Succession Planning: Essential for Project and Career Management

James is an IT consultant with over 20 years of experience in strategic and tactical planning, implementation, management and project management.

Until the robots rise and replace us at the singularity, people will continue to be the most important resource on our projects. And people are never interchangeable parts. Yet most organizations engage in little contingency planning for the inevitable human downtime. In this article, the author gives an example of poor planning, raises a reminder to managers and gives some practical steps to mitigate the problem. The benefits to the organization and to the individual are substantial—and sometimes surprising.

The example
There is an apocryphal story that when Jim Henson died in 1990, he left three gaping holes:

  1. As a CEO, he could be replaced because there are many CEOs in the world.
  2. As the creative director, he could be replaced because Henson Associates was a treasure of creative people.
  3. But the third hole, the voice of Kermit the Frog could have been devastating. Kermit did not die only because Jim’s son stepped up, unexpectedly, to fill the gap in western culture.

The problem
Organizational management has emphasized executive-level succession planning. Replacements for owners and top executives are often groomed for years. But staff absences and losses regularly jeopardize schedules and projects. Meetings are routinely ineffective because key people are unavailable due to schedule conflicts and absences. “Key staff” has long been …

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