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Many, if not most teams nowadays are distributed. While remote collaboration reunites talented people from around the globe, it also comes with its challenges.

Today, we tackle the topic of effective stakeholder management in distributed teams with Brindusa Duma, project manager of Entourage, a successful social network developed in a distributed team environment.

First of all, tell us a bit about Entourage. What is the project about and how did it come to life?

Entourage is a social network that aims to connect the homeless and people in need with locals and NGO’s through a social application. Its motto is to “Spread Human Warmth” and goes beyond material help to establishing connections—such as taking a person in need for a coffee, an eye check, or offering a place for them to have a regular shower.

We received the project at prototype level with only professional users (NGO’s) being able to sign into the application. Our main goal was to extend the capabilities of the application, improve the design and support the application in going viral by enabling public users to join.

                                             

Why was stakeholder management a challenge?

So basically, when we started, we were inserted in a distributed team, our role being to lead the development part of the application. The project was very complex with multiple stakeholders and variables coming into the equation, and communication became a challenge in this distributed environment. It was very clear that we could not just manage our small part without managing all the stakeholders involved and establishing a good communication flow. 

Why is good stakeholder management important?

 A lot of projects fail because people don’t speak the same language. And by that I mean the communication between the different levels, between the non-technical people directing and supporting the project (executives, sponsors) and the technical teams (prototyping, development, design, testing in the case of Entourage) is faulty. Expectations, risks need to be exposed and managed because everyone is depending on the others, and the success of the project depends on this.

What would be your best advice for successfully managing stakeholders in a distributed environment?

First of all, try to understand as early as possible not just what needs to be done, but the entire stakeholder ecosystem and the big picture.

Then, get a sense of the full expectations from the stakeholders, their vision as well as what quality and success of the project means for them.

Establish a good communication flow. Especially in distributed teams, there are extra challenges that need to be managed when it comes to remote communication. Video conferencing and other communication tools such as Slack are ok but nothing replaces face-to-face communication, especially when working with Scrum. So, try to have at least one face-to-face meeting at the beginning of the project, it could help a lot.

 Also, establishing good meetings rituals is key. Grooming the daily meetings and making them more efficient was an important part of our learning process. What is important is that everyone, technical or non-technical understands what is going on, fully focused and in the loop. 15 minutes’ daily meetings should be enough, if conducted efficiently.

And very importantly, act as a guide for the client.  Taking that step beyond pure outsourcing means doing more than just executing what the client is requiring. It means navigating the client towards the project objectives and managing risks. All in a professional manner, across roles and seniority levels.

Are there any advantages when working in a distributed environment?

Yes, personally I learned a lot from working in distributed teams, even more than from working with local teams. That’s because most often, you get to interact with people from different cultures, backgrounds and mindset and learn a different way of doing things.

What’s next in the project? What excites you most regarding the future of Entourage?

It will be very interesting to see where the product team takes the application in terms of going viral. The application already got a lot of traction by winning “La France S’engage”, a big contest that rewards social impact, supported by the President of France.

Our mission will be to make sure that the features of the applications are very easy to use and the application integrates very well with the social networks so that it can be marketed properly.

Also, going viral means more feedback and insights coming from the users and this will be very exciting to incorporate. And yes, these are also amongst the main stakeholders in the project, if not the most important to manage.

                                                                   

Note about the Interviewee: Brindusa Duma is a Project Manger at Tecknoworks with an extensive experience in managing global project across industries.  If you have any questions for Brindusa, please leave them in the comments below and she will be happy to answer.

Learn more about Entourage: http://www.entourage.social 

About the author

Despina Donca is a Marketing Specialist at Tecknoworks with an international background of managing projects within the technology and consumer goods industry.

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