There comes a time in almost every project manager’s career when they need to give away a project. The reasons can be many….you may have just been given a critical project that requires you to lighten your overall load, a change in the project may require skills that better suit another PM, another project on your plate may be taking up too much of your time, or (gulp!) the project customer may have requested that a change be made. That last one is not what you want to have occurred, but it can come up – I’ve taken over three projects in the past due to the customer requesting a leadership change.
No matter what the reason that has necessitated the project handoff, you need to go through a process to make sure you do the best job possible in handing off the project to the new project manager. Through my experience and discussions with colleagues, I’ve narrowed it down to these four key steps….
1. Gather the team together.
The first key step is to meet with your delivery team and get all the latest task status and progress updates from them that you possibly can. It’s critical that you know the latest and greatest status of your project and all the details that go into what’s going on. You’ve likely been doing this on a weekly basis anyway as a good project manager, but you want to guarantee that the next project manager has all the information they need to hit the ground running.
2. Bring everything current.
Take everything you learned from your team and everything you already knew and revise all status and schedule information for the engagement. Revise the project schedule, update the resource plan, make sure the project budget analysis and forecast are current, and that all risk and issue lists contain the latest and greatest status updates. You’ll want to have as much detail ready and in the next project status report as you begin the transition to the new project manager on the next status call.
3. Discuss the change with the customer.
Call the project customer and discuss the transition with them. This may be the first they are hearing of the change so you’ll want to give them as much information as possible on the how and why of the change as well as detailed background and experience information on the new project manager so they know they’ll be in good hands going forward. You must present it in a way that will gain their confidence and not make them feel like a 2nd class project customer – especially if the reason for the handoff is because you’re taking on a new, critical project. And, if possible, plan for at least a two-week transition where you lead and mentor the next project manager as you get everyone used to the transition. Handling the transition this way rather than making an abrupt exit can go a long way in keeping customer confidence and satisfaction high.
4. Make the transition over time.
Ideally, if your time availability, the old project tasks, the new project startup effort, and the availability of the new project manager allows for it, stretch the transition over a period of at least two project status calls with the customer and team. The outgoing project manager should lead the first one and officially introduce the new project manager and the new project manager should lead the second one, officially taking over the project in the eyes of the customer – even if it’s already happened with the team on the delivery side.
Any time there are personnel changes on a project it can disrupt the overall project momentum. And when that change is at the top – a project leadership change – it can cause the most risk and the most customer concern. Making sure you follow a detailed process to turn the reins over to a very capable and well-informed project manager will help ensure the continued success of the project and keep the customer’s satisfaction level high.
How about our readers? What processes or steps have you followed when turning an existing project over to new leadership? Looking back, what has worked best? What do you wish you had done differently?
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Project management success depends on your ability to track project status and communicate it effectively!