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Pre-2020, phrases such as ‘socially distanced’ did not really have much meaning or context. The pandemic has not only added phrases such as ‘socially distanced’ to our lexicon, but we are also seeing new phrases such as ‘the great resignation of 2022’. Whether organizations are going through corporate restructuring or people are voluntarily deciding to move to greener pastures, people are leaving their current employers and teams. 

Apart from increasing our vocabulary, the pandemic also forced many of us to be creative in keeping ourselves occupied while we were quarantined. Apart from binge watching Netflix, playing every board game you could possibly get your hands on, and exploring your neighborhood, you may have also turned to music and apps like Spotify. As music is the soundtrack to our lives, it’s only fitting that music can help guide us through changes and team transitions. 

As a project leader for both enterprise corporations and start-ups for over 15 years, I’ve been part of and led teams through personnel transitions. Transitions can be hard on both teams and leaders and having something like music to soothe your soul can be extremely helpful. Follow along through my transition inspired playlist to help you and your team through a transition. 

If you’re in the groove and would like to download the playlist, it’s available from here on Spotify.

Wind Of Change - The ‘Great Resignation Of 2022’

The future's in the air
Can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

‘Wind of Change’ by Scorpions
illustration of a music player with grass is greener text
The winds of change can impact your project at any time!

People are not meant to be stationary. Movement and transition are a part of life. Like Scorpions said, it’s everywhere and is as frequent as the wind blows. People may switch roles and transition from a team or organization for a variety of reasons. 

However, recent trends and data indicate that people are on the move in larger numbers than prior to 2020. According to Gartner, “United States employee annual voluntary turnover is likely to jump nearly 20% this year, from a pre-pandemic annual average of 31.9 million employees quitting their jobs to 37.4 million quitting in 2022” (Gartner). 

On the surface, a 20% increase in voluntary turnover may appear to be more of a concern for human resources personnel and an organization’s recruitment and retention plans. However, people who leave an organization might be the people on your project. 

As a project manager, this should be very concerning given the trend that this is likely to continue in 2022 and into 2023. You need to ensure that you have sufficient resources and people for your project. 

What happens if a member of your project team leaves during a project? This will not only have an impact on team morale and dynamics, but it will also impact areas such as project scope, resourcing, stakeholder engagement, communication, and risk. A project manager may be required to not only guide the team through changes in team dynamics, but also to analyze and plan for the eventual impact to the project.

Let’s take a further look at some of the areas of a project that may be affected by someone who decides to be part of the great resignation, and what a project manager can do to help their team through this transition.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: The Impact On Team Morale

Think of all that we've been through
And breaking up is hard to do

‘Breaking up is Hard to Do’ by Neil Sedaka

People can leave your project team for a variety of reasons. Earlier in my career, I was part of an enterprise organization that underwent a very large (and public) corporate restructuring. Decisions were made and many of those decisions ended up with members of project teams being involuntarily separated from the company (translation: layoffs happened). It was both sad and scary to see so many talented coworkers leave the organization. 

Alternatively, I have been part of many project teams (both as a team member and PM) where a member of the team has decided to leave for an exciting new opportunity. It could be an opportunity to advance their career, start a new business, or for personal reasons. In cases like this, it’s great to see teammates move on and forward with their desires and goals. 

However, whether a team member leaves involuntarily or voluntarily, there will be an impact to the team morale and dynamics. The remaining members of the project team may experience a spectrum of emotions including sadness, fear, happiness, envy, despair, and anxiety. 

As a project manager you may wear many hats during a project. Acting as a counselor and occasionally a shoulder to lean on may be required. If team members feel sadness when a member leaves, morale will be impacted and that may affect team productivity. As Neil Sedaka said in his song, breaking up can certainly be hard to do, especially if the team had bonded well and strong professional and personal relationships were formed. 

