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Remote Project Management with Ben Aston

“In order to be a good remote project manager, you really have to boost your project management skills.”

Whether you’ve been managing projects remotely for a long time, or you were flung into it when Covid-19 forced you into it, you know that keeping details, tasks, people, and projects on track from afar can be a challenge. There are, of course, some tactics you can employ to make the job easier, but what it comes down to is that remote project management requires you to lean on your PM skills and intuition.

In this episode of Time Limit, Brett welcomes Ben Aston from thedigitalprojectmanager.com to talk about remote project management. It’s a wide-ranging conversation that covers:

  • Can project managers work remotely?
  • The basic requirements of remote project management
  • How to manage remote meetings
  • How to run retrospectives or post mortem meetings remotely
  • How to connect with your team remotely
  • Remote project management tools
  • How to show your value as a PM from afar

About our guest

Guest

Ben Aston
Founder, The Digital Project Manager

Ben Aston is a digital project manager and online entrepreneur – the founder of Black + White Zebra, an indie media company on a mission to help people and organizations succeed.

Ben brings over 15 years of experience in both strategic thinking and tactical implementation from a career at top digital agencies in the UK, US and Canada including TAG, Dare, Wunderman, DLKW Lowe and DDB. He's been fortunate enough to work across verticals including transit, utilities, FMCG, consumer electronics, eCommerce, automotive, financial services, public sector, and retail brands.

Ben's a Certified Scrum Master, PRINCE2 Practitioner and founder of the digital project management blog, The Digital Project Manager.

Episode Transcript

Transcript

Brett Harned:                                          Hey, welcome to Time Limit. It's 2020, queue the collective sighs and grunts. I know it's been tough. Trust me, we're all in this thing together, but I have to say, I think there's a shining beacon in this sea of 2020 despair and it's a fact that we're proving that remote work is possible for many industries and many roles. And in particular, the role of project manager. In fact, if you've taken my class, How to be a Great Remote Project Manager at teamgantt.com, you know that I think jumping into remote PM and being really effective with it will only make you a better PM overall. And that's because working remotely makes you pay even more attention to the details. Details in your plans, your deliverables, your communications and so much more. In this episode, my guest Ben Aston, is joining me to talk about remote project management.
                                                      Ben's a digital PM and a business owner. He founded the site, thedigitalprojectmanager.com and also runs the media company, Black and White Zebra. It was great to sit down with him to talk all about his experience with remote work and even just really good project management. Check it out.
                                                      Ben Aston, thank you so much for joining me on Time Limit. How are you doing?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. Great. Thanks for having me.

Brett Harned:                                          Of course, I'm looking forward to digging into a topic that I think is pretty popular right now and that's remote project management. Thought maybe we could start by talking a little bit about our own experiences working remotely, because I think obviously there are people out there who've been doing this for years, but all of a sudden with the pandemic, a lot of people were kind of flung into remote work and I'm thankful to have been working remotely for about eight years or so in managing projects from home in my home office. How about you? What's your kind of experience with remote work, maybe even prior to coronavirus?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, so I think probably my first experience was working with outsourced suppliers. Working with suppliers in India or in Turkey, so working with people abroad and that's working with people in different timezones, in different languages. And I think that was great training as my first experience was quite harsh experience.

Brett Harned:                                          I bet.

Ben Aston:                                             But that was definitely my first kind of experience of remote working. I wasn't actually remote, but everyone else in the team was, and we're working. That was when I was working at DDB and we had partner, well, it was other parts of DDB around the world and they'd fulfill different parts of the project. Collaborating with them remotely was, that was my first experience of real remote working.

