Building in Public

How we approach project management at a remote company

Get an inside look at Oyster's process.
April 27, 2022
Rhys Black
How we approach project management at a remote company

Project management is a complex, challenging task for any growing business.

And it gets even more complex for remote and distributed teams. 

Of course, ignoring the challenges of distributed project management doesn’t make them go away. If anything, it’ll be even more difficult for your distributed team to work productively and effectively without a more strategic approach here.

With that in mind, the team at Oyster has spent the past several months revamping our approach to project management.

Our overall goals:

  • To develop more strategic and intentional project management processes
  • To adopt the right project management software for our purposes and our situation
  • To prioritize this transition by department, based on team needs and business impact

To accomplish these goals, we focused on:

  • Providing more comprehensive, cohesive structure and direction to team members
  • Increasing visibility of day-to-day operations, tasks, and outcomes
  • Connecting team members’ day-to-day efforts with the strategic goals of the company

Let’s take a look at how we made it all happen.

Recognizing the need for strategic project management

Documentation is a major part of Oyster’s culture. As a distributed team working across time zones, it’s important to ensure information is easily accessible, even when your teammates are offline for the day.

Now, this is actually preferable to undocumented, in-person communications in the first place.

After all, this undocumented communication can easily be misunderstood, misremembered…or lost altogether.)

Still, simply documenting new knowledge and information doesn’t do too much good if it’s happening on multiple channels. If other team members don’t know where to look for this documentation, the team’s overall productivity will suffer in a number of ways.

Unfortunately, this was the exact problem our team had been facing. 

At the time, we were using a number of different platforms to document progress and facilitate communication. We used:

  • Slack for team and individual messaging
  • Notion for kanban-style project management
  • Google Docs and Sheets for real-time and asynchronous collaboration

The lack of cohesion between these platforms often led to miscommunications, workflow bottlenecks, and other stoppages in production for our team.

There was also the matter of ensuring our project management efforts tied directly to our Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)—and that all teams had an unbroken line of sight into how their individual successes contributed to the growth of the company. 

Similarly, we needed to know that all team members are always made aware of the scope of their work when assigned, and that they always have the directions and resources needed to get the job done.

Though we weren’t exactly in a dire situation, the writing on the wall was clear:

We needed to do project management better—period.

Finding the right project management tool

Our first order of business was to find the software that would allow us to do project management the way we knew it needed to be done.

That said, we weren’t out to find the “best” tool available—but rather, the best tool for our specific needs and circumstances.

The first quality we looked for was ease-of-use. Though many of our team members had had some experience with tools like Wrike, Jira, and Asana, we needed to be sure that all involved team members would be able to navigate our chosen project management tool with minimal issue.

(While ongoing productivity was the main driver here, we also wanted to avoid having to spend days or even weeks on intensive software training.)

We also needed to know that the tool we chose would integrate perfectly with the tools in our existing tech stack (or that it would replace certain tools altogether). This was non-negotiable, as the entire purpose of the initiative was to create a centralized hub for all things related to project management.

Finally, we needed a tool that would allow team leads to seamlessly connect all projects and project-related tasks to our OKRs and overall company goals. We also wanted a tool that would allow teams and individuals to visualize and internalize all progress made over time.

After careful consideration, we ended up choosing Asana for our project management needs. Asana has a sleek and simple user interface, offers the integrations we need, and provides the ability to easily connect everything we do with our OKRs. 

(And, as an added bonus, it empowers team leads and other members to easily set up their projects and start working on them—no matter how complex their plan of attack may be.)

How Oyster implemented Asana for project management

Though we wanted to get started with Asana as quickly as possible, we knew that diving in headfirst wasn’t the best course of action.

Instead, we decided to slowly implement the tool within individual departments based on our overarching priorities. 

Being a fully-distributed organization, we decided to start with our Remote Operations team. As we carried over all Remote Ops tasks and projects, we provided ample time for individual contributors to explore Asana’s features and get a handle on how they would be using it moving forward.

