams are in many different locations.

    * E-mail communication guidelines so e-mail doesnt become a time waster. Unsubscribe to e-mails that offer no value to you. Only CC those who need the information. Choose specific time blocks to read and answer e-mails so you can have uninterrupted time to think, write, and give your most strategic work the attention it needs.

    * My iPhone and Mac laptop. Couldnt do it without them!

    * Conference calls and web conferencing such as SKYPE and iChat.
2. Stay on Course with Project Management Tools and Guidelines:
    If your team starts off on the same page with techniques and rules already in place, they will have a much better shot at success. The basic tools in your toolbox are even more important when you are on the road. Every project should include a:

      * Project Agreement (scope, boundaries, risk tolerance, constraints)

      * Project Plan (schedules, budgets, milestones, risk management, change management)

      * Team Communication Plan (status reports, approval process, e-mail distribution)

      * Lessons Learned Records (what worked and did not work about the project so you can increase your chance of success on future projects).
3. Read the Room Even if You Are Not There
"Reading the room" is an important management skill to have. It allows you to address and resolve any issues rising between departments or individuals. Cutting to the chase and repairing communication breakdowns immediately enables the project to continue on. You can do this virtually through applications like Instant Messaging (IM). Emoticons and quick unedited responses can communicate volumes and also signal when you need to pick up that old fashioned technology - the phone - or when an in-person meeting is needed.

4. Take A Global View Beyond thinking about time zones, you need to think even more about cross-cultural communication. Bridging the cultural training gap, the PMP certification is one of the few professional certifications that is recognized around the world. I work on many global teams, and I have found it gives us all a common ground to operate from.

Here are other issues to consider when working on cross-cultural teams.
    * Communication Styles. Different cultures have different communication protocols. Some cultures are very formal in a work environment. Tune in to how people address each other in their culture, and dont automatically assume an informal tone until you have gained the trust and respect of your team.

    * Attitudes Toward Conflict. From confrontation to avoidance and saving face, know how the different cultures represented on your team prefer to deal with conflict.

    * Approaches to Completing Tasks. Understand if relationships develop first or over time. This will impact how your team works together.

    * Decision-Making Styles. Pay attention to decision-making styles. From consensus and majority rule to more hierarchical styles, different cultures are comfortable approaching decisions from their comfort zone.

    * Attitudes Toward Disclosure. Nuances in privacy practices vary greatly from country to country. Dont make assumptions and conduct due diligence that goes beyond your own home country.

    * Approaches to Knowing. We all process information differently. Think about how your different team members approach information and learning. Do they like to see evidence of measurement (cognitive) or examples of symbolism or transcendence?
You can give your virtual teams an edge with Project Management skills and the globally recognized PMP certification. Make managing your business from a laptop your new reality and watch your business grow - not your expenses. See you on the road.

by Michelle LaBrosse, Chief Cheetah, Cheetah Learning

This is the fifth article on Project Management, The entire series is below.

Project Management Series:
  • The Project Called Life
  • Power of Continuity
  • PM 101
  • Project Management IV
  • Success: On the Road or Wherever You Go

  • About the Author
    Michelle LaBrosse, PMP, is an entrepreneurial powerhouse with a penchant for making success easy, fun and fast. She is the founder of Cheetah Learning, the author of the Cheetah Success Series, and a prolific blogger whose mission is to bring Project Management to the masses.

    Cheetah Learning is a virtual company with 100 employees, contractors, and licensees worldwide. To date, more than 30,000 people have become "Cheetahs" using Cheetah Learnings innovative Project Management and accelerated learning techniques.

    Recently honored by the Project Management Institute (PMI), Cheetah Learning was named Professional Development Provider of the Year at the 2008 PMI Global Congress. A dynamic keynote speaker and industry thought leader, Michelle was previously recognized by PMI as one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Project Management in the world.

    Michelles articles have appeared in over 100 publications and web sites around the world. Her monthly column, the Know How Network is carried by over 400 publications, and her monthly newsletter goes out to more than 50,000 people. Her radio program, Your World Your Way, is a weekly broadcast that is an inspiring and practical look at how Project Management fuels success.

    She is a graduate of the Harvard Business Schools Owner President Managers (OPM) program and also holds engineering degrees from Syracuse University and the University of Dayton.

    She lives in Nevada with her family and likes to rejuvenate in Alaska where you'll often find her kayaking, hiking, and riding her motorcycle.

    The PMP is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute.

    Cheetah Learning Launches Project Prosperity
    Special offer for free PDUs CEU's

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