Managing virtual project teams

Current practise, problems and challenges

Hausarbeit, 2010

29 Seiten, Note: 1,7


Table of Contents

Executive summary

List of Abbreviations

List of Figures

List of Tables

1 Introduction

2 Methodology

3 Definitions
3.1 What is a project?
3.2 What is project management?
3.3 What is a virtual project team?

4 Motivations for forming a virtual project team

5 Challenges and problems of a virtual project team and how to overcome them
5.1 Difficulties of remote communication and how to deal with them
5.2 Dealing with different cultures
5.3 Issues of team building
5.3.1 Choosing the right people
5.3.2 Creating identification
5.3.3 Building trust
5.3.4 Dealing with conflicts

6 Qualities of a virtual project manager

7 Current practice: Logica’s Blended Delivery model combining virtual and non- virtual aspects as example

8 Conclusion



Executive summary

This presented assignment is part of the MBA studies at the University of Applied Sciences in Düsseldorf (FOM Hochschule für Oekonomie, Essen) and covers the subject “Managing virtual project teams - Current practise, problems and challenges”. While a project is a form of organisation which is characterised through its uniqueness, its novelty and a fixed end date, a virtual project team is distributed over different locations worldwide, but working together as one team. Remote communication between the team members is done through synchronous and asynchronous means of virtual communication. Because these media cannot transmit the full bandwidth of human communication, there must be rules set how to act with these different means of virtual communication in order to prevent frustration and communication problems.

Additional difficulties may arise when a virtual project team is composed of people with different cultural backgrounds. In such a case, a project manager of a virtual team has to join communication skills with intercultural skills.

In order to work together under these circumstances, team building is crucial to make a virtual project a success. Successful team building in a virtual project first of all means that people with the right characteristics have to be chosen to form a virtual project team. For example, they must have a high level of self-organisation and social competence. Furthermore, building trust is crucial in order to make people who may never see each other in real life successfully work together.

In order to manage the task of a virtual project, a project manager of such a team needs a high level of social skills coupled with the skills of a motivator.

The Blended Delivery model of Logica, a global provider of IT services, where a local core team works together with an extended virtual team, may be a good compromise between virtual and non-virtual project work and may combine benefits of both organisation forms.

List of Abbreviations

illustration not visible in this excerpt

List of Figures

Fig. 1: A distributed project

Fig. 2: which consists of four teams

Fig. 3: A virtual project

Fig. 4: which consists of only one team

List of Tables

Table 1: Cultural dimensions, behaviours of team members and implications for the use of communication technology

1 Introduction

Globalisation of companies in the form of national and international cooperation and mergers leads to new organisation forms and to new ways of collaboration. Large companies are forced to integrate their activities more and more on an international level.1

Therefore, companies may form project teams which are crossing boundaries between time zones, cultures, countries and languages. Members of such teams are communicating mainly or solely through technical means of communication, i.e. e-mail, chat, video conferences etc. Some team members will never see each other face-to-face, even though they may work together for a longer period of time.

In this elaboration, it will first of all be defined what virtual project teams exactly are and why companies may be seeking to form them. After that, the difficulties and challenges of virtual team work will be discussed. In the last chapter, the current practice of Logica, a large international provider of IT services, should be described and analysed regarding these topics.

2 Methodology

The research methods used for this elaboration were literature reviews of books, scientific papers and further internet sources.

3 Definitions

3.1 What is a project?

First of all, it must be clarified what a project is. According to DIN 69901, a project is an “enterprise which is basically characterised through the uniqueness of its conditions, i.e. regarding

- its set target
- limitations regarding time, finances, personnel and further issues,
- delineations to other projects,
- a project-specific organisation”2

Bea et al. question the DIN definition because it also gives room for new questions, for example regarding what a project-specific organisation is. They propose the following definition: “A project is an enterprise which is limited regarding time, characterised through its novelty and uniqueness and displays a formidable size and complexity”.3 When cutting this definition into its pieces, a project is defined by five characteristics: Limited Time: From the very beginning, a fixed end date was set not only for a specific task, but for the whole project.

Novelty: A project is a new challenge because it does not aim to fulfil routine tasks, but to break new grounds. On the one hand, there is a high potential for innovation. On the other hand, there is also a high risk.

Uniqueness: A project is a unique enterprise, even though some project tasks can have a routine character. A project can develop into a routine task.

Size: A project requires its own management, planning process and project organisation, and therefore it must have a formidable size to justify these efforts. Complexity: A project consists of different subtasks which are assigned to people from different areas of expertise and must be coordinated4.

Zöllner also adds that a project is initiated because the (company) management expects a more successful fulfilment of a task by this form of organisation compared to the fulfilment by the line organisation5.

