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Six tips for a successful project manager transition

The idea of losing the key project manager on a critical project is an unwelcome one, but it happens from time to time. These tips will help your next transition be a smooth one.

Even though changing project managers during an in-flight project can add new risk, it is a realistic situation that occurs in our field. Projects and programs can be long-term engagements, and project managers may leave due to job changes, corporate reorganizations, or executive reassignments. Since project managers or other team members can leave your project at any time, it is useful to plan for a successful transition.

The transition can be more of a challenge for the incoming project manager, as the exiting project manager no longer has the same motivation since that person is headed for new glory. If the outgoing project manager is changing positions within the same company, there is more of an interest in ensuring a successful transition. If the outgoing project manager is leaving the company, the vested interest in a successful transition is usually limited to the two-weeks notice.

Below are some useful tips for the outgoing project manager on how to make the transition a success.

1: Review the project kick-off presentation deck

If you've developed a kick-off presentation, it will provide an excellent orientation to the incoming project manager on the goals, objectives, scope, timeline, and major deliverables. If done correctly, the presentation format is a much better approach than reading an exhaustive charter or lengthy scope statement.

The kick-off deck should contain a summary of the high-level processes used to manage the project; this includes issue management, risk management, change management, schedule management, status reporting cadence, and major milestones. A properly constructed kick-off deck will make it easier for you to convey the major elements of the project and components of the project management plan.

2: Provide a project schedule deep dive

A detailed review of the project schedule is a must. Understanding the critical path, key milestones, and the core sections of the project schedule are important aspects of supporting the transition. It is also important to understand how the project manager controls the schedule, identifies late tasks, and communicates upcoming tasks to the project team. It is all part of communicating the technical project management best practices and the core project deliverables.

3: Review the financial management processes

Every organization manages project financials differently. Forecasts, actuals, and invoice processing follow different financial management processes, and it is important to review these processes so the project operates smoothly and integrates with organizational standards. The finance organization expects a consistent report on the project financials each month.

4: Share the unspoken truths and the inside story

The project mechanics are important, but people ultimately deliver the project. You should talk to the new project manager about the different personalities on the team and the overall project culture. It is important to understand who needs motivation and who can be left alone to deliver without supervision. For instance, there might be a developer who wants to work in a dark office writing code for 10 hours a day, and there might be others who have a command and control personality around their scope of work.

5: Provide an overview of the project stakeholders and their interests

It is also important to learn about the stakeholders, sponsors, and business customers who can impact a project. Different stakeholders have different interests and varying impacts on a specific project. Some stakeholders expect the status deck 24 hours before the status meeting; some stakeholders require a pre-review before the meeting; and some stakeholders just need to know what you need from them to be successful. If there is enough time in the transition phase, you should introduce the new project manager to the stakeholders.

6: Agree to be available by phone for two weeks

I encourage you to be available by phone for at least two weeks after the transition. If you are staying with the company and changing projects, you are being a good corporate citizen. If you are leaving the company, it is less likely that you'll get a phone call, but being a project management professional also means ensuring a successful transition; at times, you'll have to take a phone call or two to help your former team move forward.

About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

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