Top Three Transition Steps for Taking over a Project

We’ve all been there before – taking over an in-flight project – perhaps from a staff departure, re-assignment or even downsizing, there are going to be times in your project management career where you will need to step into someone else’s (project management) shoes and take over the helm of a project. Here are three things that you will need to focus on in order to make a smooth transition.

Work with (and learn) Stakeholders

One of the keys to any successful project is effective relationship management with your stakeholders. One of the first steps in any transition plan should be informing your customer (at the very least the project sponsor) of the change and an introduction of the new project manager. Allow the new PM to forge the relationships with the stakeholders and begin the trust-building exercise (if the PM is new to the stakeholders). Another vital step is for the incoming PM to understand the lay of the land when it comes to stakeholder personalities, tendencies and communication styles. If the outgoing PM is able to share that intel with the new project manager, that provides a very large head start in customer relationship building and management.

Deep Dive the Project

As a project manager, you are responsible for delivering the scope of what’s in your contract. One of the very first activities when doing a transition is to learn the scope of the project not only from a “what” perspective but from a “how” point of view also. Understanding what’s been delivered to-date, what the commitments are and most importantly – what does the plan look like. Depending on the nature of the cause for transition, having a formal handover from the former project manager would be incredibly helpful in this case. Walking through the plan, discussing what’s been done so far, what’s remaining, issues and risks is a very valuable exercise that can be done between incoming and outgoing project managers.

Learn the Team

This is probably the most important step and where the outgoing project manager can provide the most value. Your team is the lifeblood of the project – without them it goes nowhere. A good project manager knows their teams well. What their internal motivators are, their strengths, their weaknesses, their communication styles are all key pieces of information for a leader to build a high-performing team. Being able to fast-track the learning process for a PM to learn and understand their team will immensely help with a smooth transition.

Nobody ever plans to replace a project manager on a project. But with the right preparation and focus, the incoming project manager can get up to speed quickly by focusing on these three key areas. Building relationships with your stakeholders and your team as well as deep-diving into your project plan can set you up for success to easily take over and bring the project home to completion.

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