The ideal situation for any project is for the project manager to start the project and remain in charge through close out. The realities of business aren't always that clean. Many times, project managers shift from one project to another because of unforeseen circumstances.
It’s a situation that is bound to happen the longer you manage projects. There are many reasons a project could transfer from one project manager to another. Here are a few.
Whatever the catalyst is for the change, the key to success is in the transition from the old project manager to the new project manager. I’ve been on both sides of a transition – inheriting a 5 million dollar optimization project from someone who was leaving and handing off a 2.5 million dollar change project to another project manager when I decided to move on to something else so I’ve learned a few lessons along the way.
It’s tempting for the new project manager to just take a deep dive into project documents to learn about what’s been going on with the project. But that would be a mistake. Although project history and current status is important, it’s more important to remember that the success of the project is dependent on people.
The current and new project manager should sit down together to define what will be accomplished during the transition period. Each of them should identify what they think are the most critical items to complete before the transition is final and place them on a timeline for completion. Ideally, you should have at least a couple of weeks for transition activities although that’s not always the case.
The last thing that should happen is for the project sponsor to find out from someone else that the current project manager is leaving. As soon as the change is decided, the sponsor should be informed. This discussion should include who you have in mind for taking over the project, why they’re the right person to take over, and how the elements of the project will be cared for to ensure successful project completion. Communicating the change to the sponsor, introducing the new project manager and explaining how this new person will add value to their important project is a critical path item for successful transition. Once the sponsor is on board, move on to introductions to the leadership team.
People build bonds with other people, particularly in a long term project so a project manager leaving will be a disruption to the dynamics of the project and may cause a lot of uncertainty in the project team members minds. It’s your objective to make sure the new project manager is accepted and integrated into the project team smoothly. If time permits, doing some joint activities with the other project manager like project meetings or status calls will help make the transition smoother. Make sure you share any insight about personality issues, key team member strengths, and culture of both the team and organization.
Hopefully, the exiting project manager has done a good job of retaining project documents and keeping all of the key project documents – plan, deliverables, schedule, budget, communication, etc – up to date. The new project manager should review these documents and then meet with the current project manager for a meaningful discussion on the project status. And if at all possible, having the ability to connect with the old project manager after the transition takes place is a big plus.