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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Project schedule: A team member departs and a feature is at risk - What do you do ?

This is the kind of situation that no project manager would want to land into. You are into a tight project, and like any other project, there is some amount of tension in the product (it has always been my understanding, and more that of my managers as well that if everything is going fine in a project, there is something wrong with the planning; some amount of tension in the project is necessary for the team to work perfectly and work at full capacity). You have the confidence that with effective project management, which includes some great risk and issue management, you will be able to ensure that incoming issues that could imperil the schedule of the project are handled well, and if there are issues that are beyond your control, you have escalated them to the right set of stakeholders for the next action.
However, there are some set of circumstances that can cause a lot of tension in a project, such as the concept of the team falling behind in the implementation of the initial agreed set of features. At the start of a project, the team and the Product Manager typically agree to a set of features to be implemented during the project schedule. These features also have a minimal set of important features that need to be implemented without fail for the product release to be deemed as worthy of release.
Now, the team is implementing these features and are at the second half of the schedule. Some of the features have been implemented, but there is still critical work remaining to be done. At this stage, one of the team-members working on one of the important feature has to leave - whether this be due to attrition, or the team member having to leave become of some personal emergency. Now you are in a situation where one of the important features deemed necessary for the release of the cycle is at risk, and you need to figure out what you need to do. Here are some possible options, some of which will work while others would not work:
- If the person is leaving because of attrition, then the leaving date discussion can be tweaked to ensure that the person finishes the work and then leaves.
- If the person is leaving because of an emergency, and even in the case of attrition, the transition from the leaving team member to the person who is the replacement needs to happen, and if the amount of work pending to be done is less, this can happen very quickly.
- If the team is a bit ahead of schedule, then it would be possible to still get the important feature done, without stopping any other work. However, if this does not seem possible, then it would be important to ensure that the relevant discussion happens with regard to dropping one of the less important features and getting the more important feature completed.
- If the amount of time left is less, and the completion of the important feature is at risk, then it is important to have a conversation with the stakeholders to ensure that experienced team members are brought in from another team to get the work done.
In all such cases, it is important to ensure that you review the current situation, determine the resource situation and the amount of resources required to complete the important feature, and have a discussion with all the stakeholders. In the extreme situation, if there is a need to ensure that the feature needs to be done and the schedule is at risk, then the schedule may need to be extended to ensure that it is done.

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