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Start Your Geographically Distributed Projects Right

Rothman Consulting Group, Inc.
Vol 9, #4: Start Your Geographically Distributed Projects Right
Feb 6, 2012                                                                                      ISSN: 2164-1196



Start Your Geographically Distributed Projects Right

Simone, a French project manager, emailed me. “Johanna, we are having trouble getting the people together. These people worked together before on the previous release. But on this release, they are not working together. I’ve done these things,” and she listed a number of smart ideas. I replied by email, “Where’s the project charter with the vision?”


“Oh,” she said. “I didn’t write one this time, because it’s another release of the same product.”


Sometimes you can get away without writing another charter if the people know each other well and it is another release. But in a geographically distributed project? Almost never. And that’s because the vision is the glue that holds the people together and provides the reason for the people to stick together.


And, chartering your distributed projects is not a trivial task, because the people are not in one place. What can you do?
  1. Ask, beg, plead, whine, cajole, do what you need to do to get everyone in one place for the start of the project. At that time, write the project charter together. This is the cheapest time to get everyone together and is much cheaper than fixing defects later in the project.
  2. If you can’t get everyone together in the same place, see if you can get everyone to work together at the same time. If you have a relatively small project team, this may be do-able. If you are spread out across many time zones, and you are the project manager, offer to be the one who makes the biggest sacrifice in terms of staying up late or waking up early to charter. Your team will appreciate you for that sacrifice, and you will shown the example of what the team members need to do for the project.
  3. If you have too many team members or you really can’t get everyone together for the chartering effort, draft a strawman vision and discuss it electronically. This is the weakest of the three options, and it’s better than plunking down a charter and saying, “take it or leave it,” or having no charter at all.


Working effectively in a geographically distributed team is a challenge. And, it starts from the very beginning of the project, even if the team has worked together before.

Simone chartered the project with her team, and once the team understood their project vison, they started working together as a team. They all understood where they were headed, and they were headed there together.


Work More Effectively in Geographically Distributed Teams

For many of us, geographically distributed projects are a way of life. All of my collaborations, including the AYE conference, and this workshop with Shane Hastie are.  Would you like to work more effectively in geographically distributed teams? Shane Hastie and I are delivering a two-day workshop this April 17-18 in Pleasanton, CA.


We’ll experience how you plan and deliver working product in a geographically distributed team. If you know either of us, you know it will be not just jam-packed with learning, but also fun. We keep a kanban board of your issues so we address them during the workshop. Our workbook is over 70 pages at this point, so you don’t have to worry about leaving with content. And, every participant receives a copy of Johanna’s Manage It! Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management, with a chapter on multi-site teams and a template for a project charter. 


Early-bird registration lasts until Feb. 15, so sign up now. Bring a team and receive an even more generous discount.


Welcome or Welcome Back to the Pragmatic Manager

I am still clearing bounces on this list, and reconnecting with many of you on LinkedIn. If you have missed issues, see back issues of the Pragmatic Manager here.


If I’m not connected with you yet on LinkedIn, please do connect with me. I want to connect with you, my subscribers.

I keep my blogs current with my writings: Managing Product Development

Hiring Technical People

and my newest blog (with it’s own new mailing list) Create an Adaptable Life.


© 2012 Johanna Rothman


  1. I agree whenever possible it is best to get the team together but when 80% or more of your team is on the other side of the globe it is not possible. It is even difficult to get them all on a conference call given the 12 hour difference in time. We try to keep in sync using a Wiki, email and other tools but developing a sense of team is extremely difficult. Any suggestions?

  2. Developing a sense of “team” is quite difficult in your situation, Rick. You need people to work together, and deliver work to each other. I don’t know if you heard our webinar. The more commitments people make and deliver on, the better. That does include *you* :-) Here is an article that might help:

    If you click on the tag cloud for “geographically distributed teams” you will see a number of articles I have written throughout the years. Some are clearly dated :-) They don’t include my blog entries–they are not included in this tag cloud. Please do look there, for more.

  3. I completely agree with your post Johanna, and the power of co-location at the beginning of a project is so crucial that we require it in our distributed projects. It also helps that our team is located in Central America and so we can work in similar timezones to our US clients, so communication as a whole is much easier (and so is the travel!).

    Here’s a post I recently wrote about the benefits we experience when our clients kick off their projects with us in Costa Rica:


  1. Who is Jenni Jepsen | Yves Hanoulle - [...] Hmmm, I guess I am now working in IT, aren’t I? I’m helping project teams improve their communication and …

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