Job descriptions in project management usually start with something like overseeing complex projects from inception to completion. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one person will always lead one project team from the beginning to the end. Of course,
in the case of a new project, a PM is assigned to it at the very beginning – even before the project kickoff. But about half the time PMs take over existing projects at different stages of their lifecycle.
There can be a variety of reasons why a project manager is assigned to an ongoing venture. As stressful and complicated as it may sound for the stakeholders, PMs are generally used to this setup. In our experience, there are three typical situations in which a new manager is assigned to an ongoing project:
- The current project manager needs to be replaced for whatever reason related or unrelated to the project itself.
- A project has been running in the absence of a project manager.
- A new development team and/or a software agency are assigned to the project.
Understand the project
No matter the circumstances in which the project manager is tasked with taking over a project in progress, they should start by gathering all relevant information about the project and its environment. According to the study by the Center for Business Practices among the primary causes for projects to run into problems, there are three recurring reasons attributed to poor project management leadership:
- Unidentified or identified but ignored risks,
- Planning based on incomplete data, missing context and important details,
- Unrealistic, poorly communicated, or mismanaged expectations.
Having all that in mind, we prepared a list of key aspects to consider in order to avoid project failure and ensure an efficient handover of project management:
1. Understand the project itself.
- What is the overall aim of the project?
- What is the scope of the project?
- How on schedule is the project?
- What is the budget of the project: total and remaining?
- What kind of team the project requires?
- Review all existing documentation about the project:
- Do a check-up in terms of project progress, delayed deadlines, and how many resources have already been spent.
- The project schedule together with the latest 2-3 status reports should be enough to determine if the project is on track or not.
2. Understand the project context: who are the key stakeholders, their goals, and expectations.
When taking over an active project, apart from the project-specific information, you need to get familiar with the stakeholders and outstanding project priorities, as well as the overall operating context.
- Have a 1:1 meeting with the sponsor or the Product Owner to find out what expectations they have from the PM role, both in terms of communication and involvement.
- Meet the previous project manager if possible:
- First, never blame them for the project’s current condition. Empathize with them and use the opportunity to learn from their experience on the project.
- Focus on the milestones that still need to be hit.
- Uncover details that might have slipped through the documentation. Project management is not only about goals, timelines, and numbers after all. Things like personality issues within the team or supplier contact lists are usually crucial for the functioning of the project team.
- Don’t forget to leave the door open in case you need to clarify future points. Project managers tend to have a lot of project-specific know-how that can prove useful at different stages of project development in the future.
- Get familiar with the decision-making processes that the PM and the rest of the team need to follow.
3. Understand the current and future state of the project.
Last but not least, you can’t get to a future state without knowing the current state. To effectively move forward and ensure project success in the future without repeating mistakes, you should understand why you’re taking over the project.
Additionally, make sure you gather insights about:
- Past risks and issues,
- Potential future challenges that have been already identified by the project team or stakeholders,
- Available knowledge in terms of suppliers, resources, vendors, and staff.
The secret sauce for a successful project takeover
We have already explained why (and how) a project takeover should always start with a technical audit. Today’s article tackles the project management aspect and provides a complete list of things to verify in this area. The third step that should conclude the project transfer and kick off the next phase of your product development or maintenance is a product discovery workshop.
Project handover is a joint-force operation that requires collaboration, a multi-disciplinary approach, and ideally having experience in navigating such transitions in a similar setup. If you’re looking for an experienced partner to take over your active project or need a hand in running a product discovery workshop, let us know!