3.2 What is project management?

If a project exists, it has to be managed like any other complex form of organisation. According to DIN 69901, project management comprises of “the totality of leadership tasks, organisation, techniques and means which are necessary to run a project”6. It is the assignment of the project management to plan, implement and control an individual project7. Patzak & Rattay divide project management into four main tasks with a couple of subtasks, which are

- planning (subtasks are i.e. planning of the project strategy, time schedule, resources, costs etc.)
- organisation and communication (subtasks are i.e. definition of rules, forming of a project culture etc.)
- team leadership (an exemplary subtask is choosing staff)
- controlling (an exemplary subtask is the integrated supervision of quality, deadlines, resources, costs and finances)8

3.3 What is a virtual project team?

Having clarified what a project is and what project management is about, there should be an approach to the question what virtual (project) teams are.

Virtual teams are formed with the help of modern IT-based means of communication. Virtual teams are characterised through the fact that they work together at distributed locations, but fulfil the same tasks. The necessary communication is not done face to face, but through e-mails, telephone and video conferences9.

With the help of these and further modern means of communication, virtual project teams can “…cross time, distance, and organisational boundaries“10. There are mainly two ways of implementing a project with a team which is distributed at different locations. The first way is to cut the project work into different work packages and assign the work packages to different teams (Fig. 1).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 1: A distributed project11

In such a model, each team is working on its own and is not necessarily aware of what the other teams are doing. In most cases, each team has its own project manager (Fig. 2). This model does not totally fit the definition of a virtual project team.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 2: …which consists of four teams12

In a pure virtual project team, all team members work together as one collective unit, and the resource allocation and schedule adjustments are done for the entire project (Fig. 3).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 3: A virtual project13

The team communication will involve all members of the project, and everybody at each location will be aware of the fact that he or she is part of one big team. In such a case, a project-manager for each location is not necessary14 (Fig. 4).

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Fig. 4: …which consists of only one team15

4 Motivations for forming a virtual project team

Virtual teams offer a couple of benefits which may motivate companies to form them. Bal & Gundry conveyed a mail survey of Rover’s suppliers in order to explore attitudes regarding virtual team work. The most important benefits of virtual teamwork which were mentioned by the respondents were:

- Time savings (25% of the respondents), which means that lesser time is used for travelling and waiting for meetings
- Cost saving (23% of the respondents)
- Availability of extra expertise for meetings (20% of the respondents)
- Reduction of time wasted (17% of the respondents), which means that lesser time is wasted due to the reduction of uncertainty which is possible because there can be more and shorter meetings16

Patzak & Rattay also mention

- higher operational speed
- local availability of team members in distributed organisations, which leads to a higher local acceptance
- lesser disruption through fixed appointments, which leads to a higher degree of self-organisation17

A higher operational speed can be i.e. achieved through an “around the globe” delivery: For example, if a team is allocated in India, Europe, and the U.S., a 24 hour delivery is possible due to the time shift.

The local availability of team members can be a sales argument for external service providers which are running a project: A prospective client may feel uncomfortable if tasks are overtaken by an organisation where nobody is available for face-to-face communication. The fact that there are still team members available at the specific location may lead to a higher level of trust (see last chapter).

Especially for IT organisation, the outsourcing aspect must also be considered: IT service providers outsource parts of their services to countries like India with low wages in order to save labour costs.

5 Challenges and problems of a virtual project team and how to overcome them

Virtual project teams offer benefits, but also have their challenges and difficulties both for the members of such a team and for the project manager who is leading a virtual project team. In this chapter, the most important challenges and difficulties should be discussed.

5.1 Difficulties of remote communication and how to deal with them

In chapter 2.2, communication was listed as one of the tasks of project management. Herrmann et al. say that “the basis for collaboration and for leadership is communication”18. Pritchard sees communication even as “...the cornerstone for effective project management”19, furthermore, “the role of the project manager is one of communications facilitator”20.


1 Cf. Herczeg et al. (2000), p. 14

2 DIN-Norm 69901, quoted in Hesseler (2007), p. 8, translated

3 Bea et al. (2008), p. 31, translated

4 Cf. Bea et al. (2008), pp. 31 - 32

5 Cf. Zöllner (2003), p. 23

6 DIN 69901, quoted in Hesseler (2007), p. 10, translated

7 Cf. Bea et al. (2008), p. 14

8 Cf. Patzak & Rattay (2004), p. 22 - 23

9 Cf. Burghardt (2008), p. 498

10 Duarte & Snyder (2006), p. 6

11 According to Rad & Levin (2003), p. 8

12 According to Rad & Levin (2003), p. 9

13 According to Rad & Levin (2003), p. 10

14 Cf. Rad & Levin (2003), pp. 6 - 10

15 According to Rad & Levin (2003), p. 11

16 Cf. Bal & Gundry (1999), quoted in Bal & Forster (2000), p. 4022

17 Cf. Patzak & Rattay (2004), p. 135

18 Herrmann et al. (2006), p. 46, translated

19 Pritchard (2004), p.1

20 Pritchard (2004), p.3

Ende der Leseprobe aus 29 Seiten


Managing virtual project teams
Current practise, problems and challenges
FOM Hochschule für Oekonomie & Management gemeinnützige GmbH, Düsseldorf früher Fachhochschule
Project Management Tools and Organisation
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
3951 KB
managing, current
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Jan Sickinger (Autor), 2010, Managing virtual project teams, München, GRIN Verlag,


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