If you are a project member who is seeing low team morale after a member has left, it’s important to remind and reassure your team that changes are normal and not a bad thing. Transitions and movement are natural and everyone will experience it at some point in their career. 

If the member of your team who has left was well liked and a friend to those on the team, encourage your team members to keep in contact with that person and use apps like LinkedIn for communication. Just because that member has left does not mean they have fallen off the earth! Relationships can be maintained (although they may be different moving forwards).

Likewise, it may be good to also give your team time and space to absorb what has happened during a transition period. Sometimes losing a beloved member of a project team can feel like a death in the family. 

Allow your team members to feel a range of emotions and make yourself available in-person or virtually if they need support or someone to talk to. Be genuine and engage with your team to provide any support or care they may need if it is a difficult transition process. 

Lastly, it is also a good idea to remind your team that they are still a team. The departure of one member does not mean that the team is no more. Try an activity like asking the team to identify one team strength or one thing the team does well. An activity like this may help to refocus the team on what is good. Remember—there is no “I” in team!

Taking Care Of Business: Impact On Scope

And I'll be taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)

‘Takin’ Care of Business’ by Bachman-Turner Overdrive

During the planning or preparation phase of a project, a project manager and their team would have analyzed all the project work that needs to be completed (the project scope). As such, schedules, budgets, and resource plans were developed around the project’s scope. 

Assumptions may have been made during the project planning phase that all resources (including the people on the project), will be available when needed during the project and for the entire duration of the project. As the classic Canadian song ‘Takin’ Care of Business’ implies, it is assumed that the project team will be able to complete the project during the project’s duration and get business done. 

What happens if that assumption is no longer valid after a team member departs? Can the scope of the project be completed by the remaining team members? Those are very good questions that will require the entire project team to review the scope plan (WBS, epics, and stories) and determine if they can be completed by the remaining team. This should be done before communications (and possibly a request to change the scope) is made to any stakeholders, such as the sponsor.

To assist a team in their analysis, there are some options available to reallocate work assignments for the remaining scope. Resource allocation methods such as resource leveling and smoothing may be applied before requesting a change to the project’s scope. 

Likewise, before your team member leaves the team, some type of transition plan should be developed that outlines any tasks and activities they were working on and what a handover plan may look like. As part of this transition plan, any required skills, information, and knowledge that will be needed to complete any work should also be identified. 

If the team comes to the conclusion that they cannot complete the remaining scope given the resources available, the project manager at that point should engage the project’s sponsor (and other necessary stakeholders) to request that either the scope be reduced, the schedule extended or budget increased to hire another team member to aid in completion of the scope. Remember—scope is part of the triple constraint

A change to scope to accommodate reduced team capacity may impact the project’s budget and/or schedule and should be carefully considered. The process of how to request a change due to a team transition should be included in the project’s change management plan. 

With A Little Help From My Friends: Impact On Resourcing

‘Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends’

With a Little Help From My Friends’ by The Beatles

Close-knit teams will be impacted by the departure of a team member. If the team bonded well and relationships were formed, team members may have gotten ‘a little help from their friends’ to help complete work on the project. 

When a team member leaves, this will of course have an impact on the resourcing plan for the project. As mentioned, assumptions may have been made that the entire project team will be together for the duration of the project. What happens when someone leaves?

Having the right mindset here is very important. A project manager should remember that not just a ‘resource’ has left the team, but a person. It seems cold and callous (not to mention just plain mean) to approach project resourcing with the mindset that the member who has left can simply be replaced. You cannot replace a person, but you can fill the role the person has left.

Taking a look at the role that is available on the team may be a more positive mindset to adopt. What work, skills, and experiences are now a gap within the project team? Can this gap be filled by the existing team members? If not, does the project manager have the ability to request support from the sponsor and other key stakeholders to address the gap (which may include budget to hire a new team member)?

Adopting this mindset may also help to create a culture of respect and care within the team. If the team believes that they are not just simply a ‘resource’ that can be replaced at any time, they will feel more valued, respected, and committed to being on the team. Remember, leading a project with empathy is just as important a skill for a project manager to have as being able to plan and execute. 

