Change is a constant in project management, but project teams sometimes find it difficult to manage change within their own operations. Disruptions caused by the onboarding of new employees or the departure of team members, for example, can be particularly challenging. With many teams already running at lean staffing levels and taking on heavy workloads, turnover only adds to the frantic pace.
The side effects of bringing in and losing workers are usually short lived. However, some teams find it difficult to keep their workflows on track if they’re tasked with helping to train new hires or covering for those who have left. Team morale can also become an issue as burnout and frustration begin to take hold.
If your project team has been rattled by staffing changes in the past or if you anticipate an influx of new employees as part of an upcoming expansion, consider a few ways you can build resiliency and enable everyone to maintain their momentum.
Begin by documenting right now who does what. It may sound basic, but listing out the various responsibilities and their assignees can be tremendously helpful in the event a team member leaves. This simple action ensures you’ll know which tasks need to be reassigned if your group shrinks. You’ll also gain an early understanding of the scope of the workload that may need to be delegated around the project team, which will help avoid any last-minute panic that would arise if you suddenly shifted a large number of tasks to just one person.
Designate a backup point of contact for stakeholders. This is a good practice even if you aren’t likely to lose or gain team members. You want to minimize any disruption to your supporters and senior staff—whether it’s caused by personnel changes, temporary employee relocations to support the launch of a new jobsite, short-term illness, vacations, etc.—and having an alternate person for them to reach out to for questions and requests can help smooth communications during transition periods.
Maintain awareness of near-term milestones across all of your active projects. You don’t want to be scrambling to meet key deadlines, so be diligent about making sure your entire group has visibility into important upcoming dates, even those that may be outside their normal areas of oversight. This will be helpful in prioritizing workflows around critical path activities if your staffing level shrinks. Encouraging an ongoing awareness of project milestones also builds confidence when turnover happens because your team won’t feel they suddenly need to catch up on what stakeholders in other functional areas are doing.
Keep a master list of project vendors handy. Trying to quickly figure out which external providers are contracted for activities in each project becomes a much larger problem when you’re also introducing a new employee to the mix or shifting active tasks between team members to cover for an open position. A quick bit of recordkeeping to document your trusted and approved sources for supplies and services now can keep disruptions to a minimum later.
Identify support resources who can help to facilitate key activities. Your team may need help from time to time and having a few go-to partners will ease concerns about dealing with a crush of activities. An experienced project management consultancy can be a good place to turn to ensure you have resources on deck or to offload planning and control activities ahead of time. Internal support departments may also be available to help take up the slack when it comes to budget and financial matters, procurement tasks, personnel issues, contract reviews and negotiations, and administrative support.