As a Project Manager, if you haven’t already had to face the inevitable act of bringing on new talent to the project, then you will very soon.  Usually, this occurs when you lose an existing, experienced member of the team to another project or – in this economic climate – to attrition.  Either way, the act of how and how well you incorporate new talent on the project can make or break the project or at least your reputation as the Project Manager with the customer.

The Departed/The Incoming

You always hope you can keep team members engaged throughout the project, but I’ve found on my projects that about 30-40% of the time someone on the team has to be replaced due to customer request, finds a different job, or moves on to a project for which their special talent is critically needed.  While there is often good talent to back-fill with, there are several concerns to deal with that can greatly affect your project:

- How key is this person’s role on the project?

- How critical is their expertise specifically for this customer’s requirements?

- How involved have they been so far with the customer?

- How can we get a new person engaged quickly on the same knowledge level?

#3 above may actually be the hardest one to deal with.  If you’re replacing a data specialist who has been working on data cleansing and loading behind the scenes with minimal or no customer interaction, then your task is just to get a competent person as a replacement.  However, if your Business Analyst is trying to fly the coop and has spent 160 hours on the project so far and probably 40 hours directly in front of the customer, then your task as the Project Manager is infinitely more difficult.  I’ve had this happen.  The customer believes that this particular BA is the technical expert at this time and likely understands their requirements even better than they do.  Getting them to happily accept a new BA at any time other than the very beginning or very end of the project will be next to impossible.

Getting Up To Speed

No matter how visible the person leaving is to the customer, we still need an effective onboarding strategy for the incoming team member.  I usually try the following four steps to get a new team member successfully integrated into the team and accepted by the customer:

- Provide the new team member with the Project Kickoff materials as well as the current SOW, Project Schedule, Weekly Status Report and all Issues/Risks lists and any deliverables that have been provided up to this point (BRD, FDD, etc.).

- Secure shadow time from the departing team member to stay on the project and perform knowledge transfer while remaining somewhat visible to the customer (likely only 1-2 weekly status meetings).

- A series of unofficial team meetings without the customer to perform knowledge transfer from all team members – depending on the project and team size, one meeting may do it.

- An introduction meeting with the customer that includes both the new and departing team member.  Likely this can be handled during the next scheduled weekly status call.

Customer Satisfaction

Once the new team member is engaged and the departed team member is off to the next project, keep close tabs on where customer satisfaction seems to be with the new resource and the tasks he/she is performing.  The customer will certainly appreciate an informal, ad-hoc call periodically to check their satisfaction level.  If any concerns exist, negotiate some additional time from the departed team member to provide an extra level of support to the new resource.  If this is not possible (if the departed team member has left the company), and the concerns persist, replacing the new resource with a more experienced resource may be your only option.  

Depending on how far your company’s resources have been stretched, this may be an extremely difficult issue to overcome.  When no suitable replacement resources are left, then as the PM you have to move forward with what you have and explain to the other team members that everyone will need to support and assist the new resource as much as possible to achieve the end goal with the customer.