Joining an In-progress Project: 4 Considerations

At Atomic Object, there are many reasons a team member may join a project that’s already in progress. We may be increasing the size of the team or have a key team member who isn’t available until another project ends.

When joining an in-progress project, I like to clarify where the project and team are now. I also use this opportunity to ramp on to check for gaps and bring an outsider’s perspective.

Where is the project now?

When joining a new project, it’s important to learn as much as you can about where the project already is. You can do this by reviewing any existing designs, backlog, or other documentation.

In custom software consulting, you’ll always find details and decisions that have come out of conversations the team members had with the client or amongst themselves. This shared context is difficult, if not impossible, to capture in notes or in a backlog.

For this reason, I also try to reach out to each of my team members at the start of my engagement with the project. I’ll ask their opinion on the state of the project, backlog, designs, and outstanding decisions. It’s vital to gain as much context as possible in the early stages of joining an in-progress project.

How is the team working now?

In addition to learning about the in-progress project, it’s also important to learn about the team. At Atomic Object, Delivery Leads might work on many projects at once with many different team members across all three of our offices. Given this variety and the variability of the types of projects we do, every team I’ve worked with has been a different experience. That’s true even when working with a similar team across different client projects.

I make an effort early on to understand how the team is working. I find the introductory chats with the team are a useful place to gain this context.

When a project kicks off, our team may complete a norms document to clarify any spoken or unspoken expectations about responsibilities and personal goals for the engagement. When expanding a team that has already found its groove, I have found it useful to revisit the norms with the entire team. I find this tactic is most successful when adding members to teams that have had less experience working together.

Are there any gaps?

New team members joining a project bring a fresh pair of eyes to the designs and backlog. As a new team member, I use this opportunity to ask questions and identify overlooked gaps, edge cases, or items slated for later discussion that fell off the radar. Gaps I frequently see when joining a project include outdated stories in the backlog, missing error and confirmation states, and early feature or component decisions that were informed by technical constraints that have now been resolved.

What perspective can I bring?

The first three considerations when starting out in an in-progress project are an opportunity to listen and learn. But, this last consideration is an area of action. Once I have an understanding of the project, team, and gaps, I start to consider the perspective I can bring.

During this step, it’s always important to remember that you may not have all the context. However, if you approach closing gaps and providing your perspective from a place of humility and questioning, you can provide clients with a valuable outsider perspective and contribute to the success of the engagement.