Brett Harned:                                          Yeah, I've been there too, working with partners in India where things just seem to magically happen overnight. You come into work and all of these things are done or maybe not done the right way and you have to communicate back. It's tough. That to me, what you explained, that is true remote project management. That is where you're experiencing all of the challenges. I think many of us are in this state of mind now where everything is so hard, but if you're just kind of moving from your office into your home and having to adjust to that, of course it's not easy, but if you're not dealing with timezone changes, localization or language barriers, those are things that really make remote work challenging, I think.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, they do it. And I think the same skills do apply to whether or not you're working remotely with your team during the same city and the same timezone or it's a different country, different timezone, different language, these are all kind of different layers of complexity. But I think the underlying principles of how we deal with them are quite similar. And I think, actually it's when I started becoming passionate about drawing things out to explain things, annotating things super clearly and trying to write things in such a way that were not so much idiot proof, but made sure that I thought about how could this possibly be misconstrued? How can I make this any more clearer so that actually the output that I get is right?
                                                      And I think that's the primary challenge I've found with working remotely is when we're working in person with people, I think we can become quite casual about the way that we brief. We know that we can just check in with people and we can play things a lot more, I guess, gently. But when we were working remotely, I certainly found that I had a new passion for drawing and mocking things up myself and sketching things out just to try and explain a concept a bit more clearly.

Brett Harned:                                          Yeah. I think you nailed it. What I've been saying is that in order to be a remote project manager, you really have to boost your project management skills. When you go remote, you're basically becoming or you're making yourself a better PM because you're really focused on the details and the communications and making sure that they land because you just don't know otherwise, like you said, you could stop by someone's desk in an office or have a conversation and things seem comfortable and normal. But when you're not face to face with someone and you're not sure that the details are landing, you're going to do everything you can to make sure that they are.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. And I think it's that over the shoulder project management, which is the kind of project management I love. It's when you can walk up to someone, have a chat, see what they're doing without even actually necessarily having to talk to them about the work. Just being able to spy on them, see what's happening on their screen.

Brett Harned:                                          Covert.

Ben Aston:                                             And If things look like they're evolving the right kind of way, then you don't even need to ask them. But I think it's that being more intentional about it. Being more intentional about, okay, I really need to understand where we're at with this deliverable that's being worked on. I really need to understand the status. And I think it's a lot more difficult when you can't see what's happening on people's screens. Often I'll ask people, "Hey, why don't we just everyone, we're on Zoom, let's everyone share their screens and we'll do a bit of a show and tell." And kind of democratize the process and everyone's kind of ability to share where they're at. It might be just some code, but they can highlight some things. It might be some wire frames. It might be some design. It might be some test scripts or whatever it is, but just making, I guess, trying to reduce the barriers to people being open about what they're actually working on and where they're really at.
                                                      Because I think there can be a temptation with people, want to put their best foot forward and say, "Yeah, I think it's going really well. Don't worry. Yes, I'll have it done by next week." But when you actually see what they've done, you realize, oh man, no, we're not going to be done. You're not on the right track.

Brett Harned:                                          Those check ins are pretty important. I think another thing that you alluded to there was this idea of being able to talk to someone and not necessarily ask them a question. And I think a big part of what makes a good project manager is that person's ability to connect with a team member and motivate a person or even a team of people. And that can obviously be a little more challenging or maybe even require some extra work when you're working remotely. Wondering if you have any advice for folks out there who are trying to establish or even continue to make connections with people on their teams but from afar?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. I think what I find super helpful is again, being intentional about it. And so scheduling meetings every day, whether or not the team has anything to talk about. I think it's keeping the dialogue going when you're working remotely is super important because if you are only communicating when things go wrong or when you're expecting something or when something needs to happen, these dialogue and this conversation becomes a lot more tense rather than it being part of a routine that you're already in. I think regular check ins are super important. And I think there's also a lot of value in actually scheduling meeting times with the team, not necessarily to check up on the project and have that kind of daily scrum or stand up, which I think is important, but just kind of a pulse check where you say to the team, "Hey guys, let's just catch up and let's just talk about we're feeling, are you feeling confident? Are you feeling good about this? What are you worried about? If this goes wrong, how could it possibly go wrong? If this ends up being a disaster, why would that be?"
                                                      And just having a higher level discussion about the project. But really, I think it's so important that we begin to understand and know the people that we're working with as individuals so that we can begin to understand as well, their tendencies, what their motivations are, how they might be reacting in a certain situation and so we can kind of pivot and plan and control the project accordingly. Getting to know our team as individuals I think is really key.

