If you’re managing your project remotely – meaning you’re working with team members dispersed geographically and you may rarely (or never) actually gather in the same place - then the situation may be even more difficult to control...but it can also be easier sometimes due to the nature of the types of workers that handle remote assignments.
Usually, this onboarding need occurs when you lose an existing, experienced member of the team to another project or, unfortunately, they may have been poor performers. Either way, the act of how and how well you incorporate project resources into the engagement can make or break its success … or at least your reputation as the project manager with the customer.
Coming and going. You always hope you can keep team members engaged throughout the project, but I’ve found on my projects that at least 20-30% of the time someone on the team has to be replaced due to customer request, they find a different job, or move on to a project for which their special talent is critically needed. It leaves the project manager with an immediate need to revise the project schedule and to find a quick replacement to maintain project momentum. While there is often good talent to back-fill with, there are several concerns to deal with that can greatly affect your project – especially in a remote situation:
- How key is this person’s role on the project?
- Is this new person responsible enough to be self-directed and get the job done remotely?
- 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?
The fourth one above may actually be the hardest one to deal with. If you’re replacing a peripheral resource who has been working on project tasks 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 leaving the project and has spent considerable time on the project – and with the customer gaining their trust and confidence - then your task as the project manager is infinitely more difficult. I’ve had this happen. The customer believes that this particular business analyst is the technical expert at this time and likely understands their requirements even better than they do – which is often the case. Getting them to happily accept a new business analyst at any time other than the very beginning or very end of the project will be extremely difficult and will take careful handling by you, the project manager.
Bringing the resource 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 these four steps to get a new team member successfully integrated into the team and accepted by the customer:
- Provide the new team member with everything produced for the original kickoff phase of the project including the statement of work. Get them the current and recent versions of the project schedule, weekly status reports, issues/risks lists and get them copies of all deliverables produced to date on the project.
- If at all possible, be sure to secure some project knowledge transfer time from the outgoing team member so they can stay on the project and shadow the new team member while remaining somewhat visible to the customer (likely only 1-2 weekly status meetings).
- Hold a series of unofficial team meetings without the customer to perform knowledge transfer from all team members. However, depending on the project and team size, one meeting may do it.
- Conduct 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.
Maintaining 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 the customer’s satisfaction level seems to be with the new resource and the tasks he is performing. The customer will certainly appreciate an informal, adhoc call periodically to check their satisfaction level – at least during the first month of the new resources tenure on the project.
If any concerns exist, negotiate some additional time from the departed team member to provide an extra level of support to the new resource. Be sure to keep your project schedule revised with this information for accurate project budget reporting.
Summary / call for input
The bottom line is this...we try to make it with the resources we have...but that's not always possible. When bringing on new resources, utilizing key strategies and keeping the customer involved and informed is important to ensuring a smooth process. What are your suggestions or tips? What else works best for you when bringing on new project resources?