Virtual project team-types and impact on project success
27 September 2016
The virtual team concept emerged in the early 1990s when US multinationals and their affiliates overseas began using dispersed teams in order to integrate their work practices.
Since then, increased globalisation and rapid improvements in communication technology have resulted in growth in the use of virtual teams, so that today nearly all organisational teams are virtual to some extent. It is therefore important that the working and functioning of virtual teams is well understood.
This research contributes to our understanding of virtual teams and project management by exploring virtual team types and their impact on project success. The team types are developed based on virtual team attributes defined from the academic literature and tested on a sample of more than 500 project managers.
Seven key themes emerge from the literature on virtual project teams, these are:
1) Temporal dispersion;
2) Geographic dispersion;
6) Team membership; and
7) Communication technology.
Within each of these themes, virtual team attributes can be classified as either hard or soft. Hard attributes are generally used to describe a team’s temporal and geographic dispersion and cannot be changed by the project manager. Soft attributes include factors such as the expertise of team members, the team’s experience and reputation and the ability of the team leader.
The research method used was grounded exploratory research using a quantitative survey. The survey tool was Survey Monkey and study population was a section of Project Management Institute (PMI) members with a target size of more than 5000.
The survey was issued to PMI members in over 30 countries and the total number of responses collected was 521. Each respondent was asked to complete the questionnaire based on a project that was recently completed by a virtual project team of which they were a member.
In addition to the main survey described above, a further small-scale study of 50 practitioners with experience working on virtual project teams was used in order to establish a working measure of virtuality.
This research found that two hard attributes are deemed to have the most impact on the level of virtuality of a team: 1) the number of hours’ difference in time zones between the two locations of the virtual team; and 2) the number of team locations existing for the virtual team. This definition was used to identify the level of virtuality of teams within the study.
The research findings provides three contributions to the body of knowledge of virtual project teams.
First, a clear definition of virtuality is provided, that will prove useful to virtual team researchers and practitioners. Virtual teams that have more than four team locations and a time difference of more than six hours between locations are classified as highly virtual, while those with fewer than four team locations and a time difference of less than six hours are moderately virtual. Teams in between these two extremes can be simply classified as virtual.
The second contribution is the identification of a basic/advanced typology for virtual teams based on key soft characteristics of virtual teams. The characteristics are developed from the literature and have a sound theoretical basis.
Using data gathered from the survey the following differences were identified between basic and advanced virtual teams.
Differences between basic and advanced virtual teams
Advanced teams members have fully dedicated team roles, whereas basic team members tend to have split or partially dedicate team roles. The members of advanced teams have more experience of working on virtual teams than members of basic teams.
Advanced teams have a stronger reputation within their organisation than basic teams. Also, compared to basic teams, they have more clearly defined visions and goals and are more strongly aligned to them. Members of advanced teams also tend to be more culturally aware and adaptive to other cultures than members of basic teams.
The third contribution provides evidence of the project success rates of virtual teams, the functional performance of teams in a dispersed time-zone environment and their level of usage of communication technology.
Advanced teams outperform basic teams in all project success factors – on schedule, on/within budget, achievement of quality objectives and meeting client expectations. However, there is no difference between moderately virtual teams and highly virtual teams – a typology derived from physical virtuality factors of level of times zones dispersion and number of team locations – in the success of projects performed.
Advanced teams have the best project success rate and basic teams have the worst project success rate. The project success rates of moderately and highly virtual teams’ lies between basic and advanced teams, with highly virtual teams slightly outperforming moderately virtual teams.
Temporal dispersion has a greater negative impact on the workings of basic teams. Advanced teams are not as impacted. There is no real difference in the impact temporal dispersion has on the team performance of moderate virtual and highly virtual teams.
Advanced virtual teams are more experienced than basic teams in the use of communication technology. They differ significantly with basic teams with a higher level of usage of team and organisation websites, and show slightly higher usage of email, phone, and web conferencing.
While team members of moderately virtual and highly virtual teams show no difference in their level of experience of using communication technologies, there is significant differences between the team types in their use of web conferencing, instant messaging and data-sharing repositories.
Future research topics
Future research on this topic could focus on some of the issues and limitations of this study. The survey only gathered information from a single member of the virtual team, in most cases the project manager.
The study was based on only one project performed by the virtual teams and there was no examination of the project methodologies being used by the teams.
Author: Padhraic Ludden is a senior programme manager with Hewlett Packard Enterprise with over 30 years’ experience in the manufacturing sector. He has worked as a project manager on virtual project teams that provide IT application services to companies such as General Motors and SKF. He has tutored on the Masters in Project Management (MPM) at the University of Limerick since 2004 and his doctoral research is on the typology of virtual project teams. Ludden is also PMP certified and a former president of the Ireland Chapter PMI.
CPD Seminar: Applied Project Management: Delivering 21st Century Projects
Date: Thursday, 6 October 2016
Ludden is one of three speakers who will look at the challenges and sources of success when delivering projects with teams spread over different geographies and/or different time zones. Project managers from organisations such as ESB, TII, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Lafferty, SEAI and IDA Ireland will present on major projects taking place in Ireland. Delegates attending will gather insights allowing them to perform as more efficient and effective project managers.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2016/09/27/virtual-project-team-types/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Project-Management-Seminar-image-520-x-220.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Project-Management-Seminar-image-520-x-220-300x220.jpgCivilCPD,Hewlett-Packard,project management,technology,UL