Virtual project is a collaborative effort by a group of individuals towards a common goal in cyber space. These individuals that form a team are physically separated within a city, country or even across continents. With technological advancements, more companies are investing in virtual projects due to its reduced costs and increased benefits. Virtual projects in Business Finance and Economics are considerably new since their literatures have been published only since post 1990 according to Google Scholar search engine. A search through Google scholar showed that from 1990 to 1999, around 9000 articles were published on virtual projects which doubled in numbers to approximately 21,000 from 2000 to 2008 hence emphasizing the growing interest of virtual projects in a business world.
Several research and academic writers have defined virtual projects; some of them are noted here. Virtual projects have been defined as, ‘individuals who are geographically dispersed and interact primarily through telecommunications and information technologies to accomplish specific objectives within specified timeframes’ (Townsend, DeMarie & Hendrickson, 1998). A previous article defined it as, ‘a self-managed knowledge work team, with distributed expertise, that forms and disbands to address a specific organizational goal’ (Kristof et al., 1995). A more recent report defined virtual project as ‘reflection of idea of virtual working as it is established to be virtual, and thus network externalities and benefits from synergy are gained’ (Okkonen, 2002).
This report will compare problems and issues facing project managers in a virtual as well as traditional surrounding and highlight fatal virtual project problems. It will also discuss about the role of technological advancements in virtual projects. Implementation of solutions for emerging problems in virtual projects in real world project environment.
Project Problems – virtual and traditional
Based on report of ‘The virtual project: Managing tomorrows team today’; the virtual project faces far more challenges than a traditional project. Some of the problems arise initially while developing the trust in the form of irregular and inconsistent communication. Unfamiliar team members and lack of comfort only deepens the problem. Virtual projects give rise to possible grouping among the team members with similar backgrounds called as sub-grouping or ‘cliques’ who tend to create enmity among team members or project manager or among cliques.
As individuals are away from each other in a virtual project, lack of cohesion among team members with poor knowledge of each individual’s role in a team is eminent. Besides, fewer shared or common discussions among team members cripple communication further with difficulty in sharing information rapidly across distances. Uncertain roles of individual’s in a team with differing cultures cause disturbances and possibility of egoism among team members. This flaw also visible in traditional projects could worsen in virtual settings because of lack of face-to-face meetings and assurances. With inconsistent and incomplete information among team members in a virtual world, the project manager of a virtual team faces a daunting task to rectify these flaws (Adams & Adams, 1997)
Research work in traditional project work environment also highlighted problems facing project managers. Some of which were similar to virtual projects, namely; lacking commitment with unclear roles and activities with inadequate flow of information among team members (Elonen & Artto, 2003). Formation of sub-groups within a team is another such problem observed in traditional settings. This mainly occurs among individuals of similar background with regards to culture, nationality or language. Such formation of sub-groups within a group could lead to animosity and tension among team members. Egoism among real project team members could be devastating for the project. However, analysts suggest that project work with traditional settings face fewer challenges in comparison to virtual environment.
New Electronic Technologies – blessing or curse?
With the advent of internet in early 1990’s there was an upsurge of virtual project investments by companies. Internet provided the tool for faster communication among team members through a feature called ‘E-mail’ which meant electronic mail. This feature enabled vast information to be transferred in few seconds across continents and hence highlighted speed, depth in information and ease of access.
More recently, companies have been developing software’s dedicated to virtual project members such as ‘project place’, ‘project management software’, etc. Some companies use a more common tool for communication – instant messengers such as MSN, Skype and Yahoo which provide tele-conferencing. This could be used to attain instant information without detailing as well as tele-conferencing where more than two people can share their ideas.
Earlier, use of pagers among team-members was used for urgent attention. Recently, mobiles have replaced pagers due to voice transfer and low costs with better application.
Major companies also use video-conferencing hence encouraging team-members in discussions and meetings which almost create a real environment and eliminate arising disputes or lack of information. Hence, technological advancements have given companies an opportunity to establish a virtual team which gathers the best minds together across a country or world and directing it towards a common goal. This results into cheaper costs for companies managing projects with expert inputs and lesser infrastructure and zero time consumption on travel.
However, technological advancement has also resulted into a formation of virtual team members with no inter-personal relationships resulting into poor understanding of team members, inconsistent information due to poor communication, unresolved disputes, formation of cliques, egoism and wayward direction of the project.
Solutions from virtual to real world projects
The article published by Adams & Adams (1997) discusses possible solutions to virtual project problems. Some of which could be implemented in real world projects, namely:
- Use of email for ‘informal’ purposes such as sharing joke or discussing news – this helps in developing inter-personal relationship.
- Regular standard format meetings – helps to solve any disputes. Also provides an opportunity to voice concern, errors or future problems in a particular project team.
- Common share-drive – collection and viewing of information at common place for uniformity and standardized information.
- Keeping track of sub-groups – develop activities for individuals from across sub-groups to increase familiarity and inter personal skills.
- Control of information – making sure that all participants have sufficient information for their role in the group.
Fatal Virtual Project Problems
Among the problems in virtual project discussed formation of ‘cliques’ according to me could be fatal for the development and success of any project. Cliques are formed easily through a common background and they could damage relationships among team members through egoism, insecurity and disputes.
It can be seen that although virtual projects may appear cheaper but their problems are severe and its success depends upon the experience and technique adopted by the project manager to stabilize complex situations.
Townsend, A. M., DeMarie, S. M., & Hendrickson, A. R. (1998). Virtual teams: Technology and the workplace of the future. The Academy of Management Executive, 12(3), 17–29.
Kristof, A.L., Brown, K.G., Sims Jr. H.P. and Smith, K.A. (1995). The Virtual Team: A Case.
Study and Inductive Model. Advances in Interdisciplinary Studies of Work Teams: Knowledge Work in Teams, Volume 2, Greenwich, CT: JAI Press, 229-253.
Okkonen, J. (2002) Performance of Virtual Organizations. Tampere University of Technology.
Adams, J.R. & Adams, L.L. (1997). The virtual project: managing tomorrow’s team today. PM Network, 11(1), 229-234.
Elonen, S. & Artto, K.A. (2002). Problems in managing internal development projects in multi-project environments. International Journal of Project Management, 21(6), 395-402.