Is project management still applicable to development in a distributed environment

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Is project management still applicable to development in a distributed environment (offshore + onshore teams)?


Project management is a process where project developers apply their knowledge, skills, and techniques to the project activities thus meeting the requirements of the project. Although it has been practiced informally, it has begun to emerge as one of the distinct professions in the current project development projects. In the modern age of project development, regardless of the type of the project, there is a need for project management. This also includes projects in the distributed environment which largely involves offshore and onshore development teams. Therefore, Project Management is still applicable to development in a distributed environment (offshore + onshore teams).

Applicability of Project Management in Distributed Environments

People and organizations in the process of project development have been engaging in communication and management of work over long distances involving multiple countries for a long time. In the earlier times, such distributed work in a distributed environment and exchange of information would be easily achieved by the people traveling physically. However, this complicated the flow of information and made it slow. Coordinating the development work also became tedious and costly. The development of projects in the current multinational organizations has been met with more and more complexities such as asserted by Iqbaria (1999):

  1. Misunderstanding of the requirements
  2. Lack of trust between the development team members
  • Development team members lack the big picture view
  1. Lack of project visibility
  2. Lack of collective code ownership

According to Belanger & Collins (1998), the above and many other problems associated with distributed environments are clear indications of the need for project management methodologies to meet different requirements from various project stakeholders. Other studies have shown some specific problems associated with distributed environments for onshore and offshore development teams such as management of different time zones, cultural differences, costs associated with the development works, and virtual communication environments among many others.

There are also advantages associated with distributed environments such as providing the clients with projects of high quality at low costs. Both advantages and challenges associated with distributed environments require being documented properly, setting up of the correct expectations from the stakeholders, management of the various stakeholders, and effective and efficient management of the cross-cultural issues. The resolution of the conflicts and transparency in communication is the key to the success required in global scenarios and success management of these projects. This is basically what is known as project management.

Hinds & Bailey (2003) say that the ability for a project manager in a distributed environment to meet or exceed project necessities and expectations of the people involved in the project development depends on how well they balance the concurrent demands of the project such as scope, cost, quality, and deadline. Others are various needs and expectations of the people involved, and some real needs and expectations. Project management is a derivation of the demand for new management methods of distributed environment, and it is required in the process of its management. The most prevalent benefits pushing the application of project management in a distributed environment for onshore and offshore teams are:

  1. The growth of human knowledge exponentially
  2. The emergence of demands for sophisticated and standardized products and services
  • Evolution in the worldwide competitiveness for the development of services and products.

The project manager in a distributed environment must bear in mind that the activity associated with the development of the project in such an environment must align to quality, productivity, and reduction of risk in planning and execution of the development of the project. The development project area requires usage of a project management approach which is capable of meeting the demands of a physically distributed environment.

The new trend of the globalization of the economy has made several organizations engage in project development in distributed environment thus distributing their resources and investments and obtain better results. In a distributed environment project users and development teams find themselves in different geographical places with diverse cultures from what they are used to. In such instances, the large organizations from where the projects are developed need greater productivity, reduction in risk and cost, improvement in project quality. The above characteristics are not possible without employing project management.

In a distributed environment for offshore and onshore teams, before planning of the project, the project team must establish the objectives and scope of the project. The team must also consider alternative solutions as well as identify technical and managerial limitations. This kind of information is only possible with employing project management in a distributed environment. Where project development lacks this kind of information it will almost be possible for the project team and manager to define project’s cost estimates, distribute project tasks, and allocate efforts which provide a progressive evolution impression.

Project management in a distributed environment also helps in setting the project development objectives. These objectives also help in establishing general project development targets that the project is required to reach without the consideration of how the steps will be accomplished. The management of the development of a project requires the project manager to be aware of how the team members communicate efficiently. This is because inappropriate communication in the distributed environment may cause the failure of the project. Project management in a distributed environment provides the development work with flexibility and project control thus dealing with the requirements in the development of the project. The descriptions of the static and dynamic requirements of the project provide the development team with an ambiguous description of the project and the system under development. This is understood comprehensively by both project developers and the clients according to Persson et al. (2009).

Project management in the case of distributed environment helps the developers to focus primarily on the specification and documentation of the system requirements and the project itself. Therefore, it is important for the project developers to continue using project management during the development of the projects in a distributed environment. If the developers use project management in the initial stages of the development only and do not connect the development artifacts in building and testing project development activities, there is a high likelihood of losing control of the project before completion.


This paper has described how project management is applicable in the project development in the distributed environment for both onshore and offshore teams. The paper has highlighted the benefits of employing project management in the distributed environment. Additionally, the paper has shown some of the problems that are likely to be solved using project management if it will be employed appropriately. Therefore, project management is still applicable to development in a distributed environment for both onshore and offshore teams.


Belanger, F., & Collins, R. W. (1998). Distributed work arrangements: A research frameowork. The Information Society , 14 (2), 137-152.

Hinds, P. J., & Bailey, D. E. (2003). Out of sight, out of sync: Understanding conflicts in             distributed teams. Organization Science , 14 (6), 615-632.

Iqbaria, M. (1999). The driving forces in the virtual society. Communications of the           ACM , 4 (2), 64-70.

Persson, J. S., Mathiassen, L., Boeg, J., Madsen, T. S., & Steinson, F. (2009). Managing    risks in distributed software projects: An integrative framework. IEEE Transactions on Engineering Management , 56 (3), 508-532.

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