A Step-by-Step Guide to Taking over an Existing Project


In our role as Project Managers, it is uncommon to commence a project from scratch. More often than not, a project has already been initiated prior to our involvement, necessitating us to act with discipline to ensure comprehensive coverage of all project aspects. Such rigour assures a seamless transition and facilitates the project’s growth and future successes.

Our guide will present a breakdown of the quintessential steps involved in decomposing a problem into five distinct levels. We emphasize the criticality of these steps and urge our readers to give them their undivided focus.


This acquisition process is entirely separate and distinct from any project management methodologies, including Waterfall or Agile. It delineates the specifics relating to data collection and activities that need to be carried out.

For a project manager, it is crucial to gather all pertinent information and document it under the appropriate categories from the very outset of a project. This involves becoming acquainted with new team members and colleagues, arranging meetings, retrieving and recording relevant data from internal sources. Our guide aims to be an indispensable resource for ensuring the project’s smooth and successful transition.

Level of the Company

Mission and Vision Statement

Project managers must commence every endeavour by meticulously evaluating their organisation’s mission and vision statement. Although these concepts may seem mundane or extraneous to daily tasks, they are, in fact, extremely crucial, especially while overseeing projects with a preceding track record. Devoting time to comprehend the company’s holistic goals and principles ensures the project’s smooth alignment with the organisation’s long-term objectives.

In several businesses, especially the smaller ones, the company’s mission and vision statement may not be explicitly stated. In such cases, a company may choose to encapsulate their mission and vision succinctly in a single statement that serves as the central tenet of the company’s operations. It is highly advantageous for professionals to thoroughly comprehend a company’s mission and vision before embarking on a project. This enables a clear understanding of the company’s overarching objectives, and projects can consequently be aligned with the company’s overall goals.

  • Acquiring an in-depth understanding of a company’s objectives is pivotal for attaining success. To ensure maximum clarity regarding the company’s mission statement, it is advisable to meticulously scrutinise the presented plans and seek clarification from your direct manager as needed. This diligence will enable you to better comprehend company, product, and project goals, thus serving as a strong foundation for a successful high-level overview.
  • A sense of purpose is instilled within you and your team by understanding the company’s mission statement. Which possibility seems more alluring?

Devoting time to assimilating the company’s mission and vision imbues your daily tasks with greater significance, even during challenging times. This, in turn, enables you to motivate your team and instil a shared sense of purpose.


When undertaking project responsibilities, it is crucial to analyse the corporate culture, especially in unfamiliar organisations. Companies may have notably distinct cultures which can influence the nature of inter-personal dynamics and collaborations. Within the context of establishing budgets, convincing stakeholders or merely communicating with other divisions, insight into the social structure and inter-departmental relationships can prove to be an extremely valuable asset.

Established financial institutions such as banks usually possess a rigid and conventional company culture, underpinned by several implicit regulations, determining aspects ranging from the dress code to the allocation of departmental functions or whom to approach for assistance. It is essential to consider this while assuming a new position within the organisation. This will allow for smoother integration into the team and facilitate the adherence to customary cultural norms.

Startups giving precedence to a “remote first” culture may pose a unique challenge for project managers accustomed to more conventional project management environments. In such scenarios, ensuring seamless communication by investing in the requisite technology is paramount. A good webcam and microphone can drastically enhance the workflow. It is equally important to maintain constant communication with team members to establish good relationships and guarantee a successful project outcome. Most social interactions in remote cultures take place via tools such as Slack and JIRA, making it imperative to become familiar with these platforms.

When commencing ownership of a project, acquaint oneself with the new company’s cultural conventions and endeavour to adapt one’s managerial style and actions accordingly.

Regional Decision-Making vs Global Decision-Making

As a project manager, certain autonomous decisions can be made within an organisation, whilst other regulations and protocols must be adhered to. As businesses expand, it becomes essential to devise and implement procedures that minimise disorder and standardise the company’s operational framework. This endeavor facilitates organisations to make informed decisions on a global scale.

