What Happens When Resources Change?

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At the beginning of your project, that resource allocation spreadsheet is full of names and tasks, and you have a clear view about how you are going to staff all the work.
Then Maria hands in her notice. Frederick announces his plans to retire in a few months. Alice is offered a great new role in a different team. Your manager tells you that you are getting an undergraduate student on work experience to help out over the summer, whether you want him on your project team or not.

Suddenly resource management seems like a much harder prospect, let alone keeping all those people on the same page.
40% of hiring managers in the project management arena saying that they are expecting staff turnover to increase throughout the rest of this year according to Arras People. As a result, we all need to be looking at ways that we can create and maintain consensus on a team that is constantly changing. Here are some things to bear in mind when your project team resources change.

Get executive support

When a new data analyst joins the team there’s the risk that she’ll look over what has already been done and declare it ‘not the best way to complete the work’. And so the work starts over again, using her preferred methods and techniques.
When a new business stakeholder is seconded on to the team there is the risk that he’ll look at the requirements and override decisions that have already been taken.
New people on the team bring their own experiences, skills and knowledge – some of which will be incredibly useful and some of which will feel like it is setting the project back.
This is where your sponsor comes in. It’s essential to have executive support for decisions that have already been taken or you’ll never make any progress.
Of course, it might be important to change your original decision and course of action. On one project we planned an entire departmental refit including lots of staff training on new software. A chance conversation with the departmental manager revealed that whole area of the building was going to be bulldozed three months after our project finished to make way for a new extension. There wasn’t, of course, any point in continuing with our project knowing that our lovely interior design would be destroyed! So sometimes reversing project decisions is absolutely the right thing to do. Get your project sponsor to help you assess the situation in the round.

Document, document, document

I have also worked on projects where original decisions were questioned and we couldn’t remember why they were taken. This is a sure-fire way to kill consensus. If you can’t justify why a decision was taken, someone else will tell you it was the wrong decision!
Document the rationale behind each decision, why it was taken, who was party to the decision and when the decision was made. Keep a decision log as this is a lot easier to read through than having to go through all the minutes from all the project team meetings over the last year when you are looking for details.

Changes at the top

Another reason for going back on what was a consensus decision is that the person at the top of the project has changed. This happens more often than you might think: project sponsors change roles just as much as the rest of us, and if you are working on a project that lasts over a year you can expect to see some changes at the top.
And if it isn’t your project sponsor changing it might be your line manager, departmental director or even someone on the Board. All these people can question the project and the decisions made, and use their influence to make changes.
Unfortunately, when changes are proposed by someone with a lot of hierarchical power it is often impossible to say no.

Dealing with differences

Lots of changing resources can bring difficulties for established decisions and the fragile balance of consensus that you had on the project. But we have to deal with every personnel shift and every change request in a professional and pragmatic way. You can’t block a promotion because you want someone on your project team. You can’t stop a new director changing the team’s strategy and deciding that your project is no longer top priority. Learn to be resilient and to adapt and change.
Build new consensus with the new team and help them through the change – it can often be disorientating and demoralizing to spend creating a sales website for shoes only to be told the focus is now all accessories with handbags taking centre stage.
Consensus isn’t a solid thing: it’s as fluid as the project overall. Decisions are only fixed in time if you want them to be. Take a breath, review the changes with your team, go back to your communications plan and start getting everyone on the same page. Again.


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