By Brad Egeland
Once your team is assembled and you’re moving along smoothly on a project, the last thing you want to think about is replacing a key resource; however, it happens often enough that it should always be a consideration in the back of your mind.
You may need to replace a project team member for any number of reasons: The resource could be needed on another project; the resource could be underperforming, placing the project in jeopardy; or the resource may be leaving the company.
Whatever the reason, it’s your responsibility as the project manager to orchestrate the transition to a replacement in a way that causes the least disruption to the project team, the executive sponsor (for internal projects) or client (for external projects), and the project’s forward momentum.
Identifying the Replacement
Ask yourself a few questions in order to understand how to replace the outgoing team member.
- How critical is this person’s role on the project?
- What skills are needed from this position for the remainder of the project?
- How involved has this person been so far with the executive sponsor or client?
- How can we get a new person engaged quickly at the same knowledge level?
Communicating to the Client or Executive Sponsor
If the outgoing team member is a peripheral player on the team, it may be unnecessary to communicate the change to the client (if this is an external project) or executive sponsor (for internal projects).
However, if the outgoing person has been a visible contributor to the project, then the client or executive sponsor must be told as early as possible. The key here is to maintain stakeholder satisfaction, so full disclosure is best.
Knowledge Transfer and Transition
Start the knowledge transfer process as soon as the new resource is identified. If the outgoing person is still available, have him or her be as involved as possible in offloading project knowledge and task assignments. If the outgoing person is not available, knowledge transfer falls to you and the team.
The following four-step process will help you get the new team member successfully integrated into the project and accepted by the stakeholders:
- Provide the new team member with everything produced for the original project kickoff, including the charter, the current version of the project schedule, weekly status reports, issues/risks lists and copies of all deliverables produced to date on the project.
- Hold team meetings without the client or executive sponsor to perform knowledge transfer from all team members. Depending on the project and team size, you may only need one meeting.
- Secure project knowledge transfer time from the outgoing team member (if available) so he or she can be shadowed by the new team member while remaining somewhat visible to the client or executive sponsor (likely only one or two weekly status meetings).
- Conduct an introduction meeting with the client or executive sponsor that includes both the new and departing team members. You could handle this during the next scheduled weekly status call.
Once you go through this process, the new team member should be ready and expected to perform in the role.
Although a transition like this is considered ideal, be prepared to make it happen more quickly when the change is abrupt and the project requires the new team member to take the reins immediately.
The two key concerns with any team member transition are how it will affect productivity and how it will affect stakeholder satisfaction.
Make sure you get the proper skill set and the best person available and never forget how the stakeholders see the transition. Make it as smooth as possible, keep the stakeholders in the loop and quickly address any concerns they may express.