Is it possible to re-integrate a former team member into a software project?

We have a product with a looming customer deadline and we don't have enough hours to get it done! We have a former employee who left on excellent terms and wants to come back. They are familiar with the codebase and architecture (which has not changed significantly since they left).

Can we use this situation to avoid Brooks Law?

It seems like an ideal situation, team member up to speed with processes, tools, etc. What do we need to be careful of? Are there any dragons in the water? Or should we expect smooth sailing?

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    From your question, it seems self-evident that the former team member would ramp up quickly, so what is your specific concern? – Robert Harvey Apr 22 '13 at 22:49
  • @Robert Harvey, I guess the question is are there any other pitfalls. e.g. How can we manage resentment among other team members, how do we make sure nobody's 'nose is out of joint' – Byron Ross Apr 22 '13 at 22:52
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    Make them part of the decision making process. Ask them if they want long days, sleepless nights and long overtime, or if they'd rather bring someone in who's already familiar with the project to help them out. – Robert Harvey Apr 22 '13 at 22:54
  • Well, if you're going to put it like that! I guess we don't work in the games industry and determined long ago that death marches work for about 1 week every 6 months :) – Byron Ross Apr 22 '13 at 23:15
  • Seems like it would depend on how big the team is. If you already have a very large team, then adding a person is only a small increment, and their productivity will be killed by the inevitable communication needed. If you have a small team (here I mean 3 - perhaps 7 people) then the communication overhead is unlikely to be quite so large, and so the benefit will be higher. AFTER THAT, it's all down to people problems. – quickly_now Apr 23 '13 at 6:53

Yes, it is possible to do this smoothly. There are several factors that could affect how smoothly it goes, however.

  • Is the returning employee just coming in as a temporary contractor? If so, it should be smooth. If not, territoriality issues could surface unless territories are made clear at time of rehire.

  • Is the returning employee becoming a manager or just a contributor? If just a contributor, again, it should be smooth, especially if the employee has his/her own area to focus in, or is playing the role of a mentor. If a manager, then he/she might be dissatisfied with the people supervised, which could create resentment in both directions (up and down). If the former employee hired those people, then it is probably less of an issue.

  • Will the employee be compensated better than before? If not, there might be resentment unless the employee has been somehow humbled by the outside world and is returning home.

This happens all the time, and generally goes well. I wouldn't worry about it too much. And @RobertHarvey makes an excellent point that if the existing team approves of the move, then so much the better.

  • Thanks Randall, some good stuff. Yes compensation will be better (event though they are humbled). They would be full-time managing one part of the project, so I guess we'll need to be pretty careful here. – Byron Ross Apr 22 '13 at 23:17
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    Actively manage the existing team's (possible) concerns about why this guy was brought back in after abandoning the company and put in a managagement slot. Why were none of them put in that slot, etc... Since he is now a permanent employee again, what happens to their upward mobility, will you always hire from outside instead of raising from within, is this just an example of the "good old buddy" network taking care of their own, all sorts of issues that will probably be unspoken. – Patrick Hughes Apr 22 '13 at 23:44
  • Great points, @PatrickHughes! +1 – Randall Cook Apr 22 '13 at 23:52

If you're worried about other team members resenting the return of this person (you mentioned that in a comment), what alternatives have they offered? Does everyone agree that you are not going to make your deadline unless you do something? At this point, I'm not sure I could tollerate complainers.

How affective this person is depends on how long they were away from the project. Technically they left the company, but leaving for one month is just a lengthy vacation.

Make sure the new person is informed about changes you made since they were there last. Maybe he favored using framework X and you switched to Y. This person needs to understand that you need to meet a deadline, so there is no time for a lot of debate. Like everyone else, he needs to focus on the task at hand and not lament over how much easier this project would be if he could only use X.

  • It's a small team, and the returning member would be managing one component (and coding). Nobody has suggested they're not excited by the arrangement (i.e. getting the product finished) yet - but 'plan for the worst' and all that – Byron Ross Apr 24 '13 at 3:42

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