Brett Harned:                                          I agree completely. Talk to me a little bit about, you talked about scheduling meetings, not necessarily just doing a standup every day, but doing another kind of pulse check. Would you do that meeting on top of a status meeting or a standup?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. Ordinarily it would probably be towards the end of the day and I'd surprise the team possibly. Maybe not even all the team could attend, but I'd say, "Guys, is everyone free in an hour just to catch up for 10 minutes?" And it's a less formal catch up. It's not very much time, but I just want to kind of get a sense of how people are feeling and it's not so much about what they've did, what they're planning on doing, but it's more a, it just keeps that human connection going and allows in this informal context, people to talk about things that aren't on the agenda. And I think sometimes the beauty of agendas is that it keeps meetings on track. The danger is that things don't surface that maybe should, so creating an environment for that to happen, I think is important.

Brett Harned:                                          Yeah. I think the idea of creating an environment to me feels more important than actually scheduling a meeting. I think that a lot of the teams that I've worked with, I've found that scheduling a meeting feels like the worst thing that they could possibly do that day. Especially if it's toward the end of the day and they're focused and just trying to get work done. But I'm with you. I think it's important to find opportunities to build a team culture, to get everyone together and to just talk. I want to dig a little bit more into meetings though, because I think while we're on that track, online meetings are a huge part of remote work. At this point, I think Zoom has becomes synonymous with meetings. Let's talk about meetings. Maybe if we could kind of start at the top.
                                                      When I think about the top of projects, it's kickoff meetings. And I know that the way that projects are initiated in organizations is different for a lot of different reasons, but kickoff meetings are pretty much done I think for the most part in projects, if not kickoffs, then there's a brief or something that's passed down. But doing them remotely I think can transform how a PM kind of digests project information, shares it out, gets everyone comfortable. Wondering if you have any recommendations for how PMs should get the info that they need to confidently kick off a project remotely. And if you have any recommended formats for those kinds of meetings.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. I think this is a super challenging one, particularly in the remote context, because I think the tendency for kickoff meetings is that they can become a formality. And what I've seen so many times is 30 people in the room and no real agenda. It's just everyone goes around the room, introduces themself and says, "Right, well let's start the project then." And I think what's missing there is the really clear identification of the project brief. And I think the role of the project manager before we even get to that kickoff meeting is to clarify that project brief in such a way that the project manager becomes the subject matter expert of the project. And I think to do that, I would suggest that as a project manager, you reach out to the primary stakeholder or the inner circle of stakeholders or clients that you're working with to try to get the brief formalized as best you can, written down as much as you can. And then once you've got that understanding, you draft it, share it back to them.
                                                      I think there's playback, this process of iterating on the brief before you actually get to the kickoff meeting is the most important part because if we can start that kickoff meeting with the clear, really clear understanding ourselves of, hey, why we doing this project? What's the purpose? What's the business value we're trying to deliver at the end of it? How are we going to do that? What's the approach that we're going to take? And we take that draft brief and discuss it with the team. Then the kickoff meeting just becomes an opportunity to, again, recapitulate on all those things with the team, with the stakeholders, get this shared understanding and maybe some more insights. But what we don't want to do, or what I don't like doing is using the kickoff meeting where you got 30 people in the room, the team, all the stakeholders, to try and extract and try and understand the brief.
                                                      I like to do it in a much more structured way beforehand so that when we get to that kickoff meeting, we know as the project manager, what we're trying to do, what we're trying to achieve and really it's the process of finalizing and confirming with everyone, okay, so this is how we're going to work together. This is how we're going to collaborate. This is where the touch points are going to happen. These are the ways that we're going to communicate with you. These are the kind of times we need you to be available. And this is what we're planning. This is the process we're going to follow and here's what we're planning on delivering. It becomes more of a okay, we start the project with some momentum, with some direction and everyone with a clear understanding of what the plan is.

