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I'm in charge of a project where my team is spread across 4 sites in US and India. Do I need to travel to be effective?

I recently got a role to lead a year-long project. I do not have direct reports, so this role is closer to a project manager role. My team will peak out at ~50 people and is spread out across two sites in US and two sites in India. The site where I am located is our biggest engineering site. In addition, I get deliverables from teams in other sites in US, Canada, and China. I mainly interact with 8 functional leads on my team who must support 2 other projects besides mine -- 5 of them are at my site, 1 at the other US site, and 1 each at the India sites.

So, I'm wondering whether I need to travel to other sites to be more effective in my role -- build closer relationships with my leads as well as with other members of the extended team.

I have never traveled in such managerial capacity, so I'm wondering whether I'm missing out on something. I see some of our senior managers zip back and forth between sites every week, and I wonder why they're wasting company money. Are they really being more effective? If I do need to travel to be effective, how do I justify it to my boss?

-Victor

asglenn's picture

Victor-

I think you ask a great question, demonstrating concern for both the benefit of the company and your project.  I would say, "yes" that travel is important.  The two biggest reasons I consider it to be important are:

1) You should position yourself where you can have the greatest impact on the project at that specific time.  If your main effort is in India during a quarter, you should spend a considerable amount of time in India.  You're an executive--a decision maker--and you need to have the best possible situational awareness to make the best informed decisions. 

2) Your greatest asset, regardless of whether your project is small and contained within a single office building or of global reach, are the people with whom you work.  You can never truly know your people if you never meet them, face-to-face.  Further, it demonstrates that you care enough for them and the project to travel around the globe to meet them, lay out base expectations, hear their concerns, roll-up your sleeves and help with the project.  This will help you get the most out of them.

Good luck and safe travels!

Andy

 

MsSunshine's picture

Don't forget about other people traveling too!  (You didn't say you weren't but I'll toss it out just in case.)  The best use of time/money may be to have other people travel. 

Think about what the group needs to be effective not just you.  At my old job, it was always a big point of contention that the staff could almost never travel but the management traveled a lot.  I'm not saying that those people didn't get benefit from the travel.  BUT they never seemed to think that anyone else could use it.  I DID NOT want to make myself have to be the best connection between everyone.  Helping them to get to know each other made things much more effective.

I always try to think about what I need shared across the group and where it is.  Then I figure out the best way to have that happen.  I've actually given up personal trips because some of my directs really could use traveling to see each other and I couldn't find the money.

Think about having the leads all meet together or having some of them travel to meet each other.  Also think about having some people travel TO YOU not having you travel to them.  Especially if you are the bigger site, it can be great to have other people travel to you. 

jlynborek's picture

I've been a situation similar to yours leading project teams across multiple locations. If you can, I would recommend traveling at least once to the other sites and, as suggested by Andy, travel at a key time when it's most effective for you to be physically present. I find the insight you gain from travel to be very helpful in building your virtual team and getting to know people.

To elaborate, I've been on both sides of the equation where we travel by default and now travel is discouraged. The answer really depended on our budget. Pre-recession, traveling and being on the ground was the default approach to effective team performance and getting to know each other. Team members traveled to the corporate office for training. Corporate-based team members traveled out to the subsidiaries to meet people and work in their environment. Being physically present gives you a lot of insight into the working environment, provides a basis for small talk, increases cameraderie when you can talk about different things unique to each physical site, and generally just spend hours of time working with each other. However, our budget has tightened up and travel was a significant expense that is now carefully managed. Alternative communication methods are examined first before considering travel as an option. There are ways to build effective virtual teams using discussions, online document posting, taking pictures of team members, having more info on your personal profile on the company directory, etc.. Utilizing the latest technology can still help team members get to know each other better in a professional/personal way and travel doesn't necessarily have to be the default answer.

