Field Team Coordination Can Be Simple
Imagine a large team of engineers, technicians, field workers, vendors and clients strewn across a wide metropolitan area working on a highway project. Or a similar team building and integrating a complex multi-module oil refining facility.
When it comes to distributed teams, coordination takes on a whole new dimension. It becomes an even more interesting problem for teams dealing with field work on machines, equipment, structures and other physical things–subject matter that is not easy to transport, email, ship and show to others.
Coordinating the work of these individuals is no mean feat. For even a medium sized infrastructure project it can easily take a platoon of project managers, coordinators, field inspectors and others to just keep the data on issues and work progress mildly up to date. The sad part is that after all this effort, the vast majority of the data collected simply gets archived at the project office, never seeing the light of day and finding its way to the actual people who would benefit from it.
Legacy methods of team coordination (paper-based, manual processes) are a huge drain on resources and leave numerous opportunities for waste, delays and mistakes. At the root of their shortcomings is a common element: they fail to remove the barriers in space and time between the information in the field and the people who need them most. Without timely access to pertinent information field workers cannot send / receive the often small yet significant signals (input, advice or support) needed for others to make decisions, resolve issues and in general move the project ahead. These effects are cumulative and therefore a great deal of success and failure of field projects depends on removing these barriers and achieving a fully-coordinated team (you see when you get rid of time and space differences between team members and what each of them knows you achieve coordination)
Sounds simple enough right? Well in fact it is simple as long as the right tools and approaches are employed.
To achieve real time team coordination in the field, the collaboration tool you use must possess these attributes:
- Must be designed for and aligned (religiously) with mobile worker needs: because field people work differently and face different pressures than those sitting in an air-conditioned office with a big monitor and full-sized keyboard.
- Must be issue-centric to provide self-organization of information: because email and phone and excel sheets create mucho chaos and it is a full time job to coral them.
- Must allow for asynchronous even offline communication and contribution (work-shifting): because our schedules are harder to mesh each day and because we’d rather finish up tending to those pesky issues on the plane ride back from the field (rather than watching Mars Needs Moms and drinking a lukewarm beer) That way we can have more family/personal time when we land.
- Must allow for symmetric communication across organizations: Because we increasingly work with colleagues across other organizations and a system that takes 2 requisition forms and 3 signatures to give an outside contractor access just won’t be practical.
So you see, the tools we use don’t need be complicated with a million features and charts and graphs that trip us over. They just need to observe some basic philosophies.
Please let us hear your thoughts and feedback via the comment section below.
About the Author: Babak Sardary is a veteran of field engineering and founder of Trusterra Technologies. Trusterra develops the Scoop™ mobile software platform helping thousands of users in distributed teams record, alert, collaborate and resolve issues across field and office.