Brett Harned:                                          Yep. I totally agree. It's all about setting expectations and I'm with you. There's so much work that should be done prior to going into a kickoff meeting on the project managers part, not necessarily on the team's part, but it's arming people with the information to head into that meeting so they can have a meaningful conversation about the project. Not just how they'll communicate and how they'll get things done and what the plan will look like, but making sure they fully understand the scope of the project, the goals of the project. Then they can ask questions and they can formulate their own opinions about how the work should play out. I think that's so important.
                                                      What about just general meeting practices? I'm sure that you have seen your fair share of blunders in online meetings. I shared one with you when a hurricane came and just completely destroyed a workshop, but do you have any recommended approaches or practices for meetings that PMs should maybe adopt when they're trying to kind of keep information flowing on projects, but also make the meeting space or the meeting itself feel like it's open and collaborative and not just a readout of information? How do you make an online meeting engaging?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, I really like collaboration tools like Miro, which allow people to collaborate together in real time. Putting up a Miro board up on the screen and giving people space to contribute and write things. Maybe it's that we're asking people, "Okay, everybody now write down what's the most impactful thing that you're going to work on this week." And everyone just types it out. And then we ask, "Okay, what are the three things that you're working on today?" Or whatever it might be, but finding ways to get people to engage. And again, democratizing that engagement because when we're remote, the challenge can be, I think even more than in person, that the people with the louder voices do all the talking. I think we need to find ways to democratize that conversation so those people who feel a bit more nervous in front of the camera or the screen or don't feel like they have anything to share, find easy ways for them to contribute and say, normally that starts with, okay, starting with a question that everyone can answer without really having to think.
                                                      Maybe it's the giving their opinion on something or asking people what they watched on Netflix last night or something like that. But finding ways to reduce the barriers for people contributing and then democratize the conversation so that it's not all about the loud voices in the room. And I think hearing from the team as a whole is important, as getting that complete picture. Because I think it can often be that maybe we have a quiet developer or someone in QA who is reluctant to speak up, but we need to find ways to introduce them into that conversation and make that conversation a bit more democratic.

Brett Harned:                                          Absolutely. I also think that it's so easy for anyone to just get distracted by the internet when you're in an online meeting. I've been in meetings in person where I see people on eBay or Facebook and it just drives me crazy because you're trying to efficiently get work done. But I like this idea of actively engaging people in the meeting to make sure that they're staying focused on the goals of the meeting and getting things done. And you're getting the input that you need and it, like you said, it's democratized and it really is like you're coming out of the meeting with shared decisions or conversations or whatever it might be. Another meeting that I guess some people do them, some people don't is the retrospective or the post-mortem. Have you ever run one of those remotely?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, I have. And when I last did it, my typical process would be using Typeform using Google Slides, which I also like for getting people to contribute in real time together. But there's some cool new tools out there. A couple of ones called, I think it's called is Retrium looks pretty cool and Parabol is other one. There's a couple of tools out there, which again, kind of these knowledge sharing tools. And I think similarly to Mira, there are ways to make the conversation a bit more dynamic and interesting when you see polls and charts and things popping up. You can anonymize things. It makes that whole experience a bit more fun and interesting for people. And I think that's key.
                                                      The reality is everyone's bored of meetings. I like what you said about you notice people, when you notice people's gaze starting to drift off to their other screen or you notice them on their phone or things like that, you know probably as a project manager, you're not running the meeting very effectively. This happens to me all the time. You look around the room and everyone's on their laptops and you're just talking to everyone and they're on their laptops and you're thinking, what are you guys doing? But I think it's at that point that you need to be honest with yourself, you're probably doing something wrong and either you're spending too much time in a conversation that should be taken outside of the meeting or you're just simply not engaging everybody enough. And so maybe you need to adjust the agenda. I think it's worth thinking about, hey, if people are looking distracted or they are clearly doing something else, it's time to pivot. And our role as the project manager is to facilitate that flow of information and that discussion. And take a role in leading that.

