Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

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Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

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Written by Houston
October 11, 2020
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Make sure you check out our first entry here, before jumping into this one.

It's been a month since we published our last article on remote project management and a lot has changed.

They say there's a vaccine.

And, yes, we might all be feeling just a little bit positive about.

However, we still have to accept the fact that there will still be a lot of remote work as we moved on to the new normal.

In this the second part of this series, we’ll talk about the other prioitizing tasks, communication issues, and the proper procedure for tracking.

Let's dive in!

Table of Contents

Prioritizing and assigning tasks

The Checklist

Tools You Can Use

Working with cross-functional remote teams

Choosing the right remote project team member

Creating a process document and resource repository

Tracking every task and deadline

Keeping teammates accountable with quick status updates

Documenting and automating - wherever possible (and even where not)

Keeping the lines of communication open

Staying on top of common remote project management problems

Wrapping up remote projects with a retrospective

Prioritizing and assigning tasks

The first step to ensuring a smooth project lifecycle is the proper prioritizing of tasks.

Before you pass down any task to your team, make sure you have evaluated its priority and are assigning accordingly. Assigning tasks in an ad-hoc fashion will cause more confusion than it’ll do good.

But, here's what.

Assigning ad hoc tasks can sometimes be unavoidable, make sure you have a proper system for that and ensure that you set reasonable deadlines.

The Checklist

  • Create a streamlined system for prioritization. Don’t let gut instinct or highest paying resources dictate the priority of tasks. Instead, carefully estimate resources, feasibility, and expected results. 
  • Set some buffer time. Make sure that, at the end of the project, you have enough time for rectifying any mistakes that might have crept in. Make time for quick wins.
  • Don't prioritize every bug. Unless an issue is stopping your product from running for multiple users or compromising customer data, leave bugs for a later time.
  • Streamline decision making. By assigning a DRI (Directly Responsible Individual) who has the final say over project decisions, you'll prevent confusion down the line when remote team members aren't sure what they should be working on. 

Tools You Can Use

One app that stands out is Trello.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Trello (and most project management tools) allow you to add a priority indicator to the tasks you’re assigning. That way, the person you’re assigning this task to will know to tackle this task first.

To assign a task to someone, you can add them to a card, and they’ll be notified.

It's pretty simple to use, but it relies mainly on boards to get the job done.

However, if you want something more complete, you can use a tool like Asana.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Asana is a project management tool that handles tracking and even metrics. It does have a board view as well, but it is well suited for larger teams that track dozens of KPIs.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Working with cross-functional remote teams

Growth hacking is all about collaboration.

Most of the work today requires people from different domains to collaborate. As a result, today, managing work essentially means managing cross-functional remote teams. 

The key, here, is to ensure that you empower everyone in your team and push them to do their best work. You should maintain a culture wherein people feel comfortable taking action independently. 

As a manager, It's your job to make sure the teams you put together operate on trust and autonomy.

Choosing the right remote project team member

When choosing people to work on a particular project, keep these two pointers in mind

  • Figure out people with the apt skill set at the very beginning. Make sure you have all the cross-functional expertise required to bring the project to fruition.

    Get team members’ inputs on who should perform what task. In doing all of this, you’ll also be establishing a sense of self-sufficiency.
  • Help the team plan their time, brainstorm on potential roadblocks, and set manageable deadlines. Then, let them complete their work without frequent interruptions.

Creating a process document and resource repository

If you’re dealing with more complex projects, you can share a document mentioning essential project details with the team before any project’s kickoff meeting.

Template for a kick off call with the client 

Doing so will not only help scope the project, but it’ll also serve as a guideline to refer to throughout the project.

Here's what.

The spec helps not just with scoping a project, but it also serves as a set of guideposts, a source of truth that team members can turn to throughout the project to make sure they're on the right track.

You might often be managing people from different time zones. For that, it is a good idea to maintain a central repository of all the documents - you can use Dropbox or Google Drive. 

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

But even then, make sure to have a meta-document (an index, if you will), for every project. In that, mention the links to all the important folders and a bit about what’s inside what.

Tracking every task and deadline

Once the project has begun, add every task with deadlines (and corresponding priority order) to your project management tool, and assign them accordingly.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

A traditional office setup can afford to be a bit lax with online tools and status updates - but without regular status updates, keeping your remote team in check does take some work.

You need to keep track.

Put all your tasks, deadlines, comments, in a shared central location ensures all team members are aware of their responsibilities.

As a project manager, it is your responsibility to make sure that every task gets completed on time.

For smoother management, each task can have an owner - someone who is ultimately responsible for ensuring completion and will report to you. 

This minimizes bureacracy.

If you’re a team member and also working on a project under someone else, make sure that your task deadlines and project deadlines don’t get mixed up.

Want a power tip?

Keep your calendar sorted, and once a week, take care of project management maintenance. Assign tasks per deadline and per project, and set alarms for yourself. Make sure all tasks have realistic deadlines.

If needed, you can go ahead and check-in with team members to see if they're overloaded, or needs some help.

Keeping teammates accountable with quick status updates

Working from home turns the burden of accountability from top-down to bottom-up.

Team members have to be accountable.

The trick is to decentralize the process - without micromanaging. Let teammates and teammates alone hold each other accountable. 

Try having in-person calls for asynchronous status updates. Once a week, have your team answer the following questions: 

  • What roadblocks did I face last week?
  • What am I going to work on this week?
  • How will I ensure the said roadblocks don’t happen this week?

At BAMF, we use Skype and Slack.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Slack helps us group conversations - and it has great integrations - on different departments and we can easily check in on people to see how they;re doing on a particular project.

