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War Stories from the Trenches: Virtual Teams and Maximizing Team Productivity

by Yosh Eisbart

May 6, 2010

Currently, I am in the midst of a monster of a program. I use the word program instead of project because this SAP initiative is comprised of a team of seemingly endless amount of people scattered around the globe literally reaching the four corners of the world. It is not uncommon for me to have conference calls beginning at 6am in order to accommodate Europe and then end the day with a conference call at 10pm to fit into Asia Pac's 9-5 schedule.

While some of the time I am in an actual office with other team members - most of the time I am working remotely in my home office. Herein lies the challenge. While working virtually and remotely is no longer "bleeding-edge" - this program has opened my eyes to the extent at which virtual SAP project delivery can be pushed... and it is being pushed hard here. Laughing

Based on my recent experiences working in this environment and responsible for ensuring that critical components within the program are successfully delivered - I would like to share how this program has chosen to effectively tackle this challenging yet productive working environment.

Below are several key methods for maximizing virtual team delivery:

  1. Communication Tools: While seemingly obvious - it is imperative that all team members have effective teleconferencing capabilities both from a telephone and web-conferencing perspective. Most likely your organization util izes a standard set of comm tools such as NetMeeting, WebEx, LotusNotes SameTimeetc.; however - in the unlikely event that they do not - free and effective teleconferencing tools such as Skype can be invaluable. Regardless of this chosen tool - all team members must be sufficiently trained and capable. There is nothing more frustrating than poor communication tools when working remotely. As the old adage goes - the "medium" is just as important as the message. CoolINSIDER TIP: Instant Messaging is an EXCELLENT and effective way of communicating when working remotely. The only disadvantage depending upon the IM tool is lack of recording capabilities.
  2. Standardized Systems: Another effective way to maximize virtual productivity is ensuring that all team members are working with a company-provided and/or standardized working platform. More specifically - everyone has the same laptop. In the event that team members are working with different applications or relevant project toolsets - it can be very frustrating (frustrating = dip in productivity) for team members to effectively communicate and collaborate. Standard laptop images provide an effective framework for SAP projects and perhaps more importantly - company help-desks. CoolINSIDER TIP: Limit administrative rights on laptops. While this might not be a popular decision with the masses - it will most definitely limit one-off applications and the ability for team members to disrupt corporate computers.
  3. Workshop/Conference Call Protocol: Since many of your team's meetings will be held virtually - it is important to provide a standard meeting framework focused on ensuring that workshops run smoothly, accomplish the meeting's goal, and progress is made. To be honest - these types of meeting frameworks are consistent with on-site meetings; however, in a virtual environment - they are all the more important.
    • As part of any meeting - there should be defined roles for meeting participants including: meeting coordinator and meeting scribe. Furthermore - the more team members you can include in participating in the meeting - the more engages everyone will be.
    • An agenda should provided PRIOR to the meeting so participants are aware of what will be covered and sufficiently prepared to discuss the meeting's topics.
    • Meeting minutes should be documented during the meeting by the meeting scribe and provided to the workshop participants shortly after the meeting in a timely fashion. Meeting minutes should include important topics discussed and follow-up items including responsible party and deadlines.
  4. Face-to-Face Requirements: Not all SAP project initiatives can be handled remotely. For more complex topics - face-to-face meetings are simply not only more effective but necessary. Complicated business design workshops or complex technical interface design sessions might be better suited for bringing all of the various parties together for a designated timeframe in order to ensure that nothing is lost due to virtualization challenges. Obviously - the decision of whether to meet face-to-face is subj ective but there are several key indications that a face-to-face meeting is more appropriate that a virtual meeting:
    • If the workshop timeframe is more than two full days - it might be more effective to bring all parties together in a single physical location.
    • Business Process critical processes that are fundamental to the success of your business are sometimes too important to discuss remotely and potentially misinterpret from a business definition requirement.
    • Complex interfacing technical development design workshops covering many systems including SAP and Partner Applications (i.e. Legacy Systems) with many moving parts are often better suited for face-to-face workshops. Simple downloads/uploads can easily be tackled remotely but multiple IDOC outbound interfaces pivoting off of XI sent from a remote EDI application... not a good candidate.

Not all organizations require or are able to effectively work in a remote environment; however - as we all know - the working environment is moving more and more towards this scenario.

Would love to hear your thoughts on your virtual working situations; how productive you feel you and your team is; and other tips & tricks on maximizing remote productivity.

Happy SAP'ing!

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