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The Importance of Succession Planning in a Project Management Strategy

written by: N. Plowman • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 10/16/2014

Since most businesses do not expect 100% retention rates, it is critical for organizational leaders to implement a succession plan. This article identifies the importance of succession planning in project management teams and describes how to develop and implement an effective succession plan.

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    The Importance of Succession Planning

    Although many companies implement retention strategies, many businesses fail to realize the importance of simultaneously developing and implementing a succession plan. It is unrealistic to strive for a 100% retention rate; therefore, by developing an effective succession plan, the organization can alleviate frustration when key employees depart.

    Succession planning is typically done for upper-management because the loss of a key leader can be detrimental to the social well-being and productivity of an organization. However, succession planning can also be beneficial to other positions within a company. Regardless of the position’s level, a solid succession plan for project managers is critical for businesses that utilize project-based staff and teams.

    One of the key factors of a project team’s success is stability. If a project manager departs, a team and the client can be greatly affected. Team members can lose sight of the end goal, fixate on why the leader left, and subsequently lose direction and stamina to achieve the goal. Furthermore, clients can become dissatisfied because they feel their project will be delayed and their priorities and objectives will be lost in the shuffle. However, with an effective succession plan, companies can easily fill the vacated position without experiencing significant short-term dysfunction during the transition period.

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    Advantages of Succession Planning

    There are many advantages of implementing a succession plan. The following benefits are a collective list, and they can differ in type and significance across organizations due to the unique circumstances associated with each business.

    • Succession Planning An organization can decrease the effects of instability on the project team’s productivity.
    • An organization can retain and satisfy clients by ensuring there is an established process to handle the departure of a project manager.
    • An organization can reduce the productivity loss associated with recruiting, selecting, training, and onboarding a replacement.
    • An organization can evaluate their current workforce and identify employees that show significant potential and outstanding capabilities, which might never have been observed without succession planning efforts.
    • An organization can create a competitive advantage by developing employees from within, rather than hiring new employees who have little experience with the company and its clients.
    • Employee satisfaction increases because employees feel there is a strong opportunity for advancement and growth within the organization.
    • Employees feel they have equal opportunities, which reduces negative feelings that emerge in companies that give more attention to upper-management.
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    Developing an Effective Succession Plan

    The purpose of succession planning is threefold:

    1. To identify lower-level employees that have the capacity to effective learn new skills and knowledge necessary to excel in higher-level leadership positions.
    2. To continually train and develop selected employees so that they are ready to move into leadership positions once there is a vacancy.
    3. To ensure that, once a void is present, selected employees have the specific knowledge, skills, abilities, and other general competencies necessary for immediate success upon transfer.

    The following steps will help organizational leaders develop and implement an effective project management succession plan that considers the three main purposes listed above.

    1. Identify key positions that would significantly impact productivity and stability if vacated.
    2. Work with key leaders to collectively develop an exit strategy. It is important to stress that this is not due to an imminent departure, but rather a risk minimization effort.
    3. Work with key leaders to develop a list of critical knowledge, skills, abilities, and competencies that are absolutely necessary for success in the position.
    4. Work with key leaders to identify two employees in associated teams and departments that have shown the aptitude to succeed, whether through performance appraisals, team leadership positions, or observed activities.
    5. Communicate with selected employees and determine whether they would like to participate in the succession plan. If one of the employees declines, it is important to select another employee to ensure at least two employees are trained and developed.
    6. Schedule time each week for succession planning development to enable the employees to develop the skills and competencies identified in step three.
    7. Identify specific development and training opportunities, which can include independent learning activities, formal training seminars, on-the-job training, observing, and mentoring.
    8. Continue training and development until a position becomes vacant or a position is added to the organizational structure.