The Need for Person Independence in Software Project Management

The Perils of Person Dependence

Imagine you are a project manager of a software project and are managing multiple resources. If by chance, one of your employees has an emergency (personal or otherwise) and has to take leave suddenly, your first priority should be to ensure that the employee gets time off and next, you should ensure that your project does not suffer. Now, consider a scenario wherein the employee in question is a critical and crucial resource whose performance is integral and more important than others to the success of the project. In this scenario, you would be in a position where in your most valuable resource needs time off for genuine (as we shall discuss later, even in cases where the reasons are not genuine) emergencies leaving your project stranded. Therefore, any good project manager would need to have a risk mitigation plan in case the critical resources resign, have emergencies, or are generally unreachable.

Why is Person Independence so important for Software Project Managers?

This means that project managers and companies in general have to reduce their person dependency and instead, have a plan in place wherein any such disruptions are handled professionally and without bad blood between the employees and the managers. For instance, if the delivery or the implementation date is approaching and suddenly, the person who is responsible for traveling onsite is confronted with an emergency, then there must be a backup plan in place wherein alternative arrangements are made quickly and with minimal disruption to business. This is the aspect of reducing person dependency or becoming person independent which has become the norm in many top notch software companies. The reason why this issue receives more traction in software companies rather than in manufacturing companies is that the former do mind work whereas the latter can afford to let go of personnel till the mid level since the nature of the work is such that another employee can take over easily from where the employee who leaves or has an emergency.

Industry Best Practices

Indeed, the current certification models such as SEI-CMM (Software Engineering Institute Capability Maturity Model) emphasize the need for person independence because history of the software industry is replete with instances where employees who are mission critical had to be relieved, sanctioned leave, and other manifestations of absence which have jeopardized the chances of success for the projects. This is also the reason why many giant multinationals like Citigroup have the concept of “mandatory leave” wherein employees have to necessarily take off for a couple or more weeks every year so that their managers and the managers of the managers can ensure that the project runs even without these employees. For instance, this is practiced widely in production support and maintenance projects wherein person independence is felt acutely since the work is such that one has to be available 24/7 considering that he or she has to be on call in case of any urgent issues.

Instituting Processes and Procedures

Many software experts stress on the need for development of processes which would ensure that if a person is unavailable, then the process is such that documentation on the work he or she is doing is available which can smoothen the way for the backup resource to take over seamlessly and transparently. Indeed, the SEI-CMM model discussed earlier makes explicit mention of the need to document the work and institute processes which would ensure that no project is stalled because of the absence of the employees. Further, it is the practice among companies to identify backups for each employee so that a transition and takeover can be done effortlessly in case an employee leaves or has an emergency.

Involuntary Exits and Top Level Exits

Until now, we have discussed resignations and personal emergencies. However, as noted earlier, there can be less genuine reasons for absence such as fraud, being fired for sexual harassment, and even theft of IP (Intellectual Property). This means that the employee in question is sacked or fired immediately and on the spot which makes the case for person independence stronger. Moreover, when such instances happen, the companies have to make sure in future, the processes are strong and robust enough to prevent all employees from accessing information on topics and subjects more than what is necessary for their work. Indeed, many firms in recent years have grappled with senior level exits that have happened suddenly taking the CEO or the Board by surprise. In these cases, the firms that were person independent could manage the transitions better than the ones which relied heavily on a single person.

Conclusion

Whether one is a large firm or a small one or whether one is dealing with a voluntary or involuntary exit or sudden leave due to emergencies, it makes sound business sense for all companies to be as person independent as possible. Indeed, if history of project management and software project management in particular teaches us anything, it is that unless companies reduce their dependence on employees, chances are that projects might suffer in case of exigencies and emergencies. Further, backup resources and alternative arrangements in addition to risk mitigation plans must be made and put in place. Some companies ask their employees to whom others report to prepare a likelihood of resignation plan wherein the managers estimate and document the likely chances of specific employees quitting. In addition to this, these companies also deal with personal emergencies of employees by instituting processes and procedures in place that would be activated in case of the employee having to leave suddenly.


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