Natalia Martinez
March 19, 2020

A 10-point Checklist for Successfully Taking Over an Existing Project

You’re an experienced project manager. And a good one. You’ve established a reputation for delivering projects on time, on budget, and you’re known to go above and beyond for a successful outcome. It’s why you’ve just been given a high-profile existing project with an abrupt handoff from someone no longer with the firm.

For even the most seasoned project manager, effectively taking over and executing an existing project can be tricky. But it can be done well.

Getting it right and navigating to a successful completion that’s seamless for all stakeholders, especially your client, takes a measured approach and the ability to work through the grey—sometimes quite a bit of it.

The checklist below will guide you through the necessary steps to keep the team engaged, the project moving forward and the client happy.

1. Establish Authority and Confidence

You know from experience the importance of establishing authority and gaining the confidence of stakeholders on any project—new or inherited.

First, understand your role and the expectations your team and client have of you. Different projects and teams have very different expectations. It’s important to understand what is expected from the perspectives of all individual stakeholders. Some of this will happen organically as you meet your new team, and some of it will require meetings, one-on-one discussions and research.

Once your role is clear, communicate it consistently. Then it’s your job to understand where the rest of the team fits in and where they are accountable going forward.

Gaining the confidence of all stakeholders builds authority and long-term project success.

2. Look at the Big Picture

Before you dig into the details of the project, talk to the team and client to understand where the project fits with the overall priorities of the client organization, long-term. The big picture should always drive the work, especially when choices need to be made.

3. Confirm Goals and Objectives

It’s easy to want to get to work right away to keep the project moving. But everyone needs clarity around project goals and objectives to be effective. So, step back and understand what the project is meant to achieve and what needs to be done to accomplish that. This alignment is essential to ensure the client’s ultimate satisfaction. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about anything you don’t understand.

Alignment may already exist among stakeholders, and if it does, that saves time and should be documented and shared. But If the goals and objectives are muddy, now is the time to clarify with everyone, especially the client. The sooner the better.

4. Review Existing Documentation

Review all existing documentation for the project to understand what has been done and what needs attention. Dig into existing files, email messages and meeting minutes.

This will help you understand what you still don’t know and the information you need to collect from people. Then, document everything you know and build on it as you go.

5. Create a Detailed, High-level Plan for the Transition

Next, identify or develop a high-level plan for the transition period. Talk to the people involved.

This is the time for a check-up on project status, progress and deadlines. Look for missing parts that might derail the project, while focusing on the small wins and upcoming milestones. 

Based on what you’ve discovered, you’ll know what level of planning is necessary now and begin to build out what’s needed from the team to hit delivery dates. Start with a high-level plan to keep things moving, then revisit with more details for the long-term approach and successful project completion.

6. Determine Governance

Is there a governance structure? There will be decisions you’ll be able to make on your own, especially once you’ve established yourself with the team and client. But oversight is important, and you have to understand decision-making and approval processes and structures.

You may need to revisit this with the client and internally, then communicate it. It’s essential for accountability and long-term success. And it’s necessary to keep the project moving since decisions will need to be made constantly.

7. Understand the Budget

You can’t manage and keep the project on budget unless you understand what the approved budget is and what’s been spent so far. Start with your finance team and then the project team.

You may find you have to reach out to vendors for contracts, estimates and paid invoices to get the complete understanding to move forward.

8. Evaluate Your Team Resources

Your team is the fuel that propels the project. First, figure out how the team is structured, how it operates, and who the main influencers are.

Then, determine the hours each person has available for the project, and plan accordingly. Do this by talking to the individuals. To ensure accountability and that you’re not under-staffed, confirm with their managers.

Once you have this information and if there are questions about whether you have adequate resources to accomplish project goals, address this quickly with the appropriate people internally and externally.

9. Communicate — Often and Well

Identify the communication structure that’s in place and whether it’s working. Then make necessary changes.

Identify everyone who needs to know what and when. When people don’t have enough information, they are less engaged and less invested in the project.

Be transparent about what you’re doing and why. Tell your team what you know about the project and the areas where you need their input and more information. Also, keep the client well informed throughout the process.

10. Fill in the Gaps & Plan

The steps above will leave you with an understanding of where the project is and what needs to be prioritized and addressed to keep people and tasks on track.

For the areas where there are holes or stalls, now is the time to fully understand why. It may be because of lack of time, skills, experience or interest. Addressing this effectively may involve candid conversations with stakeholders, including the client, so changes can be made.

Once you have a complete understanding of where the project stands, you can focus on moving forward and address needs such as setting up a governance structure or dealing with budget. Prioritize what’s most important for project success and move forward.

We Help from Start to Finish

Once you’ve successfully accomplished the transition, it’s time to manage the project to successful conclusion. EVX partners with firms like yours to help them do that through a deeply integrated project management platform that’s easy to use and highly flexible based on how you work.

Contact us and we’ll show you how.

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