How To Take Over a Project

Project Takeover Notes

So, it’s time to get your hands dirty with some project management. You’ve just volunteered for taking over a project from a colleague who is leaving. Here are some hints for you. Go through them before you switch into regular project management routine.

In this article you will find some PRINCE2 lingo and references to PRINCE2 artifacts. If you are not comfortable with PRINCE2, you might want to look at the Crazy Colour PRINCE2 wiki and quickly you will map these terms onto your project management methodology.

Identify your stakeholders

Make sure that you know all your project’s stakeholders. If in doubt, look for the guys who will blame you if the project fails. Make sure that they know what their role is and that they accept it. Normally you will find the names in the Project Initiation Document (PID), but people change, roles change and over time PID might get outdated. Sometimes the stakeholders loose interest in the project but forget to stop the project. You need to be absolutely certain who they are and you should touch base with all of them at the very beginning.

Inspect the Project Schedule

It is likely that you have it in a long MS Project file. Whatever the format is, you need to extract the Product Breakdown Structure (PBS) from the schedule. If you are lucky, you can find it in the PID but still, you need to verify if the PBS is complete and planned in the schedule in its entirety. You are probably not looking at the specific tasks at this point but rather at the hierarchy of tasks. Each node in this hierarchy is likely your PBS component. Think of it this way: you need to build something from the Lego blocks. You need to make sure, that you have identified all blocks you need. Use everything at your disposal to confirm that you have all of them. You might need to talk to your stakeholders and to your colleagues in the project team. See if there are specific persons responsible for delivery of PBS components (if not, you are!).

Once you are done with the PBS, drill down to specific tasks. Are you sure the task list is complete? And most importantly, is it clear who is responsible for delivering each and every single task in your schedule? Thing with MS Project is that the Resources column in many cases lists more than one person (or a role name, which is even worse). This works for cost accounting purposes but tells nothing about responsibility. If you are familiar with the RACI model, you should be alerted. There is no field in task description to tell you, who is responsible. You need to find out and, sometimes, re-establish responsibility very clearly or you will be responsible. Only when you know that, you can discuss progress.

What is the progress of the project to date?

Make sure which tasks are complete and verify that with those, who are suposed to use their products. Identify the tasks that have started and make sure that you have some understanding of the actual progress. I would recommend using progress tracking in MS Project. Establish some sort of progress reporting from people responsible for delivering tasks (project team managers). It is easier if you have a Project Server in place, but if not, my recommendation would be to keep it simple and set up a spreadsheet-based reporting telling you what the progress on each task is at the end of every reporting period. Color-coding works for me: green means ‘OK’, orange means ‘not good but I will handle’, red means ‘needs you immediate attention’. It is also possible to share the MS Project file with team managers (saves your time) but do it only if you know what you are doing.

Once you have identified the actual progress on every task, you will see where you stand by looking at the Gantt chart: black bars indicating the progress should be somewhere near the vertical dotted line that means ‘Today’. At least you can see if and where the problem is. 

You are ready to roll

With these three steps you are ready to manage the project going forward. It is not that you going to have smooth sailing but at least you have a map. Remember, whatever your beloved project management methodology is, it is rarely followed to the last detail. Plenty of vital detail is in the head and the mailbox of the project manager who wil not be accessible soon. He or she made and received promises you might not be aware of and really difficult and tricky stuff has a nasty habit of not getting into documents and minutes.

Good luck!

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5 responses to “How To Take Over a Project

  1. Fine, but how to take over an “agile” based project, is there any other things which requests our attention ?

  2. This post deals with the logistics and the formalities and does not deal with the resources part. Resources are now managed by another Project Manager, most probably they won’t like it the first time (some will be non-productive, check this article on the non-product team members that deals with this particular issue), what is the best way to make this transfer smooth for both the Project Manager and the team?

  3. @Marcin
    I have no hands-on experience with agile methodologies, but here is what I think:
    Agile project management methodologies are used for software development. To me software development delivers only part of the PBS tree – software by itself never delivers value for the business. The remaining parts of PBS will have to be delivered using traditional PM methodology. This probably deserves it’s own article. To me the antonym to agile is not PRINCE2 or PMBOK but rather waterfall model.
    If we focus only on the software development project in whatever agile methodology, in my opinion the most important part is to re-establish trust relationship between PM and stakeholders. For the business stakeholders it is generally very difficult to accept agile projects and if they do, it is based on trust.
    The technical handover is easier, I would say. You don’t have this big Gantt chart to validate and generally you can expect that there is strong, self-propelling relationship between all project members. They work with each other on a day to day basis and the commitments are not to the PM but rather to the whole team – it this case it is harder to fail, one would hope.

  4. @PM Hut
    You’re right. Thanks for the link. I think that when people do not perform it is because they are incompetent, overloaded or not motivated. As a PM you might be able to compensate for that to some extent but you need to be able to identify the reason. In order to do that you need to develop some sort of relationship with the team members – simply to know them a bit.
    In project takeover situation the challenge is that you don’t have time for that. The only source of information that you have is the guy who managed the project before you stepped in. The next opportunity are the initial progress review meetings/calls.
    And don’t forget – if somebody is not performing as expected, you start with the questions: do they know that they are responsible and do they know what is expected of them.

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