One question that arises very frequently is around the size differences between a workforce for a co-located team and a virtual one, most particularly in a project space. Realistically, in business virtual teams, those teams that operate continually rather than project teams, which come and go, the size of the team is static and predictable, however, workforce planning for virtual teams is not as simple.
Principle influencers on the workforce plan will be the size of the project, the number of locations, and the reason the organisation has chosen to use a virtual project team and the way the work is distributed between offices. Each of these will influence the workforce plan in a different way, some will have only a small subtle influence, and others will have large and profound influences.
The area where the largest variations of people will be in interface management, technical verification (checking the work is consistent between locations) and, if one location is either new to the technology being used and/or is being engaged as a low cost centre where the skill level may not be as high as the home office, there will be a size increase at least inversely proportional to the expected productivity inefficiency, so if you anticipate a productivity of 66% from your low cost centre you will need a team size there at least 150% of the size as the equivalent in a high skill centre, and that is assuming both locations speak the same language and are familiar with the same standards.
Different reasons for using virtual teams
As discussed in a number of other articles on this site there are a number of reasons organisations will look to a virtual team, principle among these are; access to skills not readily available in a single location, access to lower cost skills in another location or to balance workload across a multi centre business. Understanding the motivation for using a virtual team will have some influence on the workforce planning needed to run the team, but the influence in terms of head count is generally small from this factor, where this does influence more is in the willingness and recognition that things need to be done a little differently.
Number of locations and skills level
The number of locations the project is spread over has a scaling effect on the numbers of personnel required to manage the inter office interfaces. As the number of locations increases so too does the number of interface personnel considered when undertaking workforce planning for a co-located project. The rate of increase is at least linear in that each new location will need at least one more interface manager. This rate of growth can increase under the influence of other factors, most notably the size of the project and the methods of work allocation.
As discussed above, the relative skill level and commensurate productivity differences between locations has a massive impact on the size of the team at each location, and again, the larger the team, the larger the number of support personnel and interface management required.
Size of project
As project get larger the likelihood of a multi centre virtual team approach increases rapidly, it is often simply impossible to firstly find all of the right people in one location and secondly to house them all in one space even if they are all available. Consequently, when undertaking workforce planning, there is a direct relationship between the size of the project and the number of interface personnel. However, the growth in project size is then compounded by the need to add additional numbers of personnel to manage checking and physical interfaces.
Allocation of tasks
The way work is divided out in virtual projects can have a large and profound impact on the numbers of interface personnel. If the project is broken into discreet, stand alone sections the interfaces tend to be small and easy to manage for a small number of people. However, if the project tasks are broken down, either into smaller packages with more complex interfaces or if one group located in one office is to undertake all of the work in their technical specialist area of the project while the rest of the project is broken into discreet pieces, the numbers of interfaces grow rapidly both in number and complexity. These interfaces can be complex to manage and the workforce planning associated with them can also be difficult.
When to undertake workforce planning
It may seem obvious, but the time to do the workforce planning is before the project starts. Yet, Surprisingly, many organisations either don’t understand the challenges, don’t have the information or don’t believe they need to prioritise workforce planning for their virtual teams early in the project cycle. These projects rely instead on a more simple workforce plan for an equivalent co-located project, possibly applying a few arbitrary factors to scale up in areas but not really considering the impact of each decision on the size of the team, the roles needed and the skills of the personnel needed to fill those roles.
Without accurate workforce planning projects can get into serious issues surprisingly quickly. They find themselves slipping behind the schedule, running out of space, burning out key personnel, exceeding expected spend rates for travel and communications equipment such as mobile phones and video conference suites, and worse of all for some projects, they find the project its self becoming unfeasible when measured against the business norms. All of which puts the project manager and their team in the hot seat.
While all of this may seem like a lot of work, it is far better to do the work early and start the project with at least a solidly considered workforce plan in place. Of course things will change, numbers will go up and down but a solid basis is always better than a “best guess”.
With a deep experience inn the conceptualising and planning of virtual teams, Ulfire specialises inn helping organisations with their workforce planning. Please contact us to discuss any specific needs you may have.
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