Man on the moon

Would you hire a remote project leader?

I say leader because I don’t want to get into the debate about what should be the role of the project or program manager/director.

For the purposes of this article, let’s go with, ‘I’m referring to the person trusted by the organisation or sponsor to deliver the project’.

Oh dear, now I have to define deliver the project. Again, for the purposes of this article, let’s go with ‘delivery meaning when the project result is when the person who wanted it accepts it and agrees and they can now use it to achieve the reason they wanted the project’.

Here’s an example. A company wants to extend it’s market share and profitability by introducing a new product. They initiate a project to create the product. The project is complete when the product is released to sales and marketing and sales and marketing agree it meets the brief to be buy-able, profitable and desirable.

Now, back to the question. Would you consider a remote person to deliver a project? A person who might be with some of the team but who also might be on their own.

The first answer people offer is usually no. But then I had a client this year whose reply was, ‘I don’t care if they sit in Azerbaijan’. Note: the project was not in anyway associated with Azerbaijan. He went on to hire one of our remote PMs and is delighted with the result.

In reality, remote management is not new, we’ve been managing and delivering remotely for a very long time. In 1951 The School of the Air started in Australia. A way for children in remote locations to get access to top draw education over the radio. Studies have shown that such education has a parity with, if not better, standards than traditional methods of schooling. There’s also the emergence of remote medicine. And yes that works too.

Our own studies at RNC have shown that it’s not the remoteness that makes the difference, it’s the person leading it. There are several keys to this success:

  • The project leader needs to have an exceptional ability to build relationships without organic proximity or, put another way, being in the same place as the team or dispersed members.
  • The project leader needs to be able to complete the mechanics of project management, but more importantly get the best out of those they lead.
  • The project leader needs to be able to read people, the team, the client, the stakeholders, the executive team, suppliers and others who will pop up from time to time.
  • The project leader needs to be a top draw communicator. Written, spoken and body language.
  • I’d say the most important thing a project leader can have is the innate ability to ‘seek first to understand, rather than to be understood’. Great project leaders know it is never about them.
  • The client, sponsor, person who wants the outcome, has to be a grown up. Someone who trusts their judgement, trusts their ability to assess activity and progress, someone who knows what they want to see in order to be confident. Someone who gives trust and has the confidence to know, before they need to, when to step in.
  • The client, sponsor, person who wants the outcome, needs to be able to build a relationship with the project leader.
  • The client, sponsor, person who wants the outcome, must want the outcome more than they want to control the person leading it.

Oh, wait, these are all the traits of all good project deliverers.

So, I don’t know whether you’re a person of the 21st century or …….. but I do know that it can work and when it does it’s a cracker.

Best to have the best person wherever they are, than the second, or third best, in the room with you.