Never Add People to a Project Just Before the Deadline

For all the project manager, delivery manager, program manager and anyone else who manages a project’s delivery out there, seriously, stop assigning people on projects right before the deadline thinking that it will help you to deliver on time. Because, surprise, it doesn’t!

I’m not going to give you any lecture based on business book (which anyone who manages a project should already know about), how about some real life experiences? I have been on both sides of this kind of situations, as someone who are thrown into an unknown project and has someone joining the existing team. So believe me when I say putting more people on a project last minute doesn’t work.

The problems

Last minute joiners lacks the commitment and motivation

Let’s start with something as simple as this, imagine you just came off a project. You are thinking, what a great time to do some self study. But guess what, you have been told to join another project tomorrow (or in some cases on the same day). So not only does it throws all your plan out of the window, but also get ready for some intense delivery roller coasters.

The next day, you come to office not knowing where you need to sit or what you should be doing. If you are lucky you get a good introduction to the project background, the state of the project, what needs to be done before the deadline. If you are not lucky, then there won’t be much introduction at all. Either way you will have a lot of questions. When you try to understand more about the project to do your job properly, you will end up pulling people away from their work and they will most likely be stressed out. Which is not a fun experience for either of you.

As a new joiner it is normal to think that they are only here to help, if the project doesn’t deliver on time they are not the ones to blame. Even if the project delivers on time, they won’t get much credit from it either. At the end of the first day, they will be sitting there feeling confused, stressed out, miserable and want out from the project. How can they be engage with project, and be motivated to delivery on time if there is no commitment?

People asking why not this, or this, or this…

The biggest benefit of having a consistent team is that everyone understands why things are done the way it was. People are also on the same page in terms of ways of working.

Bringing in new people will change this. Normally, asking questions and challenging the current ways of working is health since it ensures continuous improvements over time. However, when there’s 2 weeks left in the project and you have people challenging the fundamentals of what was done already, then it can be a problem.

Sure, someone could explain to the new project joiners and say now is not the time and we will log those suggestions and tackle them post release. But it won’t be the last time this type of conversations come up until the project finishes. This type of conversations are very expensive since it is wasting at least 2 people’s time (from the delivery point of view).

Lack of project understand/knowledge

How can someone do a good job, they don’t have all the information they need. It is like asking a school kid to do University assignments. They are simple not ready to tackle those problems, as a result they will need a lot of support and help from existing team members. It will be hard to say no in this kind of situations, because the task is too challenging for people who are new to the project.

In this type of situations, the team could leave the new joiners to fend for themselves, or have an existing team member to help them and tackle the problem together.

If the team decides not to allocate another person to help the new joiner, then they will take a long time to finish the task. Even after they finish, the review stage will take up a lot of time to ensure work quality, accuracy, and consistency.

If an existing team member is allocated to help out, then the reality is that normally the task will take longer to complete because answering questions, explaining and etc will eat up time. So a task that might take a day for the existing team member to finish individually, now it will take up 2 days (4 man days because there are 2 people working on it).

Lack the technical skills set

This is the worse kind of people put on a project. If there is a project that requires a specific skill set, putting someone who doesn’t have that skill does nothing to the project but slow the existing team down.

What should teams do

Extend the deadline

I think if a project is being delayed, extending the deadline is the best option. This will guarantee the best quality and probably use the least amount of man days compared to bring in new joiners. Knowing there are enough time, will make people less stressed out and might even make them be more efficient.

Bring in people early

There is nothing wrong with bringing in people to help the project, the key thing is not to do it last minute. Bring people in before reaching half of the project duration, and give the team to adapt this change. Adding new joiners is like throwing a rock into a stable lake surface. It will take time for the ripple to stop and settle back to the original state.

Have a big team at the start, then take people off

This seems stupid but, it is always easier to take people off a project than to add someone in later on. So if there is a risk, then just put in some additional people at the start. If later the team feels there’s no point to keep everyone on, then take some people off it.

Final words

The above problems are very general and will apply to most projects, but it is especially the case for software development. These problems are not new concepts, but for some reason projects always end up in a situation where more people need to be added to a project a few weeks before the deadline to meet the deadline. There is no excuses, it is just bad management and shows the person in charge doesn’t know what they are doing.