Steps Project Managers should take to ensure smooth handovers

Some projects can last longer than the project resources that work on them, particularly if those resources are contractors. Handovers can become a regular and managed process vital for maintaining project momentum and de-risking delivery.

However, where the resource change is the Project Manager (PM), this presents a fresh set of challenges. A professional PM wants to leave any project in the best possible shape to go forward, for the good of the organisation, and their own reputation.

If handover is not prioritised there is a risk of reduced momentum as a PM seeks answers to questions that should have been answered. Also, poor decisions, flawed direction to the team and incorrect reporting to governance.

In this post we’ll concentrate on the steps PMs should take to ensure smooth handovers.

1. Incumbent PMs need a plan.

A handover is a process not an event and an outgoing PM should aim to use all the time available to launch their successor into the role. For the incumbent PM and the team, the handover begins before the successor arrives, sorting IT, booking meeting spaces and arranging for 1-2-1s. A professional PM ensures the handover is a push of information to the new PM; the successor should not have to pull information out of the incumbent or the team.

2. The handover should have a pace.

The pace should be one that allows the newcomer to listen to information, read documents, and ask questions (affirming the exchange of ideas and information has been successful). It must also allow the incumbent to carry on running the project. A graduated take over, where the new PM assumes responsibility for project elements as the handover progresses can help. Incumbent PMs should make governance and stakeholders aware a handover is taking place and it must necessarily be the focus.

3. Involve the whole project team.

Handovers are most effective when the whole project team is tasked with handing over the project to the new PM. This doubles as opening interviews with all staff and can help with fostering positive relationships.

The order of meetings and topics is important here. It often helps if the first meetings are with the PMO. This can involve training, IT familiarisation, use of project tools such as JIRA or SharePoint and the rhythm of reporting and governance meetings. This allows the new PM (armed with logons and passwords) to go find information on their own from the start. This is doubly important if the incoming PM is new to the firm and must master unique processes. Get mandatory training out of they way early too.

Next comes context, and here the new PM may be meeting with the business and the project sponsor. Importantly these meetings should answer the “what problem are we trying to solve?” question and nest the project within the portfolio of change.

4. Dive into the details.

Then, armed with tools and context, it’s time for the detail. This is where PMs get into the nuts and bolts of budgets, people, project artefacts, products, processes, governance.  The incumbent will talk about the project resources and their skills, competences and roles; if needed give further information on the work environment (passwords, keys, key card) and inform on technical or practical dependencies.

At this point the new PM should be good to go. The outgoing PM should give contact details and make him or herself available in or out of office hours for queries and follow ups as the final touch in a professional handover.