Bridging That Communication Gap

SAN MATEO (03/20/2000) - How does one bridge distances between colleagues and project partners who are geographically scattered? Jose Campos put his 20 years' worth of experience in new product definition into forming Rapidinnovation, in West Linn, Ore. The company provides collaborative product development processes to high-tech companies under the gun to bring products to market rapidly.

Today's IT professionals are "facing even greater demands," Campos says, "with one of the more challenging aspects being the management of distributed product development across corporations, continents and countries." Campos shares his expertise.

1. Be a strong leader, clarify roles

The key to success, Campos says, is to select a solid team piloted by someone with experience in several disciplines. "This broad vision aids the team leader in accomplishing the vital first task of choosing members for the team," he says.

2. Go to the drawing board

To make sure your virtual team is correctly organized from the start, Campos suggests that you "draw a physical map of the locations of all the team members, including time zones and distances." It'll let you see any gaps or missing links.

3. Explain the big picture

In addition to making it clear that the team's performance will affect the company's bottom line -- and that the team is crucial -- identify the scope of the program up front. "Include schedules, features, and cost limitations so all team members can understand the team's purpose and their expected contribution," Campos says.

4. Don't hoard knowledge, share it

This is imperative for effective virtual team management. "Not even the team leader can act as a knowledge repository; it must be easily accessible by all team members," Campos says. And keep in mind that, "technology solves only 20 percent of the problem. The other 80 percent is solved by the way a team works together," he says.

5. Everyone must contribute

Participation has become easier with the teamware tools that are now available, so getting team members to join in "might actually be easier to do in a virtual environment," Campos says. "It might not be easy to gauge an individual's level of engagement in a face-to-face meeting, but it is easy to evaluate participation by counting e-mails, or by monitoring time spent in a teamware environment."

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