How to Successfully Take Over an Existing Project Part 2
When taking over an existing project, it’s important to get yourself up to speed with everything that’s going on. The first week after being assigned to the project is often the most stressful one. You know you are going to have to seem confident and yet you are even sure what you are being confident about. You don’t know anything about the project. Maybe you are not even familiar with the team. There’s so much to do and you don’t know how to start. We got your back. This time we are going in a bit more deep with how to successfully take over an existing project. Make sure you read the first part to have a brief overview of the subject.
1. Meet with the original account manager
Perhaps meeting with the original account manager isn’t the most important thing to do, it can be helpful nonetheless. If the account manager is willing to cooperate and isn’t taking the taking over process too personally, you will get quite a bit of valuable information form that meeting. The motivation of the original account manager to actually share any information with you might hinge on the reason why there’s a need for you to take on the project.
If the project is failing, you are going to need to whip out your diplomacy skills. Don’t step on any toes and remember that you are not dealing with an enemy or someone to be belittled. Try to be emphatic and professional. If the original account manager is leaving the organization, the motivation to help you out might be next to nothing. Be prepared for that but don’t assume it. That way you won’t be disappointed and also won’t steer the conversation in the wrong direction. If the reason for them moving on is skill-related, make sure you understand what it means before going in. Whatever it is, taking the time to find out the reason can give you a bit of an edge. Take it and use it wisely.
As it is with any meeting, think about what the aim of it is beforehand. In addition to customer needs and the estimates, you might want to ask about the different documentation from project communication plans to risk analysis. You can ask what they think went wrong if anything did. That's how you'll get different perspectives of the situation that you are now a part of. You can ask for recommendations of what to do differently. All of which requires both of you to be open for a discussion. If it can’t be both of you, make sure that you are.
2. Meet with the PMO director or executive management person who assigned this to you
The person that assigned you to the project can be the best source for information. It’s a meeting that you definitely need to have before meeting the customer. If it’s possible, combine the meeting with the original project manager with this one. If the situation seems to be heated between the two, don’t. The meeting with the PMO might be a good place to get leads of where the weak spots are. Again. Set a goal for the meeting. Make sure it’s not getting too emotional. You are not there to gossip. You are there to make yourself feel at home with the project.
The PMO is probably also the person that will hand over all the available documentation. If you find that something you need is missing, don’t be afraid to ask for it. However, you have to be prepared for the chance that the thing that is missing just doesn’t exist. Taking over an existing project is often like solving a puzzle however sometimes you must make some of the pieces yourself.
3. Peruse current, available project documentation
The available documentation really is going to be your best friend. Since there might be quite a lot to go through, you might want to start from making a plan for yourself. You must familiarize yourself with the whole project scope during this step. The goals of the project, deliverables, tasks, and deadlines. You can start with the general project details to have the big picture. If you gathered any useful information from the meetings with the original project manager or the PMO, the step will be a bit easier for you. If you have a good understanding what the project is about, move on to status reports to know where it’s at. You have to be critical of the quality of the reports, though. Especially when the project is failing or falling behind, the reports might have been slightly altered to show a better picture to the stakeholders. Take a look at the milestones and make sure you really understand where the project is and where it has to be.
After status reports, move on to resource schedules. For your sake, let’s hope that you don’t have to deal with any resource scheduling with spreadsheets and the original account manager was using a resource scheduling software. Login and make sure you have all the necessary viewing and editing rights for the projects. From the status reports, you probably know which department is over-utilized and slowing down the process. View the resource schedule as a whole during the span of the project as well as the daily, weekly or monthly schedule depending on how resource scheduling is done in your organization. Identify the problem areas. Get acquainted with the skill sets of your resources when necessary.
If you are lucky, there’s also a detailed project communications plan, a risk analysis, and a budget analysis. If not, that on you. There’s definitely some information about the budget. Since you are stepping in, you can’t miss any details here. Since you are already familiar with the resource plan, you know about the tasks and you know about the resources. You might have to take some corrective actions. There are always some extra costs to the resource-related costs. Risk analysis is going to help you determine what they will be. Make sure these costs are taken into account as well.
4. Conduct an internal team meeting
What I’m going to tell you next might seem obvious but it’s actually kind of difficult to nail. Hold a good meeting. Start by thinking what the goal of the meeting is. Since you have had a meeting with the original account manager, the PMO, and you have gone through all the available documentation, you know the project pretty well by now. Nevertheless, you are still missing the intel from the most of the people that have been working on it since the day one. Undoubtedly, you are eager to save the project. Keep the urge to know everything right away in check and think of a clear and achievable goal for the meeting.
Once you have done that, put together an agenda for the meeting. Anything that isn’t serving the goal you have set, shouldn’t be on the agenda. If there are things that need to be discussed but doesn’t fit the first meeting, have another meeting with a different goal. Don’t try to cover everything with just one meeting. Remember that although it’s an important meeting, it shouldn’t be a long meeting. Although standup meetings are the cool kids on the block and a good way to keep a meeting focused and short, don’t try to be too much of an innovator or you’ll just look like you are trying too hard. Set a simple start time and an end time according to the topics on the agenda. Think about how much time you need for discussing each topic and calculate an end time. Don’t go over 45 minutes. You have probably had to sit through a few of the never-ending meetings yourself. You know how it makes you feel. Don’t go there. After you have done that, send out the agenda with the start and end time to the team.
When the time of the meeting has actually arrived, be prepared to have an actual meeting, not a lecture. Ask questions. Make sure everyone’s voice is being heard. There shouldn’t be any bystanders or an audience, everyone you have invited should be actually participating. Don’t point fingers. Even if the team is doing so, try to see the real problems behind the blame. Make sure you aren’t just talking about problems, but actually finding solutions to them as well. Keep one eye on the clock and another one on your goal. Take three deep breaths before going in. Be eager to learn.
5. Introduce yourself to the project customer and move forward
After the team meeting, you are ready to go. If the project you are taking over is doing good, keep it on the same tracks. You might feel like you need to change something since it’s now your project but that’s not a good idea. There’s no need to fix something that isn’t broken. Making peace with that can actually be as difficult as saving a failing project. Acknowledge it. However, if there’s saving to do, get to it. Get back to the documentation. Use all the notes you have made during your meetings. Fix the resource schedule by re-estimating the tasks’ lengths and thus the costs as well. Reallocate resources if needed. Sometimes it can be easier to think how you would plan things if the project was just starting out. Make sure you are all set with the plans and reports before meeting the customer. You’ll seem and feel more confident.Once you meet the client, you can start by introducing yourself and provide them with your resume and experience. Since you’ll have all the documentation ready, you can explain to them what went wrong and how you are going to fix it (if anything did, in fact, go wrong). The main thing here is to remember that you were trusted by the PMO to take over the project. Even if you don’t have all the time to prepare for this meeting and get up to speed with the project, tell the customer what you are planning to do and give them an estimated time when you’ll be ready to update them. It’s better to have it on paper but if you have a plan mapped out in your mind, it’s good too. Any customer just wants their project to be in good hands. They are not the enemy. If anything, you must be the knight in a shining armor.