Finding IT ROI with Distributed Team Collaboration

Bill Gerneglia

CFOs today are focused on payback when making traditional investments in IT initiatives. They have to be diligent in the management of IT expenses as they typically consume a large part of their operating capital. Discovering the ROI from investment in collaboration tools that help their organization work more productively can surely make it easier for the CFO to provide proper funding levels for key IT development projects.

Weak global economic conditions continue to guide many IT investment decisions. Therefore the investment in technology and tools that lead to innovation and collaboration is more important than ever. CIOs are discovering that sometimes collaboration is not just about using the right tool for the job but also using the proper methodology to get the project completed can be equally important.

Recently, the organization Projects@Work released a report titled Distributed Agile Teams: Achieving the Benefits. The report was based on a survey of participants from over 40 countries. They were asked about what type of work they do and the industries they were in. Additionally, they were asked about the number of Agile project managers working within their organizations.

Adopting the correct project management methodology can help the CFO to calculate the ROI from an Agile based project. The survey shows there are eight distinct benefits these types of Agile teams provide. These advantages are important for the CIO and CFO to consider in making the ROI calculations.

The advantages are: increased flexibility, cost savings (if outsourced resources are used), increased productivity, shorter timescales, a diverse talent pool to choose from,  an increase in visibility of projects and project work at higher levels of the organization, improved team morale, and improved quality in the deliverables produced.

"Given the high proportion of IT respondents, we expected most Agile practitioners to report working for an IT PMO, or at least the IT department. However, 39% of all Agile practitioners report across all business areas, which shows that Agile is breaking out of the IT department and adding value across other teams. A further 14% reported that they were affiliated to a corporate PMO. The remaining 47% said they reported into IT, with nearly 20% of these reporting to the IT PMO," writes Projects@Work.

 In the IT industry, fewer than half (46%) of Agile practitioners directly report into IT. The majority report either to a corporate PMO or across other business areas. Regardless of the type of project you manage an Agile approach should not be overlooked because of its traditional roots in software development and IT. In fact many CFOs, CIOs, and project managers will benefit to look at every project and evaluate whether or not a traditional Waterfall approach or an Agile approach might best produce the desired business value and ROI. 

A one-size-fits-all approach to project management is not the way to provide the most value and realize the best ROI for your company. Some projects are better suited to traditional project teams and there are some projects that are just better suited to an Agile methodology. According to Projects@Work, over 60% of respondents reported that more than one in five of their Agile projects are run with distributed teams.

Distributed teams can pose some unique challenges to most organizations. The challenge in collaborating and using the same tool is getting the team members to log into the tool and record their progress and “to do” estimates frequently enough (daily hopefully) to extract any useful data from it.

I recently spoke with a project manager and a large insurance company that is working to eliminate email from their project communications. Their goal is to make sure the project communications takes place within their project management software. All the messages (whether direct messages or in the message stream) are attached to tasks, issues and projects which makes them easy to search and reference for building out reports and effectively collaborating. Eliminating disparate communication methods like email and instant messages makes it possible to have a single source of truth when it is time to ask questions, evaluate project success, and determine overall project ROI. This is very consistent with the idea of keeping the backlog and the tool the SCRUM team uses on a daily basis the same.

Interestingly, 80% of respondents suggest that it is more challenging to work with distributed teams. The vast majority of respondents suggest that "poor communication" is the biggest challenge. This seemed to be true regardless of the experience level of the manager or the team. Whether the team is co-located or distributed, this is a challenge for every project team.

Finally, the flexibility of an Agile environment was viewed as the greatest benefit to distributed teams. Projects@Work suggests, "The essence of Distributed Agile is all about collaborating and putting together the way we want to execute a project by means of leveraging Agile best practices and fine-tuning existing methodologies."

Whether or not your organization is working with distributed teams now is the time to move beyond traditional project management methodologies and investigate Agile methods to see where they might be best utilized. You might just be surprised at how effective an Agile approach could be with a distributed team. Remember collaboration may be essential to successful project management but measuring ROI is an important mandate from your CFO.

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Bill has been a member of the technology and publishing industries for more than 25 years and brings extensive expertise to the roles of CEO, CIO, and Executive Editor. Most recently, Bill was COO and Co-Founder of CIOZone.com and the parent company PSN Inc. Previously, Bill held the position of CTO of both Wiseads New Media and About.com.

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