If you’ve managed projects long enough you’ve lived to see the need to swap out a team member or two. Team members are switched on projects for a variety of reasons; Underperformance in which case you are trying to get better results out of your team; perhaps you have a team member who, organizationally, is needed elsewhere on a project for the good of the company. Whatever the reason, you need to manage the transition effectively and ensure that there are minimal bumps in the road. This article will describe three tips for swapping out a team member and keep your project humming along.
Find a Suitable Replacement
This may sound like a no-brainer but it doesn’t happen as often as it probably should. When removing a team member (for whatever reason), their replacement needs to have the skillset needed to do the job. Depending on the reasoning for removing the original team member they may be able to help search and qualify a suitable replacement. If this is not an option the project manager should identify the skillsets needed (technical and otherwise) to ensure that the project can deliver as promised even with the change.
Begin the Knowledge Transfer Early
As soon as a suitable replacement is found it is vital that knowledge transfer begin. Depending on the anticipated exit of the original team member (assuming they aren’t gone already), you should be coordinating meetings and discussions with the new resource and the person they are replacing. Some typical knowledge transfer steps for project onboarding would include reviewing the contract/scope of work, understanding the schedule and budget constraints, knowing the team members and communication plan and most importantly understanding how to effectively deal with the customer (if they are in a customer-facing role). The earlier on the knowledge transfer can begin, the smoother the transition is for everyone involved.
Introduce to the Client the Right Way
I’ve been on projects where team members are switched and the client is made aware at inopportune times (i.e. when they ask when “Joe” will be done his work and you say awkwardly that “Joe has been re-assigned; Frank will be taking over”). That is not the right way to introduce new replacement team members – it upsets the client (usually) and unfairly paints a negative shadow on the new team member. Typically I make my introductions once the team member has had a chance to at least begin the knowledge transfer so that if they are speaking to the customer during the transition announcement that there isn’t the immediate sense of panic or dread from the customer feeling that they now have someone who knows nothing about their project. When positioning a team member change, be honest on the reasoning and be reassuring to the customer that the replacement will be every bit as effective and provide the reasoning why (talk to the skill set/experience, describe the on-boarding process if needed).
Switching out a team member during the course of a project is usually far from ideal but it does happen, more regularly than you would think. Following these three tips will put you, your project and your new team member in a great position to succeed.