Virtual distance in (IT) project management

Virtual distance in (IT) project management

When analysing IT project management from the perspective of a transformation process that engages people and their relations, it is important to discuss aspects and challenges of globalisation.

The IT sector is a global business like no other, with a continuously growing number of projects developed by virtual or global teams (i.e. teams cooperating from different locations). There are many apparent advantages of running projects from different locations, such as cost savings, establishing a global presence and productivity growth. There are, however, also many potential downsides or side-effects related to collaboration and working relations to consider.

Lojeski and Reilly have introduced the concept of virtual distance, which refers to the psychological distance created between members of dispersed project teams. Virtual distance is split into three components:

  • Physical distance – geographical distance, time zones difference and organisational distance related to the cooperation between teams from different organisations.
  • Operational distance – communication issues, a need to perform multiple tasks simultaneously which weakens the focus, different types of technical issues preventing work from getting done and distribution asymmetry – uneven allocation of people within the project team in different locations.
  • Affinity distance – cultural and social distance between project members, personal relationships between people and interdependence within the project.

The world of IT still focuses on the physical distance, something which tends to be taken into consideration when analysing project risks. However, conceptualisation of new IT project management (or better – project development) methods, like agile management, brings the attention to non-physical distance between people. One of the principles of the Agile Manifesto, “Individuals and interactions over processes and tools” emphasises the importance of consistency within the project team, the need for a common vision and the need to continuously reduce the virtual distance between team members. The interaction and distance within the project team is equally important as the relation with the customer. This is why another agile principle states that “Business people and developers must work together daily throughout the project”.

Lojeski KS, Reilly RR, Uniting the Virtual Workforce: Transforming Leadership and Innovation in the Globally Integrated Enterprise, Wiley, 2008

Photo: Cam Vilay/Flickr Creative Commons