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

Intro

As Project Managers, we rarely have the opportunity to begin a project from the very beginning. Typically, a project has already been initiated by someone else before us and it is therefore essential for us to be disciplined in order to ensure all facets of the project are addressed. By doing so, we can guarantee a successful transition and further development of the project.

In this guide, we will provide an overview of the most essential steps to take when breaking down a problem into five distinct levels. We consider these steps to be of the utmost importance and encourage readers to pay close attention to them.

  • COMPANY LEVEL
  • BUSINESS and PRODUCT LEVEL
  • PROJECT LEVEL
  • TEAM LEVEL
  • PROJECT MANAGER LEVEL

This acquisition process is completely distinct from any project management approach (such as Waterfall or Agile) and outlines the parameters of the data to be collected and the activities to be conducted.

As a project manager, it is important to ensure that all relevant information is collected and documented in each of the relevant categories as soon as the project begins. This can be achieved through getting to know new coworkers and team members, as well as scheduling meetings, retrieving information and documenting from internal sources. We hope that this guide serves as a useful reference point for a successful and smooth transition for the project.

Company Level

Mission and Vision

As project managers, it is essential to begin every endeavour by carefully considering the organisation’s mission and vision. While these concepts may seem mundane or irrelevant to the daily tasks at hand, they are in fact of vital importance, particularly when managing projects that have a prior history. Taking the time to understand the company’s overarching objectives and values will ensure that projects are aligned with the organisation’s long-term objectives.

In many businesses, particularly those of a smaller scale, the mission and vision of the company may not be explicitly stated. In some cases, a company may opt to concisely encapsulate their mission and vision into a single statement that serves as the company’s raison d’être. It is highly beneficial for professionals to take the time to understand a company’s mission and vision before taking on a project. Doing so will provide an understanding of the company’s ultimate goals, as well as help to align the project goals with the company’s overall objectives.

  • Having a deep understanding of the company’s objectives is essential for success. To ensure that you have the best comprehension of the mission, take the time to thoroughly examine the plans presented and ask your direct manager for clarification whenever necessary. Doing so will help you gain a better understanding of the company, product, and project goals, setting the foundation for a successful high-level overview.
  • It gives you and your team a sense of purpose. Which is the more exciting?

By taking the time to internalise the company’s mission and vision, you will be able to draw greater purpose from your daily tasks, even during challenging times. This will in turn empower you to motivate your team and foster a sense of collective purpose.

Culture

When assuming responsibility for a project, it is essential to evaluate the corporate culture, particularly in unfamiliar organisations. Companies may have significantly different cultures, which can have an impact on how individuals interact and cooperate. When attempting to settle budgets, persuade stakeholders, or simply communicate with other divisions, this contextual data about the social structure and the connections between different areas of the organisation can be invaluable.

Traditional financial institutions, such as banks, often have a formal and strict company culture with a range of implicit regulations governing everything from the dress code to which department has specific duties or who to turn to for assistance. It is important to bear this in mind when taking over a new role within the organisation, as it will help you to integrate more easily with the team and work within their customary cultural conventions.

Startups that prioritise a “remote first” culture may present a unique challenge for project managers accustomed to more traditional project management environments. In this situation, it is important to ensure that the necessary technology is in place for successful communication. Investing in a good microphone and webcam can make all the difference in creating a smooth workflow. Additionally, it is important to reach out to team members on a regular basis to foster relationships and ensure that the project is running smoothly. Most social interactions in a remote culture take place through tools such as Slack and JIRA, so familiarising oneself with these tools will be essential.

When taking over a project, become aware of the new company’s cultural norms and try to adjust your actions and management style accordingly.

Local Decision-Making vs. Global Decision-Making

As a project manager, there are certain decisions that can be made independently within an organisation, while other rules and procedures must be adhered to. As a business expands and grows, it is necessary to develop and implement procedures to reduce disarray and normalise the way the company functions. By doing so, organisations can have the capacity to make more informed decisions on a global scale.

It is essential to understand this, as it will affect the choices you make for the project further on in its development. Depending on whether it is a small business or a larger company, the obligations of a Project Manager may vary considerably. For instance, a Project Manager may be able to come up with a plan but need authorization from higher-ups before it can be implemented.

