Beyond Execution

Making a difference in project management by training, speaking and writing


Replacing a Team Resource

Posted by beyondexecution on November 2, 2010 at 9:21 PM

Many of us have been in the situation where we will need to remove a team member from your project. Many times, the problems persist until they can't be tolerated any further (or at least until someone's patience has run out). So it begs the question "When do you remove a team member?"



Well, the simplistic answer is: before it's too late.



So let's take a look at what we mean by "too late". Here are a number of reasons why you would want to remove a person from your team:

- Making many errors and mistakes for their skill & experience level. I think the important term here is "their skill and experience level". If you have a more junior person, you need to set your expectation that errors will occur. What you want to happen though is for the person to realize and learn from their mistakes so that they don't occur, or at least in much less frequently. The team member should be able to perform self-checks and catch mistakes themselves over time.



- Confused and needing a lot of direction. This is an indication of a person not understanding their role. Again, a little bit of tolerance in the beginning is warranted. But if they still don't know, then it's an indication of something else. Projects are built so that each team member should be an essence of a Subject Matter Expert on their role - you don't really want to tell them what to do all the time. Again, look at the role that's being filled and whether this symptom is explainable for the experience level.



- Poor quality of work. This is not simply mistakes within deliverables. Is this person producing work that is appropriate or is it substandard? Here's where you need a quality standard to which to compare or adhere to. But if you or others are starting to spend too much time and effort bringing things up to par with no signs of improvement, you have to make a decision.



- Work ethic. Perhaps this person is more interested in killing time or watching the clock instead of focusing on the work at hand. It's a general disinterest in the work. Now, I'm not talking about a work ethic that is different to yours. Be careful - if you are a workhorse or a type 'A' personality, you can't expect that everyone is at the same level as you. Just be mindful of work ethic that is lower that expectations.



- Communication. Some people are poor communicators. They talk in circles and it takes a long time for you to understand the point they are trying to make. Sometimes you can get used to this and compensate for it. But again, if it a recurring problem and others are noticing, then it's time to do something about it.



- Poor team chemistry. Sometime people don't click, it happens. Sometimes you need to remove/replace someone for the good of the team. Be careful of this one - you don't want to have cliques forming on your team; that can be very dangerous. Take a look at personality and communication models, such as DiSC, social styles, and Myers-Briggs. I am a big believer in these and how they can help people gel a bit better.



- Amount of time by you and others. This is a killer. The above items certainly take up a lot of time from the project manager or the team lead to try and help, but when it starts affecting others, you have a bigger problem. Then the person has become a black hole - consuming time and effort of those around them. This could be others trying to help or cover up for one of their own, by correcting their mistakes (this behaviour will make it harder for you to detect a poor team member). Or the other, far worse situation is that others expend too much effort in simple interactions with the person. This drains confidence and morale of those who have to interact with the team member, and brings down productivity. And that's a big no-no.



While we say we'd like to remove a team member before these happen, sometimes we simply don't recognize these symptoms until their too late. And by that time, there's a big mess that you and others have to clean up.



I had a person who came with a lot of experience with a large consulting company. And yet this person was not communicating effectively, required a lot of hand-holding, even after being given clear objectives and pointed in the right direction. My theory was that this person survived by learning one area over the years, to the point where they are just running a checklist (granted a very long checklist), and they became dependent upon team members who knew what to do. But when it came time for them to apply their own critical thinking in new situations, they simply forgotten how to do it, as crazy as that sounds.



Ok, so we covered a lot of reasons why you should. To take the flip side, here are some reasons why you can't, even though you may want to.



Reason's why you (want to but) can't:

- No one else available/no backup. This one is probably the number one reason why we have to live with it. This depends very much on the type of organization that you are in (yes, the PMBOK functional-matrix-projectized environment really does make a difference in real life!). If you are a more projectized organization, resources may be assigned to other projects and are not available. If you have to hire from outside, this may take a long time. If you're in a more functional or matrix environment, this may be a possibility.



- The team member is connected. Ok, a shift from theoretical to real-life. There are times that a person knows certain people, or they have a good reputation with someone higher up, or they are the nephew of someone in upper management (don't laugh, the last one is in fact a real situation).



- He/she is your friend. Time to separate business from pleasure. Yes, easier said than done sometimes, I know. There are some PMs who avoid the conflict, or have difficulty separating personal from business, but you have to think of the project's success.



- Timing. There might only be a short time left before the person's task ends. In which case the cons don't outweigh the benefits of removing/replacing that person. I've encountered situations, where there was only a month left in a resource's task, so we just let the performance run itself through.



Side note: because of the inherent characteristics of project managers, we sometimes find it hard to believe that you can actually forget "how to think" so to speak. We forget there are a lot of different people in the world, sometimes those who don't have a lot of talent, but still have jobs that they can perform well. There are a lot of operational jobs and tasks out there, where people can apply the skills they do have, and can grow and progress along those lines. But put them somewhere else, or introduce some form of change, and they sink. Think about whether a poor performer has been put into a spot where they may not have been able to succeed in the first place.

Categories: General Project Management

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