We start our projects with a small core team but as we proceed further down the rabbit hole we add team members to support planning and delivery activities. Then as work streams get completed, team size shrinks until we reach project closure where we are back to the original core team. On large, multi-phase projects, team expansion and contraction occurs frequently but even with much smaller projects, it is common to have team members exit before the project itself is completed. Sometimes this could be the result of their assigned activities being completed, but it can also be caused by external factors such as their being required on a higher priority project or a financially motivated decision to shift their work to a cheaper resource.
There are three things which you should do before any team member departs.
Recognize them publicly
Hopefully this isn’t the first time you’ve taken the opportunity to do so, but it’s especially critical that you thank them publicly and reference specific accomplishments before they leave the project. This will ensure that they will depart on a positive note and will also demonstrate to the team that you are aware of the hard work they are doing.
If project budgets and organization policy permit, give the departing team member a gift card or similar small token along with a small greeting card signed by the whole team. You could also consider sending a note of thanks to their people manager to reinforce the positive relationship you would like to build with that stakeholder and to provide input into the team member’s performance appraisal.
Solicit their feedback
My number one peeve with how project lessons get captured in many organizations is that we wait till the end of a project to harvest this knowledge. That milestone could occur months after a team member has left taking potentially valuable lessons with them!
Take the time to ask the team member how their onboarding experience went, what they liked and disliked about their tasks, and if there was one thing which they would like to see changed about the team’s work practices what that would be. By soliciting this information while the project is running you have the opportunity to eliminate hurdles which might be frustrating other team members.
Facilitate knowledge transfer
How many times have you left a project mid-stream only to find yourself called to provide support days or even weeks afterwards? This is usually caused by poor transition planning and execution.
We tend to think about transition planning when a team member departs before their assigned work has been completed, but even when someone leaves after their scope has been delivered there is still the need to transition project awareness to another team member or to the team as a whole. This could include knowledge of where their deliverables and working artifacts are stored, transfer of system or document access control from them to others, and contact lists of any stakeholders or subject matter experts outside of the project team whom they had been frequently interfacing with.
Closing a phase or the entire project usually involves some formality when it comes to taking the team through the adjourning stage of Tuckman’s Ladder but when team members leave our projects mid-phase we should perform these three transition tasks to avoid realizing the risk in Dave Mustaine’s quote “Moving on, is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard.”
Kiron D. Bondale, PMP, PMI-RMP has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized technology and change management projects, and has worked in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management and project management consulting services to clients across multiple industries.
Kiron is an active member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter for six years.
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