There comes a time in almost every project manager’s career when they need to give away a project. There are many reasons why this happens, such as: You were given a critical project and need to lighten your workload; the project requires skills that are better suited another PM; you have a higher priority project that needs your full attention, or – gulp! – the client wants someone else to manage their project. (This last one never feels good, but it happens.)
No matter the reason, it’s important to make sure you do the best possible job handing off the project to the new manager. Through my experience and discussions with colleagues, I’ve narrowed this process down to these four key steps:
Gather the team together
Meet with your delivery team and get all the task status and progress updates that you can. It’s critical that you know the latest and greatest status of your project and all the details before passing it off. You’ve likely been doing this on a weekly basis anyway, but you want to guarantee that the next project manager has all the information they need to hit the ground running.
Update the project with the most current information
Now it’s time to make sure that everything about the project is as up-to-date as possible for the hand-off. For example, revise the project schedule, update the resource plan, make sure the project budget analysis and forecast is current, and double check that all risk and issue lists reflect the latest changes. You’ll want to deliver as much detailed information to the incoming manager for the smoothest transition.
Discuss the change with the customer
Call the client and discuss the transition with them. If this is the first time they’re hearing about it, be prepared to give them as much information as possible on the how and why of the change. For example, tell them about the background and experience of the new project manager so they know they’ll be in good hands going forward. And, try to present the news in a way that will instill confidence and not make the client feel like a second-class citizen – especially if you’re leaving to take on a new, critical project. Also, if possible, plan for a two-week transition where you mentor the new project manager and help everyone adjust to the transition. When you handle this exchange with respect, instead of making an abrupt exit, your effort goes a long way in maintaining client confidence and satisfaction.
Make the transition over time
Ideally, if you have the time and it works with your schedule, stretch the transition over a period of time that includes two status calls with your former client and team. As the outgoing project manager, you should lead the first call and officially introduce the new project manager; then, the new project manager should lead the second call, in which she officially takes over the project in the eyes of the client (even if it’s already happened with the team on the delivery side).
Whenever leadership changes hands on a project, it disrupts the overall momentum, makes the client nervous and presents risk to delivery dates. But if you make sure to follow a thorough transition process, you can assure everyone involved that the reins are going to a well-informed, capable project manager who can carry on with the client’s best interests at hand.
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?