The concept of workshare is one that has arrived in the workforce progressively over the past two decades. Prior to the advent of high speed internet communications, the ability of organisations to efficiently share work between their various locations was extremely low. Some organisations tried to implement workshare practices but met with extremely varying success and as such had to wait until technology caught up. Now the technology is with us, it is time to focus on effective workshare planning for project success.
While workshare is now a relatively common practice, adopted by organisations ranging from very small alliances of companies through to multi national conglomerates, the predictability of the outcomes of their various projects is still extremely variable, some being outstanding successes, other absolute disasters. In short, the technology has caught up with the desire but the knowledge of how best to plan and run a workshare project is still lagging behind.
What Is Workshare
Before going any further, its worth considering how the term workshare is used. Workshare is the term commonly used to describe the process where a business splits the work involved in a project between a number of different physical locations. In doing so they assign tasks based on cost, availability of personnel, any specific project skill requirements and balancing the workload of the organisation. Workshare is often interchanged with virtual team but in reality, as discussed in an earlier article, the two terms are different facets of the same phenomena, the virtual team is the group of personnel undertaking the task, workshare is how the tasks are assigned and managed.
Why Workshare Planning Matters To Projects
Historically, project planning has consisted of establishing a scope, schedule and budget, considering risks and opportunities and managing stakeholders. Since the advent of workshare however, project planning has changed little, except that when multiple locations are considered, those undertaking the planning look to see how they can save costs and access skills across the locations.
The need for workshare planning however goes beyond the tactical planning processes of a typical project of previous years and must consider how the different locations will interact. It calls on the skills of more than the usual project management personnel to undertake it effectively and, indeed, requires some specific skills not often found in the offices of project delivery organisations.
Project managers need to be able to conceptualise, coordinate and lead work in multiple locations concurrently, they need to be able to inspire personnel from multiple cultures, who work in different languages and to different procedures and standards to collaborate to the common good of the project and they need to be able to deliver a project using all these different locations.
Equally, project sponsors need to be able to put aside the traditional partisan relationship created by individual offices profit and loss requirements for the common good of the organisation and the project, to make available personnel who otherwise may be lock up on local work and to share skills and information.
Workshare Planning For Project Success
When planning for workshare the project owners need to make some key initial decisions, decisions that will influence the outcome of the project month or years in the future. Among other things, they need to decide how work will be shared, who will lead the work, who will support the execution of the work, who will cover costs of inefficiencies in one office due to a different office missing a deadline and they need to decide how much money they are prepared to commit to travel and communication expenses that are beyond those of a traditional co-located project.
- How the work is shared – Core to the concept of workshare planning is the determination of how the work its self will be shared and why. Organisations must decide if they are sharing the work for cost, for skills, for access to numbers of personnel or for the ability to balance workloads and maintain a stable workforce. Each of these reasons will carry a number of costs and changes the organisation must accept. If for cost then they will be seeking savings over all else, of for access to skills then they must accept some inefficiencies that come with workshare execution, if for numbers of personnel they must support the additional locations since without them they can not adequately staff their work, and if for workload balance they must establish common work practices that facilitate such an approach.
- Who will lead the work – Selection of a project manager for co-located work is often a complex undertaking, selecting one to lead a virtual team, sharing work around the city, country or globe requires the consideration of different skills beyond those found in a traditional manager. The workshare project manager needs to be able to balance work in multiple locations, make decisions for the greater good of the project and accept the added uncertainty of not being able to see all of the work in progress at any time. These project managers are different to their more traditional counterparts and are frequently not interchangeable.
- Who will support the execution of the work – Project sponsors, from, where appropriate, both the client and the executing organisations, need to recognise the difference between a virtual team, workshare project and a co-located one and support it appropriately. When workshare planning, the sponsors need to accept that there will be different requirements for travel and equipment, costs that they would not see for a co-located project. They need to trust the project manager and allow them to do what they need, they also need to observe the project manager for additional signs of fatigue and stress and ensure they are given the support they need. Additionally, sponsors need to accept that they will, from time to time, be called upon to accept inefficiencies in offices supporting the workshare the they would, in other circumstances need to further investigate. Specifically this will occur should the project need to stand down some personnel in one office due to issues elsewhere, the costs of standing these people down need to be covered somewhere in the organisation without adding to the burden on the project manager.
- Travel and communication costs – Workshare planning requires that additional travel costs for meetings and planning exercises need to be factored in along with some additional investment in communications technology such as video conference suites and telephone. From time to time there will be a temptation to cut back on these costs but that temptation needs to be resisted as much as possible. Yes, business leaders need to be vigilant of costs but equally then need to be aware that cutting a few thousand dollars from a travel budget can have far reaching, long term, hard to measure impacts on the outcome of their projects.
As such, effective workshare planning needs to be a collaborative activity and must consider many factors outside of the normal scope of project managers, factors that traditionally sit in the business function of the organisation. Engaging these business leaders in the workshare planning activities should ensure they fully understand the commitment they are making and the level of ongoing support the approach will require from the business as a whole and from them personally for it to be a success. This level of business engagement is, perhaps, one of the reasons that such ventures fail, since without the depth of understanding of the demands a virtual team, workshare approach will put on the business they may act in ways that would undermine the endeavour without realising the damage they are making.
Ulfire specialises in supporting organisations plan, establish and run high performing virtual teams. We combine extensive practical experience from decades of involvement in virtual teams with current real world academic research into the way members of virtual teams collaborate. Please contact us to discuss ways we can assist your business.
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