Although a number of organisations use the terms virtual team and workshare in an interchangeable way, the two really describe different facets of the same activity. Worksharing is the way in which tasks are shared between members of virtual teams while the virtual teams are those who perform the shared work. Workshare management is, in that context, the way in which the distribution of the work is undertaken, and how it can therefore be optimised to get the most value from the time spent performing the work.
When planning for virtual teams execution of work many organisations give little to no real consideration to the impact of decisions over workshare management. This lack of attention during planning places the organisation and their project at real risk of running out of control and exposes them to a number of unconsidered risks.
Workshare Management Options
It is first worth considering the ways in which work is shared in virtual teams. There are a number of different methods by which work is shared among virtual team members and groups, principle amongst these are; by price, by skills and to balance the organisation. There are then a number of different mode’s whereby the work is shared between the locations, vertically allocated into packages, horizontally allocated by skill set or in a random, mixed way that is dictated by circumstance or even whim of the managers. Each have their own advantages and disadvantages, their own place and reasons to about and their own reasons not to adopt.
Workshare Management Methods
Considering each of the methods of workshare management, by price, by skills and to balance organisational workload.
- Price – Workshare management by price, or to be more accurate cost of labour is a very common way that organisations get started with virtual teams. In the constantly pressured business environment, the desire to reduce or at best contain execution cost is ever present, and reducing the cost or labour is an attractive option many organisations will explore readily. Typically this means sourcing appropriately skilled labour in a location where the unit cost of that labour is lower than the home location and cutting off a piece of the project for that location to undertake. Workshare management by price however requires careful consideration since behind the cost of labour are issues to consider such as productivity both real and rework induced, any additional management cost to run the virtual team location and balancing the reward structure between offices so that the remote office is appropriately incentivised for their work.
- Skills – Workshare management by skills is the second most common reason organisations will undertake a virtual team approach. In this model organisations seek out the number of skilled people needed to undertake their work regardless of location, typically this is undertaken internally to an organisation but on occasion will be external. Ideally the project will find a single secondary location with sufficient numbers of available appropriately skilled people and can then assign various pieces of the project to them to perform. Typically costs are less of a concern in these arrangements and also, typically the productivity issue is lessened since these additional personnel have bees identified specifically for their skill at performing a specific task, however, communications and quality still need to be monitored appropriately.
- Balancing workload – Increasingly, organisations are using virtual teams to balance their international workload across their business. In this form of workshare management the organisation intentionally splits projects between offices so as to keep everyone busy and provide a more diverse and interesting workload for employees. This model is less common but when undertaken correctly is a very powerful way of building a strong and stable international business, one that is less dependent on work form a single location and one which thinks collaboratively more frequently. These forms of workshare management also typically result in less exposure to execution risk as employees get to know each other over multiple projects and come to build the trust and understanding that is key to successful worksharing.
Workshare Management Modes
The different modes of workshare management most commonly seen are vertical allocation of tasks, horizontal allocation of tasks and a third, mixed, or even random allocation of tasks, these different forms of allocation bring increasingly complex and demanding interfaces, though each has its own merits.
- Vertical allocation – Allocating tasks by vertical package is the cleanest way to limit the number of interfaces within a project, however, to do this effectively each location must have the full set of skills needed to undertake their allocated piece of the project. If they don’t, there will be additional interfaces created within each location that add substantially to the complexity of the work. As such, a larger and more mature organisation may well be able to undertake a successful fully vertical form of workshare management while a smaller organisation may need to consider employing a hybrid system.
- Horizontal allocation – Allocating tasks using a horizontal approach is more common in organisations where they have their technical departments spread around the world, so one department will undertake one layer of the entire project, while another will undertake another layer and so on. In this method of workshare management the interfaces become more complex as they are at each contact point between layers rather than at the limits of discreet packages, more departments may be involved in each individual interface.
- Mixed allocation – A mixed or hybrid workshare management mode is by far the most complex as it mixes both the vertical and horizontal methods into a system where, potentially, the work is mainly separated into vertical packages but then within those packages there may be one location that takes care of all of one aspect of the project regardless of the location of the balance. This approach can lead to some incredibly complex interfaces but in some forms of project is essential for an effective and successful outcome.
Workshare Management For Virtual Teams
As can be seen from the above the process of allocating work in a virtual team can be a complex and risky process, in planning your most effective workshare management approach it is extremely important to have a full and detailed understanding of the strengths of each location available to your project and to seek to capitalise on these strengths. It is equally important to ensure that personalities in your project team make sure the work is allocated in a way that is best for the project not that supports particular entrenched views and departmental politics.
Allocated well, workshare can be a very effective way to deliver a successful project in the most cost effective and timely way, but if allowed to evolve without consideration can result in major delays of time, cost blowouts and schedule slippages.