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Project Hokey Pokey

Hokeypokey1 Let's all sing along, everybody:

"You put Fred in, you take Tom out, you put Sam in, then you shake the team about.  You do the 'Hokey Pokey' moving people in and out.  That's what it's all about.  Yeah!"

Hey, wait just a dog-gone second here - that is NOT how the song goes!  Maybe not, but that's how we tend to play the game with respect to project management staffing, isn't it?  After all, project resources are just WUHOTS, right?  Aren't they all just interchangeable parts which management can manipulate as they please?  (OK, you and I know the right answer to that; now we just need to tell the executives.)  Maybe they think they have a valid reason; perhaps there is a critical resource shortage that requires some shuffling around.  Could it be they view the "project hokey pokey" as a quick fix for other organizational problems?

Regardless of the reasons, let's look at some of the impacts of random project resource backfilling:

  1. Going back to Square 1:  If you look at the normal form-storm-norm-perform life cycle of team development, shifting resources in or out of a high performing team can undermine cohesive dynamics and create unnecessary sniping.
  2. Rounding the Learning Curve:  All of the people on your team will be impacted by the learning curve with new resources.  The new resources need to learn what it is you're doing; the other resources need to train them.
  3. Losing the beat:  In an earlier post, projects were compared to a rhythm.  When the team is moving forward, switching project team members is like switching instruments in the middle of an orchestration.  You lose rhythm, and people need to regroup.  Either way, you divert attention from completing the project.

Hokeypokey2 In my workshops, I do an exercise which drives this point home of "project resources as interchangeable parts."  And I have to tell you, my workshop participants start hating me (at least until I start the exercise debrief).  Project managers generally tend to be a hard-charging, high-achieving lot.  Anybody who prevents a project manager from achieving carpe factum is considered the enemy.

So before you start playing "project hokey pokey" ask if it's really worth it   Do the long term costs alleviate the short term benefits (if any)?  Is it a fair trade off to damage a well-run project to move people to a struggling project?

And that's what it's all about.

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