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Situation: The main dev left a project and deadlines have gone up in smoke. The client is upset after 3 weeks of no significant improvement (obviously, new devs have a huge learning curve). The client has now sent in a legal letter stating to have the project done by x date. The current PM knows that this date is impossible to meet.

Question: Should the PM remain on the project? I ask because does this not imply a lack of trust and warrants bringing on a new PM on board for this project? Additionally, now that the project has entered legal waters, every single piece of communications has to go through the Board to ensure nothing is being miscommunicated. This is obviously a very stressful situation for the current PM.

I'm not asking for an opinion, but for a factual answer that addresses this kind of scenario.

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    Welcome to PMSE. As a moderator, I would like to make it clear that any responses you may get here are not legal advice. You should talk to the company's counsel or appropriate legal counsel regarding the implications of changing personnel on the project. – Mark Phillips Sep 9 '13 at 21:03
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TL;DR

The legal questions are really just a subset of the premise that this is fundamentally a business decision, albeit a highly political one. Determining whether or not to kill a project, and who should be assigned to a trouibled or failed project, is primarily a business decision with potential consequences (good or bad) to all parties regardless of the decisions made.

Legal questions are for the company's lawyers to answer. Business decisions are management's to make. Personal and professional choices belong to the project manager.

The PM's Viewpoint

From the incumbent project manager's point of view, it sounds like this project has already failed. Whether or not it is in the project manager's personal best interests to stay on a failed project really depends on individual circumstances and personal/professional goals. Some examples for consideration that might lead to staying include:

  • The need to collect a paycheck.
  • Whether the PM can salvage any positive career objectives (e.g. a positive reference) by "going down with the ship."
  • The political ramifications of voluntarily leaving a project.
  • The expectation of a post-project future with the current company.

The Business Viewpoint

Ultimately, whether the current PM should remain on a failed project is business decision. If the PM is blamed (rightly or wrongly) for the project's failure, the business could decide:

  • It's the incumbent PM's job to "stay and clean up the mess."
  • There is no one else to fill the role, so the current PM might as well continue the death march.
  • The PM is at fault and should be removed from the project.
  • Something else altogether.

The real question is whether the project can be salvaged. Again, that is a decision for the project's backers to decide. Sometimes earned value can be extracted from a project that isn't going to meet all of its original goals, and sometimes a project can't be saved even when additional time, money, or other resources are thrown at it. In the latter case, it often makes more sense for the business to cut its losses.

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I would not recommend replacing the current project manager, as that will cause the project to fall further behind as the new PM needs time to catch up on the current state of play, as well as lead to an even loss of knowledge about the project, why the project ended up in this scenario in the first place and what needs to be looked out for.

A bit of support for the PM and getting the board to manage the expectations of the client is going to be the important thing. Unless the PM caused the dev to leave or misrepresented the scale of the delays then its not necessarily his fault that things have went wrong.

Whatever you do, avoid throwing all hands at the meatgrinder in an attempt to get the job done faster, lest you envoke Brookes law. That would surely be the deathknell of the project.

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I agree with both the answers. My thought is PM still should continue on this project and need to monitor and track all the attributes very closely. First do the post mortem of the current issue and take action items and move forward. It is also a very good opportunity for PM to come back strongly and make this project success. Adversity can teach a lot and time to learn fast and implement for the success of the project.

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From a business perspective, sometimes the PM has to get reassigned even if it isn't his/her fault. It depends on how much the PM was the face of your company, and if you have someone that can do the job better.

I have seen a similar situation where deadlines were not being met and there was no visible progress. Letters were exchanged and there were threats made about non-compliance with contract.

It was the nadir of our relationship with that particular vendor. If there was a choice we would have started from scratch with another supplier, but our needs were too specific and we were stuck.

Coincidentally the PM we were dealing with left the vendor for other employment and was replaced by someone with significantly more experience. This turned out to be a very good thing. First off, the new PM lacked the baggage the old one had accumulated. More importantly, the new PM was a stronger personality and was able to force a full review of what needed to be done so that we could baseline realistic expectations. End of the day expectations were managed far better than they had been, and we were able to focus on disagreements on a technical level rather than on a project/legal level.

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