Brett Harned:                                          I would even take that a step further. I would say, "If someone's not engaging in the meeting or you see the light flash in front of them, so their screen has obviously changed and they're in another browser or something, maybe that person doesn't need to be in the meeting in the first place. And maybe it was your fault as the PM for inviting that person and wasting their time and also wasting project time." I think that's the thing that a lot of PMs do is, we have a thing that we have to talk about. Whole team's got to come. And the whole team comes and two thirds of them haven't even spoken for 75% of the meeting. And you think back, wow, how much time did I just waste?
                                                      Even if it's not budgetary time, you're not worried about that, it's just someone's time to be productive and not necessarily be in a meeting. And it's just something that you need to think about before scheduling a meeting. I think it's too easy to just throw something on a calendar, say, "This is what we're going to talk about," without really giving a full agenda and jump into the room and think it's going to be a success. I think meetings are a lot more work for project managers than they make it out to be.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. And I think, like you say that they are super expensive as well. When we think about the cost of a meeting, these are expensive things to do. That's why I like to keep them as short as possible and also try and get information from people before the meeting. They don't use a meeting for information gathering because then it's wasting everyone else's time. Or if you are doing information gathering, make sure it's in real time collaboratively everyone together. I also like there's a bot that I use, it's called Standuply and what you can do, you can automate your stand ups. It just pings people on Slack and you can ask whatever questions you want. But I think those kinds of meetings actually, we don't necessarily have to have an in person meeting and all go round. We can just let the bot do its work. People can type it out and everyone can see what everyone else is doing. I think finding ways to automate the process as well and make meetings redundant and therefore save everyone time and money are a good thing.

Brett Harned:                                          Yeah. Let's face it, people don't like meetings. They're going to like the meetings even less if you're not managing them well. And they're not going to really even pay attention to them if they're in their home office or in a coffee shop or wherever, because they don't have to. They don't have to give their full attention unless you are actively engaging them in some way. It takes a little time to plan them and run them properly, which is fair.
                                                      I want to talk a little bit about the role of the PM in the remote world and kind of what that means to the way that the role is seen or handled in an organization, and what it means to your career. I don't know, kind of building on that, I've worked in places, I'm not sure if you have, where the value of the PM isn't necessarily there. It's questioned. And I can imagine that happening more now that people are working from home. Do you have any thoughts on how a PM can really show their worth and their value when they're not actually seen?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, I think that's a really good question because I think we can just be seen as attacks on the project and then necessary overhead, maybe a 20, 30% overhead on our project and we're not delivering anything. I think maybe what we do impart into the project is we're bringing order to chaos, we're bringing alignment, we're bringing clarity and we're bringing direction to the project. How do we surface that alignment, clarity and direction? Well, I think one thing is the way that we evangelize it. Creating really good status reports, creating dashboards for management or for stakeholders, showcasing. I think making the complex simple for them.
                                                      As project managers, we're looking at the resources that we've got, we're looking at our key milestones that we've got ahead of us. We've got a bunch of different projects. There's budgets going on. There's lots of stuff happening. And we've got all that information in our head, but are we translating that for other people in such a way that it's digestible and understandable? I think finding ways to make complex things simple. By making project dashboards, sending them out proactively, informing people of what's going on is important. But I think fundamentally as project managers, I think we can sometimes get too focused on the project and the deliverables themselves. And I think the role or the evolution of the project manager is to be more strategic, to be less admin focused. And as project management tools become more sophisticated, actually our role as the project administrator, I think is going to become lessened and our role as the kind of strategic guardian for value on a project is going to increase.
                                                      Thinking about, okay, how are we going to maximize our external value delivery? How are we going to, in terms of our stakeholders and our clients, for one, making sure that business case actually gets realized and delivers real value. And then internally as well, if we're working in an agency thinking about, okay, well, how can we maximize the value of this project to our agency or organization? Being that guardian for value delivery and changing our focus from just getting a project done and getting deliverables out the door to maximizing value, I think will enable us to be seen in a much more strategic role in light within the organization or agency we're working in.

Brett Harned:                                          Could not agree with you more, Ben. I think this has been a little bit of a side theme to the past few conversations I've had here on Time Limit. But I think we are moving toward a place where project management will be viewed as a more strategic role. And I think that strategy isn't just about maximizing value. I think it's also about charting a path for a project and getting it done in the most efficient and effective way. But also being strategic about who you use and when. Maybe saying using people doesn't sound great, but you kind of know what I mean there. It's how to leverage the talent on your team for them.

Ben Aston:                                             [inaudible 00:27:27].