Here are a few examples of how decisions made locally or globally would differ:


LocalGlobal
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.

Knowing which case your company belongs to will help you prepare for project decision-making.

Company Summary Checklist:

  • Mission and Vision – Determine what the company does and why
  • Culture – Recognise your company’s cultural norms
  • Local Decision-Making vs. Global Decision-Making – Recognise the decision-making process

Levels of Business and Products

Business Plan

At the outset of taking on a new project, it is essential to spend time getting familiar with the organisation, its operations, and its product, and how your project contributes to the company’s goals and objectives. Understanding the mechanisms that generate revenue is essential to realising the mission and vision of the organisation.

At the onset of taking on a new project, it is important to familiarise yourself with the financials of the company. It is beneficial to understand how money flows in and out of the business and what the main sources of revenue and expenses are. Additionally, it is important to inquire about any major company-wide objectives that have been established for the short- and mid-term, such as entering a new market. Having a comprehensive knowledge of this information will enable you to comprehend the decisions being made and how they will affect your project in the future.

Product

In order to ensure that your project is appropriately positioned within the scope of your company’s revenue-generating products, it is essential to fully comprehend the product. To obtain a comprehensive understanding of the product, it is recommended to take the product through its paces and ask the following questions:

  • Is the product internal or external in nature?
  • Who are the product’s primary users? Is the product being purchased by the same people?
  • What stage of development is this product in (MVP, growing, declining)?
  • What is the product’s marketing strategy?
  • Who are the main rivals?

By understanding the reasons behind your project and its place within the larger product business context, you can gain a clearer picture of what is being pursued and how it contributes to the company’s bottom line. This knowledge can help you make more informed decisions and ensure that your project is successful in delivering the desired outcomes.

Stakeholders

As a project manager, stakeholder management is integral to the successful completion of any project. Without proper management, stakeholders may not be aware of or invested in the project’s goals, or the team may be operating on outdated requirements. This underscores the importance of staying current in stakeholder management. It is an ongoing, daily task, and when taking over a project, a few key elements should be taken into account. These elements include staying informed of stakeholder needs, remaining up-to-date on project requirements, and ensuring that all stakeholders have the necessary information to stay engaged. By following these steps, a project manager can ensure that their project is on track and that stakeholders are adequately informed and invested.

The Project Manager Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) outlines the importance of properly identifying stakeholders, providing comprehensive tools and methodologies to do so. This work is paramount and will require a considerable amount of effort, yet to get started, it is essential to consider the following stakeholder groups right away:

  • Project Group.

    Our team comprises of developers, designers, quality assurance experts and other professionals who possess a comprehensive understanding of the product and the business decisions that were taken in the past and how they impacted the work. This information can be used to anticipate any possible future challenges and take the necessary steps to avoid them.
  • Project Backer.

    A project sponsor is the individual or group responsible for the conception of the project and for obtaining the necessary funding for its execution. As the project’s champion, they should be one of the primary stakeholders that you reach out to in order to gain an understanding of the project and its history.
  • Portfolio or Program Management.

    Depending on the size and structure of the organisation, some companies may not require the presence of a project manager. However, it is typically the role of a project manager to manage multiple functions and oversee multiple business-related projects simultaneously. A project manager can also provide assistance in helping to place a project into a more comprehensive perspective, and determining if there are any associated projects or other project managers which may be relevant to the project.
  • Clients or users.

    No matter the type of product you are creating–be it a Business-to-Consumer (B2C), Business-to-Business (B2B), or internal–your project will have a group of users or stakeholders. If you already have a Product Manager on your team, they should be able to provide you with an overview of the user group and their individual expectations. However, if this is not the case, it is important to reach out to them in order to gain knowledge of both their current feedback and what they anticipate from the project in the future.

Once the relevant stakeholders have been identified, it is recommended to create a RACI matrix to gain a better understanding of their roles within the project, and to determine the extent to which they will be involved with the project. This matrix will provide an overview of the project structure, allowing for a more informed decision-making process.

