The project manager is leaving. What will we do?

It has been the big news of the week here in the UK, that football’s longest serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United, is to retire at the end of the season on 19th May 2013.

He has been in the role for 26½ years and has an unrivalled record of premiership wins, and trophies won over the time of his tenure. The question on everyone’s mind was how are they going to replace him, and who will get the job? He announced his retirement on Tuesday 9 May, and by Thursday 11 May a new manager David Moyes was in place.

Now look at your organisation and say a project sponsor leaves. What processes have you got in place for replacing them? How long will it take to get someone suitably qualified in place? Will this person also have the right attitude to take on the new role?

Clearly David Moyes thinks he has, and so do the Board at Manchester United. But the advantage Manchester United had over you is that they knew Sir Alex was leaving around Christmas 2012. You may not have that luxury of time!

So what are some of the things you could do to ensure you are ready for the inevitable changes that will happen?

  • look at your turnover of project managers and project sponsors in your company.
  • put in place a development programme for all those involved in projects – sponsors, project board members, project managers, project team members.
  • ensure you have a training budget for project management! We are seeing funds for this cut across the company.
  • develop a mentoring scheme which will allow a person in a role to mentor another. Please do not assume that mentoring is straight forward, proper training is required
  • ensure there is ‘oversight’ of project management with a community of practice and a project office
  • ensure there is effective 360 degree feedback. We hear all too often that appraisal or personal reviews are ineffective

What other ways are there for ensuring that you are not caught out?

Most organisations have a constant stream of projects. Some project managers/sponsors will move on which means that there is always a demand to train and develop more.

The first stage in the process is to identify who has the right attributes to fill the role. In reality, sometimes the person may not be in your own organisation, so will need to be approached about joining  your company. This can either be a very short process ending with a succinct no thanks, or akin to a romance where they are effectively wooed by you, to entice a move.

Another alternative is to look within your own company to see who is the closest match to your skill set requirements; and who with supported development would be the right person for the role. In many organisations there is a succession path that actively develops team members to facilitate natural succession in various roles in the fullness of time.

Alongside this goes the issue of culture, but why is this so important? All leaders have a style and way of working that cascades throughout the organisation. We all like to personalise our roles, but the question is are you looking for someone who holds the same values, or a new brush to take you in a different direction? Get this wrong and there will be a massive impact on the organisation/project.

In respect of the consideration of looking to appoint someone in-house vs. an outsider, both have pros and cons that can help or hinder the change over, and future direction of the business.

During the handover period it is vital to communicate effectively and regularly with staff in your company, to ensure that they do not become demotivated in the intervening wait.

It is true that appointing a new CEO, sponsor, or manager is indeed a project in itself. It requires a structured and feasible plan, good communication to all affected (stakeholders), good monitoring of the team morale whilst appointment is ongoing, and delivery planning to ensure a smooth transition. Whilst uncertainty can bring concerns, it is also an opportunity to branch out into new directions, and find success in areas you may have overlooked in the past.

So my question to you is how do plan for, and manage change?

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3 Responses to The project manager is leaving. What will we do?

  1. Pingback: The project manager is leaving. What will we do? | #PMChat

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