It's also easy to include different people that are working on several projects via channels.

Documenting and automating - wherever possible (and even where not)

Documenting is critical.

But, automating is the goal.

In remote offices, SOPs play a pivotal role.

You need to document and share them across. You can even automate this process - to send it to the right person at the right time.

For instance, suppose your remote team is working on a content marketing project, here’s what your plan of action probably looks like:

  • Notifying editors to review content pieces
  • Notifying designers to create the required designs
  • Search-optimizing the freshly written articles
  • Publishing the SEO-optimized article
  • Promoting it on social media handles
  • Reporting the numbers and figures around the performance of this post.

Read the list again - if you think these are tasks that can’t be automated, you’re kinda wrong.

You can automate low-value tasks using tools like IFTTT or Zapier so that your energy can be spent on essential tasks. 

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)
remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Automation helps remove most of the menial work and allows your team to focus on things that truly matter.

remote project management, Remote Project Management - Top Agency Tips (Series 2 of 3)

Now, with all your deadlines, tasks, and processes under control, it’s time to ensure smooth and organized project-related conversations and discussions.

Keeping the lines of communication open

Effective communication is the single most important and yet the most difficult part about managing remote projects.

Many teams find communication a challenge because they follow a model suited for co-located teams. Communication is difficult for many remote teams because they try to replicate what works well for co-located teams. 

However, know this.

There will always be conflict every now and then.

That's normal.

It's conflict management by using clear lines of communication that's important.

  • Don't worry if you aren’t receiving a response straight away
  • Give your team members enough time and be patient
  • Listen more and speak less
  • Don't overcommunicate
  • Ask about their day, etc.

But, most important of all, trust your team.

With that said, let’s look at some hurdles that, more often than not, remote teams have to encounter. We’ll also look at ways so that you can be proactive in avoiding them.

Staying on top of common remote project management problems

Lack of responsiveness

Remote work, by its nature, means you can’t drop in on your team on your whim. You might have to wait a while for responses.

While it’s true that you shouldn’t expect immediate responses and give your team the required space, if you aren’t getting a response at all, you might need to check in on what’s wrong.

They could be feeling isolated.

Working from home and going days without physically being in contact with anyone can cause withdrawal, drastically reducing their efficiency

To combat this, foster a culture of regular interaction between teammates. Set up partnerships or buddies at work - and make them responsible for checking in on each other and having each other’s back.

This small act of bonding can work wonders in helping with motivation. 

Unclear responsibilities

You, as the project manager, are responsible for the timely delivery of the project - but you’re often not involved in working on the project.

It’s your team members who do the actual work.

In a remote setup, when you can’t walk into your colleague’s desk and check for updates, it is easy to lose track of things and let things fall through the cracks. It is possible to have a blurry vision on the progress of a project and the status of tasks assigned.

For this, the solution is setting clear expectations from the get-go.

Ideally, this should be a part of the process document that you created before commencing the project. Ensure that all the tasks assigned are agreed upon by every team member involved.

Here's what you should do.

Make sure that everyone (including the stakeholders, if any) understands their roles and responsibilities and their part in the projects. That way, if there’s some confusion during the project, you can refer back to the original discussion for clarity - and keep the project going!

Conflicting priorities

To efficiently manage your team’s workload and stay within deadlines, it is essential to prioritize each and every task - especially in a remote work environment. 

Otherwise, if you’re working on multiple complex projects, you’ll just end up juggling with different tasks with conflicting priorities.

The best way of assigning priorities and determining the order of execution of various tasks is by taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture. 

What is more important - delivering the product late, or reducing the scope and releasing it on schedule?

Do I need to add more resources to the projects?

Can this deadline be negotiated with the client?

Can I reallocate my resource’s work to someone else, and let them focus on this?

The answers to these questions (and more, of a similar nature), should be good to help you define priorities.

When stuck with a conflict or in a situation that demands trade-offs, always assign higher priority to tasks that take you closest to the initial goal that was outlined in the process document. 

Wrapping up remote projects with a retrospective

Once a project has reached the end of its lifecycle, running a quick retrospective or postmortem can help save on meetings while fueling efficiency.

This will give teams a chance to share what they've learned and their shortcomings from the entire project.

It will give your team a chance to evolve.

There is incredible value in coming together and reflecting on the work done - sharing feedback and discussing improvements.

This doesn’t have to be an impromptu session.

You can set a date and time for this and inform your team in advance. That way, they will get sufficient time to reflect and note down important points that they want to discuss. Otherwise, this session might end up being one-way. 

Questions to ask during a remote retrospective

At the core of efficient retrospectives is a set of questions to improve and grow.

A rough list of these questions could include the following: 

  • What were a few goods and bads about this project? What could have been done better?
  • What is your feedback on the tools we’re using for work? Do you have alternative suggestions?
  • What do you feel about internal communication? Is there something that can be done to improve it?
  • Were the tasks assigned with realistic deadlines or were the deadlines short? If short, was it because of mismanagement?
  • What are some key learnings from this project to take on to the next?

All in all, there are 3 key components for a successful remote work setup, and you should ensure all three are in order.

  • Team
  • Tools
  • Processes

Stay tuned for part 3!

About the Author

The name’s Houston Golden. I’m the Founder & CEO of BAMF ― a company I’ve grown from $0 (yes, really) to well over $4M in revenue over a span of 3 years.
How did I do it? Well, it’s quite simple, really. I’ve helped hundreds of business owners and executives get major traction (because when they win, we win). I tell you how on this blog.
Growth hacking is a state of mind. Follow along as I explore and expose the unknown growth strategies and tactics that will change the way you think about marketing.

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