A Project Manager’s Best Practices for a Project Takeover

Sometimes you don’t nurture a project all the way through. Occasionally, you may be saddled with picking up a project right in the middle and having to get it past the finish line on time and within budget.

While this can sometimes be a challenge (depending on how organized the project was before you arrived), there are some strategies you can implement to make your arrival as seamless as possible and to ensure the least amount of disruption to the flow.

Why is There a New Project Manager?

There are various reasons you may need to take over a project halfway through. For example, it’s possible a previous manager was fired, removed from the project, or transferred to another project with higher or lower complexity. You may be entering due to your unique project experience and may be more suited to take on the project and get it finalized.

I’m on a Half-Finished Project…Now What?

Read the Project Plan in its Entirety

The first item on the agenda for a project takeover is to read the project plan (and project charter). The documentation will give you an in-depth overview of everything from stakeholders to goals. Most importantly, it will help you understand the deliverables. A big red flag will be if a project plan doesn’t exist. However, there should be some form of documentation in terms of what was done, when, by whom, etc.

Analyze Any Available Documentation/KPIs

It’s essential to go over everything to find out where the project is (behind schedule? Ahead of schedule?), how the deadlines are going (are they being hit or missed? Is there consistency in deliverables?), and, most importantly, how many resources have already been spent (are you over or under budget?). Compared to the last two to three status reports, the main project schedule should give you a good idea of if the project is on track. Go through the budget analysis and request a resource forecast to get a clear view of what you have at your disposal in terms of time, budget, and resources. If these are missing, you’ll need to start from scratch and build them, ideally using past projects as a benchmark.

Meet With Everybody 

It’s imperative to meet with everyone when you are taking over a project. This includes:

The PMO/Client. Have a one-on-one to find out about the project and layout the expectations going forward. Let them speak and gauge how much they are championing the project. They are responsible for the overall lead, so you need their buy-in and support.

The previous project manager. Hopefully, you will have some sort of transition process where you’ll be able to meet with the outgoing project manager. They can help direct you to documentation and give you a pretty good overview of how things are going and where the challenges have been. When conversing with them, focus on milestones that still need to be hit and discuss the culture that has been fostered throughout the project. You’ll get a good sense of where things are going and how things have gone. 

The team. Be aware that the group, in many ways, will have experienced a loss, having gone through losing their leader. They’ll also have dug into specific operating patterns and will have certain expectations about how the project should be run in the future. You’ll need to work to earn their trust – especially if it turns out that you need to make some rather significant changes to processes. Talk to them about shared experiences and see if there are shared roadblocks you can help remove to make their work easier. Also, be as transparent as possible while inviting communication and input. In a way, they know much more about the project than you do, and therefore they are a great resource to be tapped.

Be ready to Make The Project Your Own

As the new project manager, you are responsible for delivering. Therefore, you need to have the flexibility to redo a few processes to align them with your way of working (without being overly disruptive to the team). Create a transition plan – including documentation – that builds out the following steps to bring the project under your purview. Carefully comb through any missing details and fill them in. For team morale, celebrate smaller wins on the way to the first significant milestone to build confidence and camaraderie.

You may even have to connect with the PMO and address any scope creep you see and make suggestions about how to re-adjust your project charter to ensure you will hit pre-defined deliverables and timelines while staying on budget.

Conclusion

When taking on a half-finished project, it’s essential to spend some time at the outset to understand the project at a macro and micro level. While understanding the deliverables is critical, you’ll be coming into something that already has its own cadence and culture. With some projects, you may just have to Sheppard the team over the finish line with minimal upheaval. However, with others, there could be many areas of contention that will need to be dealt with early to get a project on track. Doing that means taking the time to comb over what happened before you got there. Documentation can give you clues as to how things are going; however, it’s imperative to engage with everyone involved – including your new team – to ensure everyone is on the same page and moving in the same direction. 

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