This is crucial to comprehend as it influences decisions regarding the project’s future development. Depending on whether it is a small business or a larger enterprise, Project Manager responsibilities can vary significantly. For example, while a Project Manager may be capable of developing a plan, they may require authorisation from higher-ups before its implementation can commence.

The following examples demonstrate how different decisions could be made on a local or global level:

Tool for communicationTeams are free to form their own.Everyone makes use of the same tool.
Choosing a VendorWithout approval, the PM can select a vendor for non-critical areas.Every new vendor must go through the procurement office.
Hiring/firingThe team is managed by the PM within the constraints of the budget.The PM has no influence over who joins or leaves the team.
Update from stakeholdersPMs communicate with stakeholders in their own unique way.The project management office requests information from the project manager and provides regular updates to stakeholders.
ExpensesTeam leaders have the authority to approve expenses.The finance team or the startup founder approves expenses.

Being aware of which category your company belongs to will enable you to prepare for project decision-making.

Summary Checklist for Companies:

  • Mission and Vision – Establish the company’s purpose and objectives
  • Culture – Acknowledge the prevalent cultural norms within the company
  • Local Decision-Making vs. Global Decision-Making – Understand the decision-making procedure

Business and Product Levels

Enterprise Strategy

When embarking on a new project, it is pivotal to allocate time to familiarise oneself with the organisation, its functions, products and how the project aligns with the company’s objectives and goals. Profound comprehension of the revenue-generating mechanisms is vital to achieve the organisation’s mission and vision.

When undertaking a new project, familiarising oneself with the company’s financials is imperative. It is advantageous to grasp how the cashflow operates, including the foremost sources of revenue and expenses. Inquiring about any significant short- and mid-term company-wide objectives, such as exploring a new market, is also crucial. Possessing a comprehensive understanding of this information will enable you to comprehend the impending decisions and their consequences on the project.


To guarantee the accurate positioning of your project within the bounds of the company’s revenue-generating products, the product must be comprehensively understood. It is suggested to run a thorough diagnostic test on the product and pose the following queries:

  • Is the product meant for internal or external purposes?
  • Who are the primary users of the product? Are the people who purchase and use the product the same?
  • What is the present product stage of development (incipient, mature or declining)?
  • What is the product’s promotional technique?
  • Who are the primary competitors?

Understanding the purpose of your project and its place within the comprehensive product business framework can provide a clearer perception of the pursuit and its contribution to the company’s profits. This perception can improve decision-making and guarantee that your project accomplishes the anticipated results.


Effective stakeholder management is indispensable for the successful completion of any project under a project manager. Inadequate management may lead to stakeholders’ ignorance towards the project objectives or the project team functioning on obsolete requirements. This reiterates the value of contemporary stakeholder management. It is an ongoing task that requires daily attention. When gaining charge of a project, certain aspects of stakeholder management should be contemplated. These include awareness of stakeholder requisites, keeping pace with project requirements, and ensuring that stakeholders possess adequate information to remain involved. Following these steps enable the project manager to ensure project accuracy while keeping the stakeholders up-to-date and invested.

The Project Manager Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) recognises the significance of identifying stakeholders appropriately, and offers inclusive instruments and methodologies to achieve the same. This task is crucial and will necessitate a substantial input of effort. However, to initiate the process, attention must be given to the following stakeholder groups:

  • Project Team.

    Our team comprises of developers, designers, quality assurance experts and other professionals who possess a thorough understanding of the product and past business decisions that influenced the work. This comprehension can assist in predicting possible future challenges and taking appropriate measures to avert them.
  • Project Sponsor.

    A project sponsor is the person or group accountable for ideating the project and obtaining the required funding for its commencement. As the project’s advocate, they become one of the key stakeholders with whom you must interact to grasp the project and its background.
  • Portfolio or Program Management.

    Based on the organisation’s size and structure, the presence of a project manager may not be mandatory. Nevertheless, typically, a project manager manages multiple functions and oversees several business-oriented projects simultaneously. Additionally, a project manager can assist in placing the project in a more comprehensive context and evaluating the relevance of the associated projects or other project managers.
  • Clients or Users.

