Is it really necessary to have a project team on site? The idea of having your project team work remotely can be pretty compelling when you consider factors such as cost and logistics, particularly in today’s working environment where remote workers have access to a host of online communication and collaboration tools. All that said, I am still a strong believer in co-location. Let’s look at the benefits.
Benefit #1: Keep the project focused in the eyes of your stakeholders for on-time delivery
The cliché “out of sight, out of mind” is a cliché for a reason. If something, or someone, is not actively seeking your attention, it is human nature that we don’t see this thing as a priority. This is true for every aspect of life, from that doctor’s appointment you’ve been meaning to make but haven’t written a reminder for, to that junk drawer you’ve been meaning to clear out, but haven’t gotten around to because you can quietly shut it and walk away.
The same is true of project work. If your project team is not on-site in the same building as your key stakeholders, the immediacy and urgency of the project slips from the mind of the business. The priorities of their day-jobs take over and the collective time that the business dedicates to the project starts to wane. Key decisions get delayed and key questions go unanswered for days, or even weeks, at a time. This is lethal to projects, which in their very nature are time-delimited. Quick responses and decisions from the business are vital to the success of a project and without them, you can start to see timeline slippage.
Benefit #2: Efficient work means a smooth project roll-out
Practically speaking, when your project team is based on-site with your key business stakeholders, it is much easier to resolve issues as and when they arise because the team has access to the right people at the right time. Project team can’t connect to the system? The IT team is on-hand to help. A user has raised a nuanced defect? The team can walk right up to their desk to examine the problem. Not only does this help to reduce the impact of those practical problems that arise at the start of every project, it lasts throughout the project, allowing the team and the business to work together.
Benefit #3: Develop strong collaborative working relationships
If the project team works remotely, there is immediately a physical distance between the business and the team. Whether “remotely” means that each member of the team works from home, or that they work from a different office location to the business, the impact is the same. This physical divide between the project team and the business manifests a psychological divide, too, as it stands in the way of developing trusted relationships.
The project becomes a case of “us vs. them” rather than everyone working together as a single united team. The “one team” approach can only work if each member of the project team spends their time on-site, allowing them to embed themselves within the business, to see what daily life is like for the users at an operational level.
Benefit #4: Iterative development delivers what the business needs
A buzzword around IT project delivery that we haven’t been able to shake is “agile”. The traditional waterfall approach is sometimes perceived as clunky and lethargic, while agile is seen as a modern and lightweight way to deliver projects. While true agile delivery may not suit every business environment or every technology deployment, agile principles of iteration can be adopted in any project to improve stakeholder engagement, and result in a better-developed solution.
The best way to employ this principle of iteration is through having everyone in the same room, walking through the solution at the same time, step by step. This allows the business to see the solution throughout the project at given intervals, enabling stakeholders to shape future development and ensure that the solution always meets their needs. It also allows the project team to verify what it has built so far, and to ensure that it’s on the right track going forward. Benefits on all sides: what’s not to love?
Benefit #5: A deeper understanding of your business leads to a solution that’s truly fit for purpose
If a project is physically based on-site with the business, then from the word “go” the project team is on the ground, developing its understanding of how your business works.
Although the project team’s primary focus will be to go live with its current project, it will also start to understand other problems that the business is currently facing. Perhaps these are problems within the same team or department that the project is taking place in. Perhaps not. Either way, this exposure to the business, and therefore to other business problems, is only possible if the project team is truly embedded on-site, and able to get “under the skin” of your business.
As I’ve illustrated, there are many benefits to co-located projects. However, that’s not to say that it’s all plain sailing. The increased expense and time required to have a project team based on-site is considerable and this alone is enough to deter some businesses from running co-located projects. Some additional risks for projects with teams based on-site are:
- The project team is on-hand all day every day to answer questions for the business. This can mean the team gets distracted or waylaid, and isn’t able to focus fully on its work.
- Constraints on office space can come into effect, especially if the project team is large.
- If the business environment is hostile or clouded by “politics”, it can be difficult for the project team to avoid being dragged into them which can make the project more difficult and impact the wellbeing of the project team.
However, good project management should mitigate these risks, preventing them from impacting the project or those involved.
Co-located projects are not without risk, and in most cases they necessitate a higher spend on travel, accommodation and other expenses. And, co-located projects require solid project management, to cover logistics arrangements and protect the project team from unnecessary distractions, whilst facilitating an iterative project that satisfies all stakeholders. That being said, the benefits of co-located project delivery easily outweigh the risks. The benefits aren’t limited to the business in the context of its current project: by running a co-located project, you pave the way for business improvements in the future.