Project Management

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Topics: Construction, Resource Management, Teams
Not having your key member in your project team.
What would you do if your key member abandone your project team and he or she is hired by another organization?
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Hi Giancarlo, this is a common problem.

Hopefully I identified that risk and implemented risk mitigation like having shadowed key bottleneck resources (so that the shadow now can take the challenge to replace them), making them document their knowledge (so it does not leave the team with them) or identified other, maybe outside, replacements early.

Also, I have to understand why they left to mitigate that risk for other team members and I should establish 1:1 relationships with them and have early warning indicators if they start thinking about leaving. Maybe they told me between the leaves and I did not listen?

In some projects, attrition is a permanent issue and pipelining, onboarding and keeping good people is a permanent task (of the PM).

Giancarlo -

Thomas has identified some of the key preventative and "day 2" steps to take, but if the person has abruptly left, you'd want to work with your team to understand the impacts on the project, come up with options to address the departure and then work with the appropriate governance authorities to address it.

For example, in a matrix-type structure, it would be reasonable to go back to the person's people manager to find out:

1) Was he/she aware of this earlier and if so why weren't you informed?
2) Can he/she provide a replacement with equivalent skills in a timely manner?

As Thomas writes, this is a common problem yet it hits us as a surprise when it happens. We typically do not pay enough attention to the risk of staff turn-over in the initial stages (planning) of a project. We are so focused on the technical stuff that we forget the human element. Even companies that use slogans like "people are our most important resource" tend to think that saying it and writing it in the vision statement is all that is required. As project managers we know how to identify, analyse and mitigate risks. We need to recognize this real, and known, risk and take it up with the HR department, the SME teams as well as major stakeholders. Five steps: 1) identify the risk, 2) analyse, 3) reduce the probability, 4) have planned mitigation measures when (not if) it happens, and 5) implement the plan.
Even companies and project managers that have a strong risk management culture find that dealing with the human element is uncomfortable, or see it as another department's issue. However, the project manager's job is to deliver the project and to do so you need resources. Don't let anyone (including yourself) tell you that staffing is not one of your priorities. Staffing does not "just happen".
As Kiron suggests, I work with the functional managers to stay abreast of staff recruitment, training and departure.
There have been an extraordinary number of people hired away by better job offers in the last 2 years. Some have skills that are difficult to replace.

I would clearly identify a) what were their areas of responsibilities b) what functions did they perform c) how critical are those functions and d) how replaceable are the skills required for those functions.

If they have specialty skills, it may take months to replace them. If that is critical to the project, you might need to look for some other solution, hire a consultant, or have a significant schedule delay.

If they performed a more managerial function, you may be able to reorganize how their job was handled at least temporarily until you can fill their position.
First thing is to understand what "key member" means for the project. But no matter that, no problem. Project manager is accountable to make that the project is above the people who compose it in the sense of working with enough abstraction to become independent of the people. For example, having the minimum documentation available. It's like in team sports, for example futbol (soccer according to USA) (I'm Argentine, it's impossible not to give an example like that): before Maradona, today Messi makes the difference, but the coaches put together teams that worked without problems when they weren't there.
Careful we don't look at project staff as commodities - all the same and easily available. I understand that staff is replaceable but there is a cost and I don't mean just money. I understand the benefit of the project being managed independent of the people but the people make the project. When you give them the feeling that they are replaceable - guess what - you most likely will be replacing them. The project may still be delivered however most likely not as successful.

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