Interoffice Work: A Surmountable Challenge!

5 July, 2018 | Blog

MARIE CHIASSON, P.Eng.

Practice Leader, Engineering Management

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MÉLANIE CHOUINARD, P.Eng., M.Eng.

Practice Leader, Engineering and Project Management

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How can we optimize project performance when the teams working together are spread out over multiple offices and sometimes in different time zones? IT and communications tools available today are not always sufficient to ensure effective information sharing and adequate coordination across teams to achieve project objectives. So what essential elements must be implemented for a project to be successful, despite the limitations of interoffice work?

The benefits of proximity

Many project managers are used to working with teams located in the same office. This proximity makes it possible to quickly create relationships, which generally take longer and are more difficult to develop and maintain when teams are further away from each other. Direct, face-to-face relationships ensure that individuals know each other better; that roles and responsibilities are understood; and that procedures are established and followed. These elements therefore do not need to be communicated and certain hypotheses do not have to be validated, whether at the beginning or during the project. Communications are carried out informally and proximity allows for continuous project coordination. Project managers are often unaware of these elements, their importance and their impact on project team members in other offices.

Team member proximity makes it possible to communicate in the most effective way… in person. This is the best way to share information, discuss a topic or ask a question. Risks of communication and coordination problems increase with distance. Phone calls and writing are the most common means of communication, although they are not the most effective, as illustrated by the Ambler curve.

To optimize the performance of a project

To optimize the performance of a project involving work teams that are spread out over several locations, it is necessary to:

  • Divide the mandate into clearly defined work packages, with their limits, and assign these packages to the various teams. The following criteria should be considered when defining and assigning work packages:
  • Project site (owner site)
  • List of deliverables per discipline
  • Discipline grouping based on the necessary coordination efforts
  • Required expertise
  • Time zones to which offices are subject
  • Resource availability
  • Project execution strategies
  • Appoint a project manager for the entire project (it is the internal client) and a project leader for each site (service provider). They in turn will ensure local work accountability.
  • Define the roles and responsibilities within each team as well as across teams.
  • Formalize (define and document) the communication and coordination mechanisms that will be used and implement them.
  • Consider the project manager as though he or she were an external client (company for which the project is being carried out). It is interesting to note that, in general, we tend to respect our commitments more for external clients with whom we deal directly.

Everyone agrees that project success and client satisfaction depend on effective communication between the client and the project team, as well as on rigorous coordination of the work. What are the differences between work sharing among local teams and work sharing among teams that are spread out over different offices? There aren’t any: the same principles apply and should be strengthened. 

The following table presents the parallel between the external client/project team relationship and the internal client/supplier relationship in work organization and execution.

Elements to consider

Client

Project with teams in multiple offices

Definition of mandate

–  Proposal

–  One or more defined work packages (clear and documented mandate and limits)

–  Kick-off meeting with external client and key players on the project team

–  Internal kick-off meeting with the project manager and project leaders for each office

Roles and responsibilities

–  An external client project manager and an internal project manager

–  A project manager, and a project leader per office

–  It is important that the project leader of an office accept the work for which he or she will be accountable and take ownership

Communication and coordination

–  Meeting frequency and the agenda are planned; results are documented

–  Weekly communication with the client (at least)

–  Schedule meetings and agenda; document the results

–  Ensure communication between the project manager and the project leaders on a daily or almost daily basis

–  Monitor costs and deadlines on a weekly basis

–  Inputs and their delivery date by the client are planned

–  Define, plan and coordinate the input exchange process required by each team

–  Review the schedule in detail to meet the overall schedule

–  The issuance of documents necessary for coordination is planned (for comments, for coordination, for approval, etc.)

–  Issuance for internal coordination documents must be planned and formalized

–  Add internal deliverables to your list of deliverables

–  Delivery of a progress report (monthly or otherwise) presenting progress (budget, schedule, deliverables), risks and opportunities and problems to solve

–  Project leaders should submit a similar report as frequently, a few days before the report to the client

 

To summarize, project leaders should consider the project manager as an external client. They must control their project, communicate with the project manager as soon as an issue arises so it can be resolved and, above all, make no changes before notifying the project manager.  

The principles and recommendations presented above are proven and form the basis of interoffice multidisciplinary projects. They are all the more important in a context of linguistic or cultural diversity.

This content is for general information purposes only. All rights reserved ©BBA

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