Filling in the Void of Key IT Staffers

Hunter deals with the departure of a key network engineer in the ACME IT department and learns some lessons about job descriptions and knowledge transfer.

July 1, 2005

3 Min Read
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Eugene, one of our most knowledgeable and valuable staffers, was really leaving. And there was nothing we could do but wish him the best of luck.

I wasn't angry with Eugene--like many IT people, I've left companies for better opportunities--but I knew replacing him was going to be a bear. As I sat down to discuss the situation with Dirk Packett, our network manager, we found ourselves facing a long list of tasks to keep our department running smoothly.

Replacement Parts

Like most companies, ACME is lean on staffing. We knew it would take time to get approval from human resources to seek Eugene's replacement, and even longer to find someone with enough skills to do the work. So we had to come up with a plan to keep Eugene's position open, fill his shoes on an interim basis and find a replacement as quickly as possible. That plan had to be nailed down before Eugene left so he could help with the transition.

First, we needed a job description. We hadn't been meticulous about keeping our job profiles matched to reality; our outdated description probably would have made candidates laugh. So I asked Dirk to update the profile for Eugene's spot, and I listened while the other IT managers tiptoed past my office, fearful of having to do the same for their own groups. Little do they know I've already drafted an e-mail asking them to do just that.Next, we had to ensure that we could keep Eugene's position open. ACME's top executives often see an employee's departure as an opportunity to downsize the IT department. I immediately secured the support of our CIO and CFO to hire a replacement by pointing out to them that unless we filled the position, our systems and a number of vital projects would stop dead in their tracks.

Third, we asked Eugene to begin documenting the critical knowledge that had resided mainly in his head. For instance, we had made changes to some of our systems and disaster-recovery scripts, and a number of network diagrams were in desperate need of a refresh. Although we have a pretty good change-management process, it doesn't prevent staffers like Eugene from keeping a few too many hand-drawn diagrams and handwritten notes about our network.

Dirk met with Eugene to work out priorities for doing updates and improving documentation. We asked Eugene to do some "knowledge transfer" with other IT staffers to convey what he knew about areas such as our VoIP phone-system infrastructure, tape-backup setup and storage area network. Dirk filled in for Eugene while we went about looking for a replacement, a process that typically takes about a month.

Finally, we spent some time implementing a fresh approach for training new hires, including briefings on technologies, other departments and business requirements. We even have new employees spend at least part of a day in a variety of IT areas so they can see how everything works and help Eugene's eventual replacement hit the ground running.

Best WishesWe gave Eugene a great send-off, including an off-site party, a gift, and plenty of kind and humorous comments about his tenure at ACME. We all liked Eugene, and we'll miss him. And, more important, we've taken the necessary steps to ensure we can keep doing a good job without him.

Hunter Metatek is an enterprise IT director with 15 years' experience in network engineering and management. The events chronicled in this column are based in fact--only the names are fiction. Write to the author at [email protected].

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