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3 Steps to Replace a Team Member without Jeopardizing the Project


Susan recently discovered that a key team member has taken another job and will be leaving the company in three to four weeks. Bob continues to have problems with a third-party developer on his team and has decided to replace the developer. Jane’s top tester, Sam, had an accident over the weekend; Jane needs to quickly replace Sam to meet her tight deadlines.

How well project managers handle these transitions can mean the difference between project success and failure. When project managers haphazardly handle these events, misunderstandings occur, leading to adverse impacts to the project schedule. Team morale may take a hit too.

How should project managers facilitate a safe handoff from one person to another? Three things:

  1. Identify the new resource.
  2. Plan the handoff.
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Let’s look at these steps in greater detail.

1. Identify the New Resource

First things first. Let your sponsor know about the impending change. If the resource is a key team player, explain this to your sponsor and why it’s critical to replace the individual with someone of similar knowledge and skills.

Things done in haste may be costly. Make time to carefully evaluate the skills required and begin the search for individuals who can best fill the position. Make your case for the desired person.

In some companies, a new resource will be assigned. If possible, use your interpersonal skills to influence the selection of the new team member. You may even want to ask your sponsor to help.

2. Plan the Handoff

In a relay race, one runner runs alongside of the next runner and carefully hands off the baton. The speed of the two runners must be similar, and the handoff must be smooth.

In a like manner, it is best if the existing and new team member work together for a period of time, allowing for a careful exchange of information and activities. The project manager should work with the individuals to plan the change process.

How long should the transition period last? It depends on the complexity of the activities. Ask the two team members to help determine the duration.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Much of the transition risk can be mitigated through good communication. In some cases, the project manager only needs to take care of a couple of things. For larger projects, the project manager may need to perform more of the following steps:

  • Update the stakeholder register with the new team member, their needs, and their concerns.
  • Update the communications plan.
  • Update the email distribution list to ensure the new team member receives the team emails.
  • Notify team members and key stakeholders of the change.
  • Meet with the former and new team member to define the transition plan.
  • Review the project charter with the new team member.
  • Provide a chronology to the new team member.
  • Review roles and responsibilities with the new team member.
  • Review the work breakdown structure (WBS) and project schedule with the new team member.
  • Review the risk register with the new team member and ask the individual to help identify risks related to their assigned activities.

Taking Action

Perhaps you are dealing with a team member transition now. Consider using this article as a checklist. Make sure you’ve invested appropriate time in identifying the new resource, planning the transition, and communicating.

If you have stable teams, count your blessings. However, you know it’s just a matter of time before you must replace a team member. Consider storing this article in Evernote or your favorite digital brain app for future reference.


For more brilliant insights, check out Harry’s blog: The Project Risk Coach

Additionally, check out Harry’s book about 10 things successful project managers never tolerate: The Intentional Project Manager

About Harry Hall

Harry Hall is a coach, speaker, teacher, and blogger in Macon, Georgia. He’s led projects and implemented PMOs for General Electric, IKON Office Solutions, and the Georgia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Company. Harry received his B.S. and Masters from the University of Georgia. He has certifications as a project management professional (PMP), risk management professional (PMI-RMP), and has an associate in risk management (ARM-E). When Harry is not conducting project management workshops and helping project managers prepare for their PMP and PMI-RMP exams, he enjoys gardening, golf, guitar, and teaching others how to speak Southern. You can get Harry’s project management tips, tools, and techniques at The Project Risk Coach by clicking the little "house" button directly below.

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