Business Summary Checklist:

  • Business Plan – Learn about the business model and revenue streams
  • Product – Get a good understanding of the product
  • Stakeholders – Contact key stakeholders

Level of Project

Why are you assuming control?

Prior to considering the details of your project, such as budget, timeline, and team, it is important to ask yourself, “What is the purpose of my taking on this endeavour?” The following are some of the possibilities that may apply to your situation:

  • There was no project manager previously, so things began to fall through the cracks.

    As projects evolve, it is not uncommon for a small, short-term project to become more extensive and require more time for completion. While there may not necessarily be any specific issues, additional organisation and a clearer view of the progress being made can be beneficial. To ensure that your project follows the best practices outlined in this article, consider implementing any pertinent suggestions.
  • The project manager was either fired or demoted.

    If this is the situation, it is advisable to inquire the principal stakeholders regarding the principal areas of concern and prioritise addressing those issues first. By achieving some rapid successes it is possible to gain the stakeholders’ confidence and trust.
  • The previous project manager had resigned.

    It appears that the previous Project Manager (PM) left their position due to either being offered a better job elsewhere or due to difficulties in establishing a rapport with certain stakeholders. If the former is the case, we should endeavour to maintain the status quo while seeking out ways to improve the current situation. On the other hand, if the PM left because of problems with certain stakeholders, it would be beneficial to contact the former PM to gain further insights into the matter. In either case, we should strive to foster a positive relationship with all stakeholders.

Scope, Timeline, and Budget

When taking over an existing project, one must assess the scope that has already been defined. This differs from the process of starting a new project, wherein requirements are collected from stakeholders and the scope is established based on the available budget. In this case, the work of determining the scope has already been completed, so it is the responsibility of the new manager to investigate whether the scope is realistic and achievable.

The initial step in the process should be to review the current project resources. Utilising a Gantt chart, work breakdown structure (WBS), or an Agile backlog and release plan will allow you to gain a better understanding of the project. During this process, you may confront limitations in the amount of time dedicated by internal company teams rather than the allocated budget. If this is the case, attempt to discern if they have any other deadlines and if your project could be subject to delays due to their other commitments.

No matter what you uncover during your investigation, it is essential that you realign the objectives, timeline, and budget of the project with your key stakeholders. Ask yourself, why were you chosen to take over this project? It may be that the previous project manager failed to manage expectations adequately, resulting in their removal. It is quite possible that the scope, timeline, and budget of the project are not achievable. It is therefore important to reach this conclusion as soon as possible and discuss it with the project sponsor. The earlier you identify and address any problems, the more likely it is that your stakeholders will have confidence in your ability to successfully complete the project.

Identifying Project Champions

It is essential to gain a comprehensive understanding of the project and its stakeholders during the research process. Of particular importance are the people who are invested in the project’s success and can be referred to as project champions. It is essential to gain insight into the motivations and perspectives of these individuals in order to ensure the project’s success.

Project champions are those people who not only believe in the mission of your project, but are also willing to go the extra mile to guarantee its successful completion. For instance, if you are creating a new time tracking application, then project champions are individuals who have a vested interest in its successful implementation within the organisation. These individuals are not necessarily required to be directly involved in the development process, but their enthusiasm and drive will be essential in making the project a success.

It is essential to recognise the key players in your project early on, as they have the potential to offer valuable insight into what is needed for the success of your venture. Furthermore, they can be of assistance in an indirect manner, such as providing feedback by testing preliminary versions of the product, or expressing to their peers the importance of the product.

Engage in dialogue with your project collaborators and those who initially proposed the initiative to identify potential champions. Subsequently, ensure that these individuals remain apprised of the developments associated with your project by providing them with regular updates.

Project Summary Checklist:

  • Why are you assuming control? – Did the previous PM leave, was fired, or was there none?
  • Understanding the scope, schedule, and budget are critical assets.
  • Project Champions – Identify your most important supporters.

Level of the Group

Structure and team relationships

If you are assigned to take on a project, the team that you will be managing has already been assembled. It is essential to first understand the team dynamics and structure. Establishing who the primary influencers are within the team is critical. Additionally, it is important to evaluate whether the team was assembled specifically for this project or have they collaborated in the past. It is also essential to identify which stage the team is in; formation, storming, norming, or performance. In addition, it is important to understand if the team is centralised or distributed. Lastly, it is essential to understand the composition of the team- whether everyone is an employee or if there are contractors or freelancers.

