There’s no denying that the project manager is the leader of the project and usually the most visible member of the delivery project team.  They are the primary customer-facing individual and replacing them is like replacing the coach on an NFL football team or a major league baseball manager.  It’s a highly visible move and very significant.

But what about the rest of the project team?  They are visible.  Often, on an IT project, the business analyst or the technical lead become just as visible if not more so than the project manager once the project moves from ‘planning’ to ‘doing.’  Replacing one of them can be like replacing your staring quarterback mid-way through the season.  It may help or it may hurt, but it will definitely change the team chemistry and it will definitely affect how the other side reacts and responds…in this case the other side being the customer.
So how do you deal with such a major change at mid-stream on your project?  There are definitely several things to consider:

  • How will it affect team chemistry?
  • How will it affect the comfort level of your project customer?
  • What will happen to the resource’s tasks in progress?
  • Will the project budget be affected?
  • Is the right replacement skill set available in time to make a smooth transition?

These are all real concerns and none can be taken too lightly.  However, you are to the point where you have no choice – no method of negotiation – to keep the resource and you must align all actions with moving forward and finding the right skill set as quickly as possible to replace the outgoing resource.
When this happens it’s best to follow three key steps to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone involved…

Inform the project customer.  The first thing to do is to inform the project customer that a change will be made.  We’re assuming here that it is a high-profile resource on the team so there’s no easy way to do this without the customer feeling a great deal of impact.  Take it to the customer, explain the situation and outline with them the steps you are taking to find the right replacement.  This is all about the comfort level and confidence level of the customer.

Work with your senior management.  If you’re working in a matrix organization, then someone takes the resource requests and turns them into real resources.  You must work closely with that person to find the right resource because you’re not dealing with a new project – you’re dealing with a customer who has an existing relationship with a key resource you are losing and you’re in grave danger of losing a lot of customer confidence if the transition is handled poorly.  Work with this resource manager to get the right resource as quickly as possible.

Begin the transition.  How you onboard the resource can sometimes be as important as the resource itself.  It’s best if you can slowly transition with the new resource shadowing the outgoing resource for 2-3 weeks.  This is usually the best way to keep customer satisfaction at its highest.  If this is not possible, then the weight of taking over tasks and transitioning the new resource into the project successful falls to the project manager and the rest of the team.  However it’s going to be done, the key is to be open and honest with the customer about how the transition will be taking place and who will be responsible for the outgoing resource’s tasks during the transition.  At this point, over-inform, rather than under-inform, the customer.

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