Brett Harned:                                          Exactly. Leverage the talent on your team for the challenge that you see in front of you. And that does require some real strategic thinking because you're always going to have project goals in mind. I'm with you on all of that. I think this idea of making the complex simple. Sharing your plans, sharing the updates to the plans, publishing your status reports, showing all of the things that are happening, quote unquote, behind the scenes so that people understand that there is true value in the role of the PM because I've been on teams where that value is understood and it's communicated back to the PM, but it doesn't happen often.
                                                      And I think what you have to do in order to make it happen is to show it. And it's not that difficult to do. I've found if you put yourself in some routines to get your plan updates and your status reports out, any other reports that you're doing, if you get those done on a routine and it's done on a weekly basis, those things become expected and they become easier for you to get done because people contribute to them. But then it also frees you up to focus on the people and be more strategic. I think we're kind of saying the same things there.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, and I think this is where that kind of alignment between project management and operations, I think is really important. And I think as project management is more strategic and we have a focus on kind of that high level operational health of the business or organization or agency we're working in and we can produce reports on, hey, for the last 10 projects, are you guys aware of the profitability of them? Are you aware of how many hours we estimated versus what it took us to actually deliver them? Should we change the way that we think about the projects we're pitching or the projects we're going after? And this is just comes down to having good data and reporting on that data. But those are the kinds of strategic insights we can provide to the business, to the organization, that are going to enable the business to pivot in such a way that it can be more successful and profitable. Data is your friend and really embrace that.

Brett Harned:                                          For sure. Kind of back to the remote topic. Working remotely in any role can be tough for a variety of reasons that I'm sure we've both experienced. And I think it can also lead to an imbalance in that kind of work life balance that people fantasize about. Wondering if you have any tips for trying to at least stay balanced when you're working from home or working remotely?

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah, man, I'm terrible at this, but I think it's because, I say I don't mind, I enjoy my work. And so I think work should feel like fun and like play and it's best when it is that. But I think being realistic about your schedule and what you can accommodate is super important. And I think as project managers, we can be tempted to block out our calendars in such a way that it leaves us no time to even go to the bathroom. And I think making allowances for ourselves is really important. be realistic about what time you can start work and plan your schedule accordingly. For me, being realistic about it, I know that I can't start work until the kids have had breakfast, until everyone has been fed and watered and those kind of parts of my world are in place so maybe I can't start work at 8:00 AM. Maybe I have to wait till 10:00, but that might be okay.
                                                      And I think being realistic about what's possible and then being able to stick to that schedule is way more motivating than creating an unrealistic schedule and not being able to stick to it and then feeling like you're failing all the time. Make allowances for meal times, make allowances for exercise and maybe even exploit the fact that you don't have a normal schedule. Why not take a two hour break in the middle of the day and enjoy the fact that it's summer, because in a few months time, maybe you wouldn't want to go outside in the middle of the day anyway.
                                                      I think being realistic about it and exploiting it for your own good, you shouldn't feel bad about that. And I think, I love blocking out time in my calendar to do certain things, to do certain types of work. I love Calendly because it allows me to give other people the option to book meetings with me and create buffer times around those meetings. And I think the challenge can be when we just work back to back to back to back with things. We don't get anything done, we don't allow any time for work. Being realistic and creating space, I think is what's most important.

Brett Harned:                                          Completely agree with you. I have to say, I'm sitting here laughing because I'm thinking about all of the project managers I know in my life or I've managed in the past or have met at conferences or meetups and every last one of those PMs is so giving of their own time to a point where they ignore themselves. They ignore their own opportunities that they have in their careers to meet a network or to read an article, listen to a podcast because they're so stressed out about what could go wrong on the project and they feel like during work hours, they have to be chained to their desk. But I'm with you. I think that's no way to live, first of all. You've got to give yourself some breathing space. You have to have that balance. Even if you do work a 10 hour day, there's no one saying that you can't work a 10 hour day and still have work life balance.
                                                      Two of those hours could be spent brainstorming or doing something really fun and it doesn't feel like work. I think it's a lot to me, it feels like so much of it is mental. It's wrapped up in the way that we think that we have to behave. And part of me wonders if it kind of comes back to that idea of the question that I asked before, how can I show my value? Oh, I show my value by showing that I'm here at my desk on my computer all the time. And that's not necessarily how the role has to work. At least that's my opinion.

