Remote collaboration has represented a transformation in the way we work. It enables teams from across the world to partner as effectively as they would sitting across the same conference table. Employees can boost their productivity through automation and more efficient tools that generate better results for clients. All in all, teams of all sizes have benefitted tremendously from virtual work.
One of the main tools that emerged to facilitate online work is project management software. This type of software combines the principles of project management with powerful features that adapt to any team’s needs to manage projects large and small with the same ease.
However, there’s a learning curve to adopting virtual project management successfully. Here are my favorite tips for reaping the benefits of PM tools.
What to look for in virtual project management software
There are countless PM platforms with a range of features and layouts to fit each project’s unique needs. The most popular choices include Smartsheet, Asana, ClickUp, Trello, Jira, Monday, Todoist, and Teamwork. Each of these has endless customization options, board views, and attributes, and you can’t go wrong with either. That said, doing your research before committing is worth the time it takes since migrating platforms can be quite the hassle.
Before deciding on a platform, consider the type of projects you typically run and your organization’s PM methodology. For instance, Jira is the top tool for software development. Asana is the most versatile with Timeline, List, and Board views that work for marketing, sales, and ops teams. And Trello is the ultimate kanban tool for agile teams.
Next, familiarize yourself with the features. It’s worth noting that most platforms have limited features on free plans, with increasing complexity and added functionality with premium subscriptions. Smaller teams may get away with most free plans, but complex projects with large teams may require a corporate deal.
On broad strokes, PM software has the following elements:
- A workspace, board, or folder. This is the main project’s space. It includes the tasks, files, and team members related to that project.
- Lists. The list is a sub-group of tasks or assets that belongs to the project. Each list may correspond to a stage or a milestone of the project.
- Cards. The smallest unit in your board, these are the individual tasks assigned to team members. They hold information about the deliverable, including the owner, deadline, dependencies, and resources for said task.
Besides these basic elements, there are internal and external team members, resources, and timelines. We’ll dive into these in the following section.
Tips for succeeding with virtual project management
Train your team to use the software
PM software can be as simple or complex as you need. And each platform has different names for features and workflows, so it can be easy to get lost in the weeds when adopting a new system.
To help your team acclimate, create standard operating procedures and ensure everyone can log in and use the features they need to do their job.
Create a workflow
Depending on the PM method you choose and your base’s layout, create an intuitive workflow that drives tasks from idea to completion.
For example, a Kanban board consists of 4-5 columns going from left to right — idea, to do, in progress, testing, and done. Adjust your columns to fit your specific needs, and you’ll be on your way.
And don’t fret — it’s normal for teams to take a few tries to find a system that works. So allow your virtual project management workflows to evolve with your team to get the best results.
Create a convention for tasks
One of the main reasons to adopt virtual PM is to streamline your team’s processes, and tasks are an essential component of this. Each card or task needs:
- A clear action item. I recommend starting with an active verb; for example, Draft a proposal for the PM adoption initiative.
- The task owner. Who is responsible for completing the task?
- Deadlines. When do they need to complete the task?
- Details and context. Attach any documents or links regarding the task, like call notes, the SOW, or other information.
- Optional: Use the custom fields to add further details. Tools like Asana allow you to create dropdown menus and other custom fields to add data like which stage of the project the task belongs to or its priority.
Most PM tools provide basic automation even with free plans. Simple tasks like moving cards when they’re marked completed or alerting someone of a status change can seem small, but they represent a serious boost to your productivity and enable teams to remain informed throughout the project. Find out what your PM tool of choice offers and explore the best ways to use it.
Keep sensitive or confidential information in mind
Virtual project management has many perks, but it also comes with risks. As with any online collaboration tool, you need to be careful with sensitive, proprietary, or confidential information. There are two ways to do this: First, ensure that only the team members required to access a project are added to it — no need to have the whole company on a department-level initiative. Second, keep sensitive information and files in secure locations like encrypted data rooms, and never share data like passwords in a PM board.
Virtual project management can transform how you work
Virtual PM software enables your team to focus on the real impactful work they do by alleviating the admin burden that consumes such a large part of our workweek. However, you’ll need to put in the work upfront to achieve those results.
Don’t just sign up for project management software. Understand its potential to help your team achieve the best results. Enroll now on Lean for Project Managers, the on-demand course that will take your PM skills to the next level.