How to manage projects during a crisis

Project leadership and project management isbased on mutual trust and shared responsibility. We developed everything together alongside our clients and users. That’s how we got the best results.

Teo Chart

Working together to achieve a common goal has been a concept that’s inspired me since my first software project. That was 15 years ago now and back then I was lucky since project leadership and project management were based on mutual trust and shared responsibility. We developed everything together alongside our clients and users. That’s how we got the best results. I never got to meet some of the team members in person. 

My teams change depending on the project. They come from various cultures. They’re located in different countries. They speak various languages. But we believe we can achieve the final result by working together. This is more important than being physically present in a shared office. Here are my tips for how geographically dispersed teams can be successful.

Projects that take place across various locations have challenges:

  • Cultural differences (where people don’t think the same.)
  • Language differences (where people misinterpret each other.)
  • Lack of transparency (where there is no trust.)

How can these problems be overcome?

Share a common project culture

The project culture should include guidelines, values and standards. Everyone should be able to identify with the project culture. Anyone should be able to claim it from others. It creates a basis for understanding and guarantees trust. You should discuss this and work it out as a team. 

The project culture lays the groundwork for a common understanding. It creates the basis for processes without defining them. It's not about who’s talking to whom or who’s wearing a shirt and tie. 

A few useful questions to start with might be: What is our common project language? What rules should we agree on for meetings? How long do we have to wait before receiving responses to emails? On which days are there no meetings or emails (so that we can get some work done)? How will we treat one another? What do team members need for good cooperation? What is our definition of “completed”? What should be included in our code of conduct?

Make your project culture accessible to everyone. Make sure it’s not hard to find. Make sure that when new members join the team, the first thing they’re briefed on is your project culture. 

Don’t let language become a barrier

With having so many people with different (native) languages, it’s easy for misunderstandings to occur when working on projects. A lot of communication happens in writing when teams work together across a distributed environment. It’s easy to get carried away explaining things in a way that is long and complex. Less text would make more sense for everyone. Write clearly and concisely. If you want to explain something, the general rule of thumb is “write less, talk more”. Combine drawings and text (e. g. annotated models and drafts) That way you’ll be better understood. 

It’s vital that all important information is understood correctly. Agree on tools for collaboration and formal communication. Reassess these decisions during the course of the project. People start looking for (and find) alternatives to unnecessarily complicated tools themselves. This unleashes chaos. Assign specific employees to take care of the tools: Who can I ask in case of problems? Who takes care of updates?

Communication is not just about efficiency! Make sure to leave room for informal conversations and fun. Your team is made up of all different personalities. Make the most of this diversity. Let the team find its own language.

Finnoconsult team

Create a place for trust and transparency

Bringing together suitable talents and experts for large and innovative projects is difficult. This is not just the case during times of crisis. Regardless of the structure of the project, everyone must be able to assume that the participants will do their best for mutual success. 

Transparency creates trust on the individual and organisational level. If you can enjoy mutual trust, then it doesn’t matter where people work. As team leader you are responsible for building and maintaining transparency and trust. Have regular informal meetings with your colleagues. Always make time for the members of your team. Be open to receiving feedback and support people when they make suggestions. Ask yourself and others difficult questions. How do we deal with problems? How do we solve them? Listen and take action. 

A strong team can survive even in times of crisis

Companies that are willing to adapt are successful even during difficult times. Prepare yourself for new challenges in projects. Strengthen your team with a “we’re in this together” culture as well as good communication and mutual trust. A crisis can also lead to individual and organisational growth.

With our Ideation Workshops and Rapid Prototyping Design Sprints you can strengthen your team and develop future-proof working strategies. Finnoconsult and ENNO Studio are here to help you to develop project and organisational culture. New and sustainable workflows will be what is going to get you out of the crisis and launch you into the future. Get in touch if you want to strengthen your team and your organisation.

Photo of Maria Rauch
Maria Rauch
Maria Rauch is a Scrum Master and Agile Consultant at Finnoconsult. She has supported the development of innovative web applications and apps for various industries and target groups for 15 years.

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