    Irrespective of the kind of product being developed- B2C (Business-to-Consumer), B2B (Business-to-Business) or internal, the project will have a set of users or stakeholders. If there is a Product Manager in your team, they can provide you with an overview of the user group and their specific expectations. However, if there is no Product Manager, it is essential to approach them to comprehend their present feedback and future project expectations.

After identifying the appropriate stakeholders, it is advisable to develop a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) matrix to understand their project roles and their degree of involvement with the project. This matrix will furnish an overview of the project structure, enabling a more informed decision-making process.

List of Business Summary Essentials:

  • Business Plan – Obtain knowledge about the business model and income sources
  • Product – Develop a comprehensive understanding of the product
  • Stakeholders – Connect with significant stakeholders

Project Hierarchy

What is the rationale behind taking charge?

Before delving deeper into project specifics, such as timeline, budget, and team, it is crucial to consider one question: “What drives me to undertake this endeavour?” The following are a few possibilities that may apply to your situation:

  • Lack of a project manager resulted in things slipping through the cracks.

    As projects progress, it is typical for a small, short-term project to expand and demand more time to complete. Although there may not be any apparent problems, better organisation and a clearer understanding of the progress can be advantageous. To guarantee that your project aligns with the best practices mentioned in this article, ponder implementing relevant recommendations.
  • The project manager was fired or demoted.

    If this happens, it is recommended to consult with the key stakeholders and prioritise tackling the main areas of concern initially. By achieving some quick successes, it is possible to earn the stakeholders’ confidence and trust.
  • The previous project manager had resigned.

    It seems that the previous Project Manager (PM) relinquished their position either because of a better job offer elsewhere or because of difficulty establishing a rapport with certain stakeholders. If it is the former case, we should aim to maintain the status quo while seeking avenues to improve the current situation. However, if the PM departed due to stakeholder issues, it would be advantageous to reach out to the former PM for additional insights into the situation. In either scenario, we should strive to cultivate a favourable relationship with all stakeholders.

Project Scope, Timeline, and Budget

When assuming the reins of an ongoing project, one must contemplate the scope already defined. This varies from beginning a new project, where requirements are gathered from stakeholders, and the scope is determined based on the budget available. In this instance, the task of determining the scope has already been accomplished. Therefore, it is the new manager’s responsibility to investigate whether the scope is practical and within reach.

The first step in undertaking the process should involve evaluating the existing project resources. Utilising a Gantt chart, a work breakdown structure (WBS), or an Agile backlog and release plan will enable you to obtain a better grasp of the project at hand. In this process, you may encounter constraints in the time dedicated by in-house teams rather than the assigned budget. If such is the case, endeavour to determine if they have any other deadlines and if your project might be delayed due to their other commitments.

Irrespective of what you discover during your investigation, it is imperative to realign the objectives, timeline, and budget of the project with your key stakeholders. Ask yourself, why were you chosen to lead this project? It could be that the previous project manager didn’t manage expectations adeptly, leading to their dismissal. There is a likelihood that the scope, timeline, and budget of the project might not be feasible. Hence, it is crucial to make this determination as soon as possible and discuss it with the project sponsor. The sooner you identify and address any issues, the more likely it is that your stakeholders will have faith in your ability to execute the project successfully.

Spotting Project Advocates

Obtaining an all-encompassing understanding of the project and its stakeholders during the research phase is crucial. Of special consideration are the individuals vested in the project’s triumph and can be recognised as project advocates. Obtaining insight into their motives and viewpoints is fundamental to guaranteeing the project’s success.

Project advocates are individuals who not only believe in your project’s mission but are willing to put in extra effort to ensure its triumphant completion. For example, if you are designing a new time tracking application, then project advocates are individuals who have a vested interest in its successful deployment within the organisation. These individuals need not be directly involved in the development process, but their enthusiasm and dedication will be indispensable in making it a success.

Identifying the significant personnel in your project at the earliest is vital as they possess the potential to provide valuable input on what is required for your endeavour’s success. Moreover, they can provide assistance indirectly, such as testing preliminary versions of the product and offering feedback or emphasising the product’s significance to their peers.

