How To Pick Up A Project From Someone Else: 7 Proven Tips

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In the last couple of weeks I’ve turned into a woman who runs down Regent Street in ridiculous heels to get to her next meeting on time.

Who has said, “Sorry, I’ve got a mouthful of lunch, hang on,” too many times on the phone because there isn’t enough time in the day not to work through lunch.

Who has paid library fines even though the books are just there ready to go back, because she can’t get out of the office for 20 minutes to return them.

In other words, life has just been really busy.

The reason for all this is that I’ve taken on a new project. We’ve shuffled things around and I’ve picked up a (big, complicated) piece of work. It’s interesting.

It’s in good shape as the previous PM did an excellent job. The team are committed and know what they are doing. But I got 47 emails about it overnight (that’s between 5pm and 8am) on my first day truly in charge. There is a lot going on and I really don’t feel like I have a clue.

So, here are my 7 best tips for beginning work on a project that someone else is handing over.

1. Get a handover

The clue is in the title. They are handing over responsibility to you, so they need to actually do a handover. Get copies of important papers (especially anything to do with money spent or committed to spend). Ask about the team. Check the milestones.

That’s the formal part of the handover. Now have a chat off the record.

Find out what the stakeholders are expecting and which of them are being a bit difficult right now. The old project manager is a great source of information about the office politics surrounding this project and can shortcut your learning curve drastically.

2. Meet the team

I can’t find the source of this story (get in touch if you know) but someone once told me a tale of two soldiers. The both agreed to talk each other up at every opportunity.

Over the years they described each other’s credentials and experience when their colleague’s name came up in conversation. Lo and behold, they each got promoted more quickly than the norm.

In his book Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, Robert B. Cialdini talks about how having someone else introduce you is a more powerful way of making a first impression. Get the leaving project manager to make positive introductions, and ask them to specifically point out that the project remains in good hands.

That’s a message that will give confidence to stakeholders who might be nervous about the change in project manager and it means you’re more likely to get off on the right foot.

Come to think of it, that soldier story might be in that book too.

Elizabeth Harrin working together

3. Go through project initiation again (by yourself)

For your own piece of mind, run through what you would normally do when you set up a project. Is there a project initiation document? A business case? If you would set up a Yammer group for a new project, is there one?

Download the Project Initiation Checklist which is in our project management document resource library and get a head start . Run through the steps. Check that you are happy running this project now.

Put in place anything that you feel needs doing and stop anything that doesn’t work with how you want to run the project. Just be sure to tell everyone so that they know what’s going on.

4. Review the plan

Go through all the planning documents and the project schedule. Make sure you feel comfortable with how the work is broken down. If not, now is the time to change it.

For example, I like to have all the project management ‘overhead’ (or level of effort tasks) at the top of my MS Project plan. All the project-related deliverables are up the top. I can collapse them to focus on the other stuff but they are right there when I nee them for reporting.

Work out what the next key deliverables are. Find the upcoming milestones. You’ve got time to get to grips with this new project but those fast-approaching dates should be your priority.

5. Review the meeting schedule

What meetings are in the diary? Is it too many? Cancel some. Perhaps there aren’t enough. Book some more.

Make sure there are project board meetings (or steering group meetings, whatever you call them) for governance. There should also be team meetings at a frequency that works for you.

I would also recommend for these early days of it being your project that you schedule regular one-to-one conversations with your workstream leads or key stakeholders. Then if you do have problems or need further clarification you can address them in those sessions.

6. Review the risks

What’s going to go wrong? This is another area where you want to spend some focus time.

Look at what is in the risk register. If it looks a little light, then consider what else you can add. I have a list of common project risks you can add. Talk to the team about what else might be worrying them at the moment.

If the risk log is bursting with risks, you might want to prune some out. Look at what has already been resolved or where dates have past and the risk didn’t materialize. Get it down to a manageable list.

Then think about how each of the risks is going to be managed. What’s the plan? Who is the owner? Get on top of this area before risks get out of hand.

types of project risk

7. Plan your next steps

Hopefully, you’ve identified some of the major things that should be priority work. That’s where you can spend your time in the coming weeks, along with getting up to speed on the subject matter, starting a project glossary of key jargon terms and building relationships with the rest of your team.

Work out what you are going to do in the next week, month, and three months to fully get yourself onboarded and ready to lead this project. That should involve asking for feedback.

Finally, one of your steps should be to plan a little celebration to thank the team for their hard work during the transition to a new project manager. It doesn’t have to be much — perhaps using one of the daily standups as a coffee and cake session.

It’s now your project

Remember, you don’t have to run it in the same way as the other person did. It’s yours. Do it your way.

Now go and be awesome!

Here’s what to consider next at this stage, when you are picking up a project from someone else:

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how to pick up a project from someone else