During this initial rollout, we began developing a plan to ensure all involved teams would be able to adopt Asana into their processes over time. 

At this point, our main focus was on:

  • Identifying the software features and functions that would prove most valuable to specific teams and team members
  • Migrating all project-related communications from Slack and other channels to Asana
  • Integrating Asana into existing workflows, and/or tweaking these existing workflows based on Asana’s functionality

As we rolled the initiative out to other departments, we implemented cross-team collaborative projects using relevant OKRs as a starting point. This gave us the opportunity to include various stakeholders throughout the organization in the rollout, and to gather more focused feedback based on their specific experiences with Asana.

Frankly, the rollout just wouldn’t have been as successful as it has been without this collaborative effort. 

In a short period of time, we had managers from all teams working together to set up the system—and to make improvements to the system as it was being designed. This not only enabled us to optimize our approach to Asana throughout the organization, but also provided each of our teams with insight into how other departments operate. This, in turn, opened the door for much more productive cross-team collaboration in the future.

To be sure, we did face some challenges as we rolled out Asana. These challenges mainly revolved around ensuring our teams and team members were fully adopting Asana into their processes as planned. While not every team would need to use Asana in the same way, or to the same degree, we needed to know that each team was actively working on effectively adopting it into their workflows.

Thankfully, our dedication to tying our OKRs to our project management efforts made it easier for all teams to adopt Asana in a way that worked for their specific purposes.

The current state of project management at Oyster

Oyster’s adoption of Asana has led to major improvements with regard to project management.

Managers and team leads, for one, now find it much easier to plan and coordinate projects within a single dedicated platform. And, because Asana integrates with the other critical tools in our tech stack, managers can be sure that any information documented or communicated within the platform will be accessible (and accurate) elsewhere, as well.

Team leads also now have complete visibility over their projects throughout the course of said project’s lifecycle. Again, it’s simply easier to keep track of operations when the necessary information is housed on a single platform. What’s more, Asana’s dedicated project management features make for more intuitive progress monitoring (and, as needed, intervention).

This increased visibility has enabled our team leads to implement a bottom-up approach to managing projects and workflows. As things stand, our managers now focus mostly on setting high-level goals for upcoming projects—and allow the members of their team to put together the “nitty-gritty” details of their plan. Of course, managers can then jump in as needed to fine-tune their team members’ plan of attack.

We’ve also seen major improvements amongst our teams and individual contributors in terms of productivity and overall job satisfaction.

Our documentation and communication processes have become more streamlined, which has led to increased transparency and visibility for our distributed team members. This has enabled our on-the-ground team members to take more complete ownership of their assigned projects and tasks—and has removed the uncertainty that comes from miscommunication and misalignment.

(It’s also worth noting that team leads are now more free to focus on “big picture” project management issues, knowing their individual contributors are more than capable of handling the tasks in front of them.)

In short:

Oyster’s revamped approach to project management—coupled with our strategic implementation of Asana’s project management software—has led to more cohesive and productive efforts and outcomes across the board.

Where will Oyster take project management next?

Our long-term goals for our newfound project management initiatives are two-fold.

For one, we’ll look to continue implementing Asana wherever we’re able to do so, in whatever ways our teams will benefit from doing so. Though some teams may end up using the software more often and in more advanced ways than others, it’s important that all teams understand the value Asana can bring to their day-to-day operations.

Looking at our overarching project management initiatives, the goal is to stay as intentional and strategic as possible as time goes on. This will require both team leads and individual contributors to be highly aware of the strengths and weaknesses of their approach—and to proactively make the necessary improvements in time.

As your distributed team grows, cross-departmental communication will become increasingly complex. Learn about some of the common issues teams often face, and how we at Oyster managed to solve them within our organization.

About Oyster

Oyster is a global employment platform designed to enable visionary HR leaders to find, hire, pay, manage, develop and take care of a thriving distributed workforce. Oyster lets growing companies give valued international team members the experience they deserve, without the usual headaches and expense.

Oyster enables hiring anywhere in the world with reliable, compliant payroll, and great local benefits and perks.

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