Jennifer Borek

http://hk.linkedin.com/in/jenniferborek

 

jhack's picture

If the opportunity is there, you should travel.   You get to know your team, their environment, and their issues.  You put faces to names. 

More important, they see you.  They see you're willing to come to them.  It builds relationships and relationships help you work through the hard issues. 

Think of it this way:  what do you gain by staying put?  How does staying put help your project?  

(if the company didn't think it was worth the cost, they wouldn't fund it)

John Hack

GlennR's picture

If your budget permits it, you should travel for the reasons stated before. If there's such as thing as "Management By Walking Around (MBWA) then there can be such a thing as "Project Management By Walking Around." Being able to interact with your team in their environnment exposes you to new ideas on both  formal and informal levels. Additionally, you can find yourself discussing and brainstorming about topics and ideas that would never come up on a conference call. It's the perspective you bring that they don't have that makes the difference.

Step away from the computer monitor and the telephone and buy that airplane ticket. Resolve also that you're going to spend 90% of your time listening to them (with the intent to understand) and only 10% telling them. You'll be glad you did.

Glenn

alekwo's picture

Of course it might sound trivial but you probably shall balance this... not traveling at all will most likely affect the performance of the team, traveling too much will increase costs and impact your productivity.

Being a regional manager for virtual team located in 11 countries, I try to be in each country where my team members work at least once a year (some require more) for a face to face meeting and than I'm able to effectively work with them using electronic means of communications.

So of course the most intensive travel time is in the begining of the cooperation which each new person.

Npollard's picture

Meeting team members face-to-face is essential at least to make initial connections. Following this working virtually as a team without travel can be possible provided all the team members adapt. You would need to make adjustments for the lack of social connections that you sometimes get when holding audio/video conferences that tend to focus just on the task at hand. When you meet together you get much more of the social side of being part of a team. Allowing for time to meet and talk about social things is good, use of tools like Microsoft Communicator can allow the team to feel together (by seeing who is the office etc.). Studies have shown that virtual teams can be MORE effective than co-located teams but only if they adapt and recognise that they have to work differently.

mmann's picture

Last week I received a meeting request from a PM running a multi-billion dollar project.  After several months of prep work the project was poised to make its first deliverable to the client.  He had just left the project site, which amounted to a trailer parked in a field.  When he visited he immediately noticed poor cell phone reception and asked the two people how they could make phone calls.  They responded, "Well, we raised this as an issue three months ago and couldn't get anyone to help us.  We gave up asking and now we drive 20 minutes to get to a place with good signal strength, and make our calls from the car."

These good people overcame an obstacle to deliver results, even though the cost of the workaround was greater than the cost of the fix.  The message wasn't driven home till the visit from the PM. 

--Michael

 

Epilogue: After testing several carriers satellite communications fixed this issue.  Several hundred other remote locations were surveyed this week for signal strength.

vxl119's picture

Well, I haven't traveled yet, although a manager from India asked me when I was going to visit.

In other news, I'm bringing in a person from Shanghai and one from Boston to my site to facilitate the planning for the major feature of my project.

Thank you for all the responses,

Victor

maura's picture

On the flip side - distributed teams are the norm in my office, and I have never met most of the people I work with face to face...in SEVEN YEARS.  We still manage to build a solid relationship with the people on our project teams, and we get our projects done on time, within budget, and with high quality (my personal specialty!).  It works because we have a lot of conference calls and LiveMeeting sessions (sometimes 75% of my day), we all have access to instant messaging and a common repository for project documentation, and we have really solid processes in place. 

While a personal visit from senior management is important for other reasons, your project can function just fine with a distributed team, even if you are not able to travel to each site.

harryp's picture

 I use a combination; Rough Guides and Lonely Planet for books, my trips tend toward the lower end of hotels. Not interested in the drug scene. LP is usually good enough for maps and some transport info. For online resources, Virtual Tourist, Tripadvisor, Lonely Planet Thorn Tree and Flyertalk.

http://rezarttaci.com/foundations/