Initiate a discussion with your project collaborators and those who initiated the proposal to recognise probable advocates. Thereafter, ensure that these individuals stay abreast of the developments related to your project by offering them regular updates.

Checklist for Project Summary:

  • Why are you taking charge? – Was the previous PM replaced, dismissed, or absent?
  • Grasping the scope, timeline, and budget is crucial.
  • Project Advocates – Recognise your crucial backers.

Group Level

Framework and team dynamics

If you are appointed to lead a project, the team you will manage is already in place. Understanding the team’s structure and dynamics is crucial. Estimating who the primary influencers are within the team is critical. It is also vital to assess whether the team was designed explicitly for this project or whether they have worked together in the past. Understanding the team’s stage; forming, storming, norming, or performing, is also critical. In addition, it is necessary to comprehend the team’s composition – whether they are decentralised or distributed and include employees, freelancers or contractors.

Anticipating the potential questions that could emerge throughout the project is crucial as they could impact your ability to manage the project successfully. In certain situations, such as when your team is in the storming phase, you may need to intervene and actively manage the team members’ relationships to facilitate the transition to the norming phase, which is likely to result in the highest performance. Additionally, if your team is located across various offices, it may be necessary to make additional efforts to align the team dynamic both within and between the different locations.

To ensure the inclusion of remote team members in dialogues and everyday decision-making processes, it is crucial that everyone employs the same tools to propose and implement new ideas. Utilising a unified platform such as Slack, which enables remote employees to join the conversation and contribute their ideas, can help to alleviate any feelings of exclusion. It is imperative to provide everyone with equal access to participate in discussions and to ensure that remote team members feel valued and an essential part of the team.

Team Background and Dynamics

It is feasible that the former Project Manager was terminated due to their lack of ability to efficiently manage the team. If this is accurate, a review of the root causes that resulted in the breakdown of team relationships should be conducted. Commencing with the transition, it is possible to reconstruct the team’s dynamics and cultivate a more productive working atmosphere.

Accumulate any informal information accessible on each team member’s status and past experience of working together. This kind of implicit knowledge can provide priceless insights into the reasons for your team’s lack of effectiveness. For instance, if a dominant member in the project is preventing others from challenging them, it is likely that they are the source of significant discord within the team.

Staffing Status and Progress

Upon reviewing the project scope, timeline, and budget, it becomes clear that the project team is not sufficiently staffed to fulfil the project’s requirements. It is vital to identify the root cause of this problem. It is possible that there are challenges in the recruitment process, or that Human Resources is unable to locate the required specialists. Therefore, it is crucial to take the necessary measures to resolve this matter.

If this is the situation, it is imperative to tackle staffing issues early on since they can be a significant bottleneck for many projects. To prevent staffing from becoming an obstacle, it is advisable to explore the possibility of remote professionals or engage staffing agencies to fill the required roles. Taking proactive measures to address staffing concerns early on will aid in the project’s success.

Checklist for Team Summary:

  • Project Team Status – Evaluate your team’s structure and relationships.
  • Project Team History – Familiarise yourself with the team dynamics and background.
  • Status of Staffing and Growth – Assess whether your team is properly staffed.

Project Manager’s Level of Authority

Project Manager’s Responsibilities and Expectations

To avoid any possible disagreements or conflicts in the future, it is crucial for project managers to understand the client’s and other project team members’ expectations. It is important to acknowledge that different firms and projects may impose varying requirements on project managers and the responsibilities they should undertake.

In some cases, companies may require a project manager to also assume the role of a Scrum master. Though this is a separate role from that of a project manager, certain projects and firms may have unique expectations that go beyond the typical job duties of a project manager. It is crucial to be aware of this aspect and to carefully examine the specific demands at the start of the project.

Understanding the criteria for evaluating and recognising the project manager’s performance is critical. Will there be a well-defined set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure against? Will the stakeholders evaluate solely on the team’s accomplishments? How often will performance assessments occur, and will there be a mentor or a company mentor available to provide guidance?

It is advisable to take action promptly, as this will have a direct impact on the project manager’s performance and ability to meet expectations.

