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  • When the Project Manager Needs to be Replaced on the Project

    By Brad Egeland

    Got a project that is tanking and the first obvious choice is to bring in a new project manager? It’s difficult to change leadership at that level, but sometimes it just has to happen.

    If you are at the point of considering or needing to replace the project manager or especially if the customer is requesting this change, then that ship has already sailed and now you’re just trying to salvage the project before it gets canceled and a lot of money gets left on the table, right? Not much to lose but possibly everything to gain if you do it right and do it efficiently.

    In my opinion, and from my experience, here are a few key considerations when picking the replacement…

    Evaluate the situation internally. Before going to the project client – especially if they are yet to ask for a replacement project manager – evaluate the situation internally. This means someone in senior leadership – the PMO Director if there is one, and probably one or two others in senior leadership – needs to sit down with the project team and discuss the project and the leadership issues that have been going on.  At this point, I am assuming that it’s obvious that the project manager needs to go, so they aren’t likely part of this conversation… they will probably be part of a separate conversation that may include termination of their employment if the performance is that bad and the customer and project that valuable.

    This meeting involves finding out the exact current status of the project, what issues are going on, what the team and other stakeholders think the customer concerns might be – especially with the project leadership – and what action or actions they would like to see taken.

    Evaluate the situation with the project client. Next, go to the client and discuss the plan or option to change leadership on the project. If the client has requested this change already, this step may need to happen before the internal meeting step because a rapid response to a project client concern is always extremely critical to the project. Finding out specifically what the issues are with leadership may be the best first step to finding the right fit to take over the project. You certainly don’t want to make the situation worse by finding the wrong replacement that is just going to frustrate the project client even more.

    Make the go, no-go decision. The go, no-go decision on replacing the project manager is – at this point – likely already a done deal. But an official decision on the project and even the employment status of the failing project manager should happen now and be acted on accordingly. It doesn’t need to be loud – in fact it should probably be kept as quiet as possible to maintain professionalism, but be firm in the action and stick to it.

    Go with certification. No doubt you want to find the right fit and you need to find someone available. And a quick learner. At this point, from my experience, it’s best to go with a certified PMP because they are likely to get up to speed quickly and stabilize the client satisfaction level the fastest… which is a huge consideration at this point. Time is not on your side – act quickly to keep the project moving forward. Having a business analyst or technical lead or even an interim project manager who won’t be the final replacement is a very undesirable situation to have going on.

    Summary / call for input

    The risk of making this type of change can be high, but if it’s necessary… then it’s necessary and you have no choice. The longer the project suffers the worse of everyone will be.

    Readers – what is your experience in this situation? Have you been involved – good or bad – with this type of project scenario? What steps did you take and how successful was it? Please share your experiences and discuss.

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