Ben Aston:                                             Yeah. I think so much of this is around managing expectations. Of course, don't just take a two hour break and don't tell everyone. I think being open about, I think transparency and openness are your friend here when you're trying to develop that work life balance. It's managing people's expectations saying, "Guys today, I just want to let you know, I'm working a couple of hours this morning, this afternoon, I'm going to be out until 5:00 PM. But if you want to schedule a meeting with me, I'm free from 5:00 till 7:00 and I'll be online checking my phone for texts if you desperately need me for something, but otherwise I'm out."
                                                      It's letting people know the detail of these things, communicating it clearly, making sure they've understood and that they haven't got anything urgent that they're going to need from you that day. I think comes down to so often just clearly communicating and managing expectations. And if we can do that well, actually it takes that mental load off us because we don't have to feel like we're hiding and checking our phone because we know that we forgot to tell people that we were out. If we can be a bit more strategic about, okay, how can I prepare this? It's almost like the project handover. How can I set myself up for success so that when I come back, it's not a disaster? It's thinking through that and having a plan and process for it.

Brett Harned:                                          Absolutely. All right. This has been awesome. I have one final question for you and in every episode I try to ask a question that's kind of in keeping with the title of the show, which is Time Limit, as you know. And it might be a little bit of a stretch for this topic, but that's okay. I want to ask this question anyway because we're not only just working under time limits, there are resource limits a lot within the work that we do. What are things that a PM must absolutely do on a daily basis in order to stay confident that they're keeping their projects on target? And that could be whether they're remote or in person honestly.

Ben Aston:                                             Right. Yeah. Well, I think probably one of the most important things is getting comfortable being uncomfortable. I think we all gravitate towards being comfortable and that often means that we neglect to ask that extra, additional question, that difficult question or that question that you know might make someone squirm. But it's just finalizing that detail of that information that you need from someone. When someone says, "Hey, yeah, no problem. I'll get that to you by the end of the week." It's saying, "By end of the week, do you mean 5:00 PM on Friday Eastern standard time? Or do you mean Sunday? Can we just clarify this quickly?" It's asking that additional little question that adds a bit more precision to your understanding of what's going on in a project. Getting comfortable asking those difficult, annoying questions, which can make you kind of come across as maybe a bit niggly.
                                                      But I also think fundamentally when we're talking about remote project management, it's about not hoping for the best. And I think the temptation can be as remote project managers, do you know what? We could just sit back and do nothing all day and we could just spin around on our chair and just hope for the best. But I think what's super important is that management and control, it's understanding what is happening on the project, it's connecting with your team and making sure you're being understood properly as well. Understanding and being understood are such critical components of effective remote project management.

Brett Harned:                                          Absolutely. Well, Ben, thank you so much for joining me. It's a pleasure talking to you, getting your thoughts on remote PM. We'll share some resources. You've dropped a bunch of tool names and things in the episode. We'll share those. And if you've got any resources to share with us, we'll share those as well. I know thedigitalprojectmanager.com is something that people are definitely checking out and know about so we'll share that as well as anything else you want to share. Thanks.

Ben Aston:                                             Awesome. Thanks, Brett.

Brett Harned:                                          What did you think? I hope you picked up some useful tips to help you get more comfortable with remote work. If you're not working remotely, then you probably picked up some information about how to just be a better PM. What really stuck with me in this conversation was the line about PMs being in strategic roles and making the complex more simple. I think if you can work on those two things that Ben talked about, you'll be setting yourself and your projects up for success.
                                                      As always, please check out our show notes for more information on our guest and any resources that are mentioned in the episode. And do me a favor, share Time Limit with your friends and your colleagues and if you're so inclined, write a review to let us know what you think about it, I'd really appreciate it. We have a ton of new topics and episodes on the books and I can't wait to get them out to you. We're releasing episodes every two weeks, but in the meantime, check out teamgantt.com and sign up for my live classes to continue your PM education for absolutely free. Thanks and I'll see you in the next episode.

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