Procurement Process

You may be assigned a procurement task soon after joining the team or after a few months, depending on their workload. Regardless, it is imperative to possess a basic understanding of how your company’s procurement process and vendor selection function. This knowledge will enable you to make informed decisions about backlog items and project deadlines, as well as decrease the potential of unexpected delays.

Irrespective of your organisation’s size, there is likely a procurement process in place, even if it is not documented. To acquire a better comprehension of the procedure for choosing and validating vendors, it is recommended that you seek guidance from your direct supervisor or other project managers. Depending on the circumstances, you may be required to create and submit a Request for Proposal (RFP), assess all proposals received based on predetermined criteria, and ultimately choose the most suitable vendor.

An alternate approach to a more rigorous process is to independently choose vendors. It is recommended to investigate the current vendors, as even if team members have stayed at the organisation for a while, they may not be familiar with the platform’s full extent and the vendors used by other teams. Additionally, it is wise to discuss with your direct supervisor whether any authorisation is necessary for including new vendors and, if so, the approval procedure.

When making a decision, it is critical to consider your company’s service-level agreement (SLA) expectations. If your project is of the utmost importance, it is essential to search for vendors who offer 24/7 support and fast issue resolution. Conversely, if the project’s expectations are not as high, you may want to explore more cost-effective alternatives that may take longer to respond.

Compiling a List of Vendors

An established vendor list is crucial for every project. If such a list does not yet exist, it is advisable to compile one. To begin, create a new document with the following fields:

  • Name – You may hyperlink to their website.
  • Category – Initially, do not overthink this; write down the most logical category at the moment and modify it later if more apparent categories appear.
  • Short Description – Keep it concise, just enough to explain how the vendor aids you (e.g. e-shop payments, infographics freelancer).
    Contact Information – It is recommended to retain this information as it can become lost in emails.
  • If an individual within your company is interacting with the vendor or developer who has integrated a third-party solution, they possess the most expertise regarding the vendor and your company’s relationship with them. This internal point of contact is the primary resource for any questions concerning the vendor and their integration.

This list will allow you to maintain an up-to-date log of each vendor’s project progress, as well as to gain perspective on the project’s current status and identify possible hindrances. By possessing a precise comprehension of the project’s advancement, you will be better prepared to make informed decisions and guarantee the project’s successful completion.

Summary Checklist for Project Managers:

  • Project Manager’s Performance Expectations – Establish the expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the project manager overseeing your project.
  • Procurement Processes – Familiarize yourself with the procurement procedures.
  • Vendor List Creation – Compile a list of all prospective vendors for your project.


This guide and checklist aims to provide a comprehensive insight into the essential elements to contemplate when taking over a project. From known topics to those which may be unfamiliar, it is crucial to address all items to guarantee a seamless transition of project ownership. Reviewing every item outlined in this guide and checklist will assist in establishing a robust foundation from which to commence.

You may use the checklist below as a point of reference in the future.

Key Points – Project Takeover Checklist

Summary Checklist for Companies:

  • Mission and Vision – Establish the company’s purpose and rationale.
  • Company Culture – Acknowledge the cultural standards of your company.
  • Local vs. Global Decision-Making – Understand the decision-making process.

Summary Checklist for Businesses:

  • Business Plan – Familiarize yourself with the business model and revenue streams.
  • Product – Obtain a comprehensive understanding of the product.
  • Stakeholders – Reach out to crucial stakeholders.

Summary Checklist for Projects:

  • Reason for assuming control – Was there no previous PM, or did they depart or lose their job?
  • Comprehending the scope, schedule, and budget are crucial resources.
  • Project Champions – Recognize your most significant advocates.

Summary Checklist for Teams:

  • Project Team Status – Identify the structure and relationships within your team.
  • Project Team History – Acquire knowledge about the team’s dynamics and history.
  • Status of Staffing and Growth – Ascertain if your team is sufficiently staffed and progressing.

Summary Checklist for Project Managers:

  • PM Expectations – Ascertain the expectations and key performance indicators (KPIs) for the PM in your project.
  • Procurement Procedures – Understand the procedures for procurement.
  • Create a Vendor List – Create a list of all potential vendors for your project.

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