Tips for taking over an active project

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My musings on project management, project portfolio management and change management. I'm a firm believer that a pragmatic approach to organizational change that addresses process & technology, but primarily, people will maximize chances for success. This blog contains articles which I've previously written and published as well as new content.

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I’ve written previously about the need for a project manager to proactively plan for a smooth transition if someone else will be assuming the role on one of their projects. Should you be fortunate enough to find yourself taking over from a project manager who has followed some of those suggestions, it will make your life easier.

But often we don’t have that luxury.

When projects get into trouble, rightly or wrongly, the project manager may have been identified as a convenient sacrificial lamb and you might join the project after they have been expeditiously shown the door. Other times the individual might have just been moved to a different, higher priority project but they did not maintain a complete, accurate project control book or they may simply not have the time to help with your onboarding.

In such cases, what should you do?

Meet the sponsor

Even if there are documents such as a charter or project management plan, there’s no substitute for learning about the needs and wants of your sponsor as early as possible. Developing a productive, symbiotic relationship with this critical stakeholder will often make the difference between success and abject failure.

Make sure you take the time to understand what they expect from you from both a communications and expectation management perspective, but also gauge their willingness to support you when decisions, issues or risks have been escalated to their attention.

Meet the team

Recognize that the team will be experiencing the change churn of having lost a leader.

If the previous project manager was despised, you will bear some of that baggage and will want to ensure that you don’t get drawn into a comparison competition with your predecessor or having to defend the value of project management. On the other hand, if the team adored their project manager, you may face suspicion and resentment and will have to avoid the temptation to become defensive about why you were placed in the role.

Be curious, ask questions, but most important, strive to be a servant-leader, giving the team some time to grieve but also demonstrating your value by escalating or ideally removing any hurdles that have hampered their productivity.

Trust but verify current state

Status reports, feedback from the sponsor or the team might provide you with insights into the project’s state, but seek evidence that supports their assessment.

Identify recent milestones and confirm that different stakeholders agree that those have been successfully met. Once you understand what milestone is coming up, check with the sponsor and team to ensure that there is alignment towards its completion. Ask questions about the top three risks and issues. Check the financial health of the project with your finance partners to ensure the books are in good shape.

While a project plan might exist for your project, you should still create a personal onboarding plan reflecting the specific activities you will need to complete to be effective in your new role. Treat this role transition as you would any meaningful project – plan the work, and then work the plan!

(Note: this article was originally published to in January 2017)

Posted on: March 06, 2019 07:00 AM | Permalink

Comments (15)

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Very good advice Kiron!

When you take over an active project you become a PM Auditor to validate that there are no missing pieces that will result in the project failing under your watch. Winning over the team is a must. Being flexible and transparent with the team will help. There is no time for any conflict.

Taking over active project with ight strategy and plan is very important. It ensure the successful outcome of project. Suggestions mentioned by you are really very useful under this condition for taking over project manager. Understanding sponsor and project team is essential element for their effectice engagement in Project.

Thank you Kiron!!

Good points are covered.
Interesting and very useful points.

Thanks for sharing it.

Love it.

Good Points Kiron - Those are key steps for taking over an active project. I actually did recently take over an active project more or less did the same.

Interesting post. Thanks for sharing

Thanks Rami - great to hear that the tips I provided have practical benefit!

I am curious as to the content of your 'personal onboarding plan". I think of it as a to-do list for taking ownership of the project, and all the details that go into that, but I am curious if there is an aspect of your intent that I might be missing.

Joseph -

you are correct! It is my personal "to do" list that will be constructed in an elaborative basis when taking on a project in flight.


Fantastic tips, thanks for sharing Kiron!

Interesting. Thank you.

Great, practical guide on taking over an active project effectively. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks Sharing

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