Got any new team members? Tom replaced Bill as a developer at the midpoint of a software development project for an insurance company. Sheila, the project manager, had her hands full with multiple projects and hoped that Bill had provided Tom with the necessary information to hit the ground running.
At Tom’s first project meeting, he was rubbing the back of his neck, twisting his watch, and bouncing a foot. Tom asked a few shallow questions that indicated that he had little understanding of the project. In the following weeks, Tom repeatedly reported being behind schedule on his activities. Over time, Sheila saw the healthy project fall into a state of trouble. The project team, who had worked so hard, was frustrated.
We’ve all dealt with situations like this one. Team member transitions can be difficult and can cause our projects harm. What can project managers do to reduce risks and to ensure a smooth transition?
Whenever a new team member is assigned to your team, the individual has questions. Take ownership of the transition process and ensure that the key questions are answered up front. Here are five key questions:
What Team Members Want to Know
1. What is the project about? Don’t assume that the new member knows the project’s background. Educate them. How? One of the best ways to bring a team member up to speed is to review the project charter with the team member. The project manager can explain the background of the project, problems the project will address, the project goals, the deliverables, the assumptions, the constraints, the stakeholders, and the team members.
2. What is my role? If one developer is replacing another developer, isn’t the role obvious? I mean all they do is develop software. Right? Not so fast, Supergirl.
The project manager should share the roles and responsibilities of the individual as well as of other team members. Ideally, the project manager reviews a RASIC Diagram or a Roles and Responsibilities document. Will the developer be responsible for unit testing or helping develop function test plans? Will the developer have responsibilities to perform integration testing with a third-party data provider?
3. What is the status of my activities? Naturally, the new team member needs to know which activities they are responsible for and the status of the activities. Which activities have been completed? What are the current activities? Which of the activities are on the critical path?
4. What are the project’s greatest risks? Not only should project managers provide the background and context of the project, but wise project managers share the most significant risks to new team members. Why? The individual may be performing activities that are dependent on other activities that are at risk. If the former developer had been having problems with the project requirements, the new one needs to be aware of the issues. The new team member may be able to reduce the risks dramatically.
5. How can I hit a home run? Your team members want to make a difference. They want to be successful. Be clear about your expectations and ways for the individual to bring extra value to the project. If you present this information in a winsome and inviting manner, most people will respond positively.
How to Make Transitions Successful
Allow me to offer some closing tips. If possible, arrange for a transition period where both individuals are on the team. Think of the transition like a passing of the baton from one runner to another. The transition period will vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. In most cases, I shoot for a two to three-week transition.
Schedule a meeting between the person coming off the team and the person coming on the team together. In preparation for the meeting, make copies of the project charter, roles and responsibilities, project schedule, and the top risks from your risk register. During the meeting, review these documents and have the first developer augment the review.
Ask the two team members to work together during the transition period. The team members should spend more time together initially and less time towards the end. Let both team members know that you are available to help as needed.
Question: This list is not meant to be exhaustive. What other questions do you think new team members have?