I Heard It Through The Grapevine: Impact On Stakeholders & Communications

illustration of wine grapes speaking to each other about project personnel changes
Don't let your team hear everything through the grapevine.

People say believe half of what you see, son
And none of what you hear

‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye

When a member leaves a project team, no doubt it will be news to some of your stakeholders. It may be positive or negative depending on the circumstances of the departure. With the great resignation in progress, there will be a need to communicate changes and transitions within your team to stakeholders.

Stakeholders may hear of the departure of a team member and start thinking, “Hmmm…I wonder if the team culture is bad. Why would that person leave?” If not directly addressed, information such as the departure of a team member may lead to gossip and could become an unwanted distraction to the project team. 

If you don’t want misinformation spread through the grapevine, it’s best to share the news of any transitions within the project team with stakeholders directly. As part of the project stakeholder engagement and communication plan, tools such as a project status report could be used as a medium to update stakeholders about personnel changes. 

If stakeholders have concerns about how the transition is being managed and feel that there is a lot of uncertainty, sharing a document like the transition plan may also be helpful. Much like the project team, allow stakeholders the opportunity to ask questions and share any concerns they may have. Similar to the project team, stakeholders may also feel anxious. It is best to allow them an opportunity to share their concerns while also reminding them of the commitment of the remaining project team. 

Risky Business: Impact On Risk Management

Say after me. It's no better to be safe than sorry

“Take On Me” by A-ha

No one wants a member of the project team to leave. However, given the trend of resignations, it would probably not be a good idea to think that this will never happen during your project. A July 2022 survey by McKinsey & Company indicates that 40% of workers are thinking of leaving their current job within 3 to months.

40%! That’s not insignificant. Even if your team members don’t actually leave, it is still nevertheless a risk that should be planned for. Unlike the 80s jam “Take on Me”, it is better to be safe than sorry. Taking a chance by not planning for a risk that could very likely happen is not a good idea. 

Include this possibility in the risk management plan for the project, and if needed, put a contingency plan in place in case the risk is realized. What actions can your team take to lessen the impact of the risk if it were to happen? Some ideas include:

  • Planning knowledge transfer sessions to ensure that knowledge is not just owned by one person
  • Having good project documentation in the event someone leaves and there is a need to onboard a new team member
  • If possible, allow for some slack in project activities/tasks just in case a team member does leave and time for replanning is required

While you may not be able to avoid the risk of a team member leaving, as always you should have a plan for it to ensure that the project team is prepared if it does happen.

Changes: Tupac Had It Right

That's just the way it is (Changes). Things'll never be the same

‘Changes’ by Tupac Shakur

Yes, changes and transitions will happen. And as Tupac indicated in his song “Changes”, things will not be the same on the project team. When changes happen and there is a transition period, the dynamics of the team will be affected and possibly so will the scope, resourcing, stakeholder engagement, communication, and risks for a project. 

If your team is currently going through a transition as part of the great resignation, they will look to their project leader not just for tactical next steps, but also for support and leadership. Transitions can be difficult, but by approaching it with a positive mindset and attitude, the project team will move forward.

If you or your project team is going through a transition, please feel free to share any tips or tricks that have worked for you via Twitter or LinkedIn.

Christina Sookram
By Christina Sookram

With over 15 years of corporate experience as a project manager, Christina Sookram is an experienced project leader and educator. She has provided project leadership experience at some of Canada's largest technology companies. She has subject matter expertise in both waterfall and agile project delivery and product management functions with a focus on Scrum, Kanban, and SAFe® agile methodologies. A successful entrepreneur, Christina founded CNS Project Consulting Inc in 2020 to help clients in the IT, education and Web3 industries. Christina is also an instructor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OCAD University where she enjoys sharing her love of all things project management with students.