Project methodologies often have a template to initiate a project or checklists to ensure a project is ready to pass a tollgate or a formal project milestone. If you look at your company’s own methodology, you will likely find a lot of templates for your project.

Despite all these templates, few methodologies have a checklist for project turnover. Project turnover should be minimized, but project manager changes are a reality.

I’ve seen project managers get promoted, moved to different projects, quit or simply be replaced. When I was a business analyst working on a strategic HR systems project, the director replaced the project manager three times! If you find yourself having to transition a project or inheriting a new project, I found it helpful to have a PM Knowledge Transfer cheat sheet.

The cheat sheet is grouped into several areas:

1. Project Overview 7. Project Financials
2. Project Stakeholders 8. Project Quality
3. Project Scope 9. Project Log
4. Project Team 10. Project Document Management
5. Project Governance 11. Vendor Management
6. Project Schedule 12. Advice

1. Project Overview

This section speaks for itself, however, if you have a project charter, be sure to review it. Many organizations lack a quality charter but the key is to review the purpose of the project, high level goals and expected benefits. By providing the “big picture” view, it helps to provide context. Without this context, the incoming project manager will have to stumble through the same points you did when you started the project. Why not make it easy on the new guy?

Get a PDF version of this cheat sheet here.

2. Project Stakeholders

Every project has stakeholders ranging from the Big Boss (i.e. sponsor) to the Little Guy (individual team members). Identify any key stakeholders, their influence and expectations on the project. Who are the stakeholders who will help remove roadblocks? Who has influence over the project outcome? Who is just a pain in the @#$?

Related: How to Build Strong Relationships with Stakeholders

3. Project Scope

What is the project actually delivering? What deliverables have been explicitly called out of scope? What deliverables might be creeping back into the project? What are the project constraints (budget, time, mandatory deliverables)? Are there any assumptions or dependencies to be aware of?

If the project is in execution, scope has likely changed from the original scope statement or original agreement. I’ve inherited plenty of projects where I reviewed the original scope and the team explained how scope changed. I’ve always found a context diagram to be a useful tool to convey all the people, vendors, and organizations involved with the project.

4. Project Team

Every project has its own unique cast of characters, politics and social dynamics. Understanding the personalities, strengths, challenges and idiosyncrasies with each team member will help the new project manager significantly. Be sure to identify the key team members that the project manager can count on as well as any team members who need that extra helping hand.

5. Project Governance

How is the project being managed? What is the sequence of meetings throughout the week that collect status, communicate status, track issues and report schedule progress? How often does the project communicate with mid-level management, senior management and / or the executive leadership team? Are there any formal milestones, gate review or PMO expectations for the project? This checklist item includes reviewing the communication plan but it also includes all the governance processes to ensure the project is executing correctly.

Related: Project Governance for Distributed Teams

6. Project Schedule

Hopefully, the project schedule is up to date and it reflects current progress to date and any new forecasted end dates. If you haven’t updated the schedule in a while, remember to update it and walk through the schedule with the incoming project manager. Identify the sections of the schedule that are still developing based on changing scope or priorities.

7. Project Financials

Review all the actuals to date and cost forecasts as well as any outstanding invoices from vendors. Ensure there is a clean financial hand off to the incoming project manager. If the new PM doesn’t have a clean financial view, the person will waste a lot of time chasing down unpaid invoices and working with Finance and Accounting to clarify past costs.

8. Project Quality

In software projects, project quality often refers to software testing and defect management. In manufacturing projects, it is also important to review any outstanding manufacturing defects or unacceptable variances. It is important to understand how quality is being tracked within the project so requirements are implemented and verified throughout the process.

9. Project Log

The project log is another source for current and past challenges within the project. If there are open issues, risks, change requests or outstanding action items, ensure the project log is kept up to date. Project managers can become easily engulfed in project execution that some of these administrative tasks can get lost. If the project manager has the project log review built into the project governance and status reporting processes, the administration is handled weekly.

10. Project Document Management

Where are all the project documents stored? If there are documents on your laptop, ensure they are stored in a central location such as a file server, DropBox, Google Drive or any shared document collaboration repository. Hopefully, the project has good document management otherwise it is another administrative challenge to figure out who has the latest copy of the project schedule, status report or requirements document.

11. Vendor Management

Review the key vendor contacts and any statements of work. If the contract has specific service level agreements, review the steps to ensure the vendor is performing according to the service level agreement. More importantly, discuss the quality of the vendor relationship, personalities and any nuances that influence the vendor relationship.

12. Advice

The previous 11 sections all provide a framework to convey project knowledge, however this section is useful to identify any parting words of advice or any hidden pitfalls the new PM might encounter. If appropriate, provide the current project manager’s forwarding contact information. In the past, I’ve had to reach out to the former project manager to answer new questions about old problems.

If the PM is staying within the organization, this is easy to do. If the PM is leaving the organization, it may be harder to get the contact information. But, I haven’t seen anyone turn down a LinkedIn request if the transition is a positive one.

What if the project manager isn’t there to transition?

Working with a transitioning project manager is actually a luxury versus a guarantee. I’ve inherited several projects where the “project manager” had very little documentation and even fewer project management artifacts.

If you find yourself in this situation, use this cheat sheet as a guide to ask all the probing questions to make you a success on the project.

Even if you’re not transitioning your project, you can use this cheat sheet to confirm you have all the key project management processes up and running within your project. Download a PDF version of cheat sheet here.

A Cheat Sheet for Project Manager Knowledge Transfers was last modified: April 13th, 2018 by Andy Makar