It is essential to consider the potential questions that could arise throughout the project, as they could influence your ability to successfully manage the project. In certain instances, such as when your team is in the storming phase, you may need to step in and actively manage the relationships between team members in order to facilitate the transition into the normalising phase, where performance is likely to be at its highest. Moreover, if your team is spread across different offices, it may be necessary to make additional efforts to align the team dynamic both within and between the different locations.

In order to ensure that remote team members feel included in conversations and daily decision making processes, it is essential that everyone uses the same tools to submit and work on new ideas. For example, having a unified platform such as Slack which allows remote employees to join the conversation and contribute their ideas can help to mitigate any sense of exclusion. It is important that everyone is provided with equal access to participate in discussions and to ensure that remote team members feel like a valued and integral part of the team.

History and Team Dynamics

It is possible that the former Project Manager was dismissed due to their inability to effectively manage the team. If this is the case, an investigation into the underlying factors that led to the breakdown of team relations should be conducted. Using the transition as a starting point, it is possible to rebuild the team dynamics and foster a more productive working environment.

Gather all informal information that is available on each team member’s status and their past experiences of working together. This kind of tacit knowledge can supply invaluable insights into the explanations for your team’s lack of success. For example, if there is a powerful member in the project who others are unwilling to oppose, it is possible that they are the origin of much conflict within the team.

Status of Staffing and Growth

After reviewing the project scope, timeline and budget, it appears that the project team is not adequately staffed to complete the project. It is important to identify the cause of this issue. It is possible that there are difficulties in the recruitment process, or that Human Resources is unable to find the necessary specialists. Consequently, we must take the necessary steps to address this issue.

If this is the case, it is important to address the issue of staffing early on, as it can be a major bottleneck for many projects. To ensure that staffing is not an obstacle, it is recommended to look into remote professionals or contact staffing agencies to fill the necessary roles. Taking the initiative to address staffing issues early will help ensure the project’s success.

Team Summary Checklist:

  • Project Team Status – Determine the relationships and structure of your team.
  • Project Team History – Learn about the team dynamics and history.
  • Status of Staffing and Growth – Determine whether your team is adequately staffed.

Level of Project Manager

Expectations for the Project Manager

It is essential for project managers to comprehend the expectations of the client and all other project team members in order to prevent any potential misunderstandings or disputes arising later on. It is vital to be aware of the varied demands that differing companies and projects may have of project managers and the responsibilities they should take on.

In certain instances, companies may expect a project manager to also carry out the duties of a Scrum master. While this is a role distinct from that of the project manager, there are certain projects and companies that may have additional expectations that fall outside of the traditional job description of a project manager. It is important to be mindful of this possibility and to investigate the exact requirements upon commencing the project.

It is essential to comprehend how the project manager’s performance is evaluated and valued. Will there be a well-defined set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to assess against? Will the stakeholders solely base their judgement on the success of the team? How often will there be performance reviews, and will there be a mentor or a company mentor to provide support?

Because this directly affects the project manager, it’s best to do it as soon as possible so that you can perform as expected.

Procurement Procedure

Depending on the workload of your new team, you may be presented with a procurement-related task either immediately or after a period of a few months. In either instance, it is crucial to have a general understanding of how the procurement process and vendor selection operate within your organisation. Having this insight will allow you to make knowledgeable decisions about backlog items and project timelines, as well as reduce the risk of unanticipated delays.

No matter the size of your organisation, it is likely that there is some form of procurement procedure in place, even if it is not documented. To gain a better understanding of the process for selecting and confirming vendors, it is recommended that you consult with your direct supervisor or other project managers. Depending on the situation, you may need to compile and submit a Request for Proposal (RFP), evaluate all provided proposals based on predetermined criteria and ultimately select the most suitable vendor.

An alternative to a more stringent process is to select vendors independently. It is advisable to inquire about existing vendors, as even if your team members have been with the organisation for a period of time, they may not be aware of the full scope of the platform and the vendors utilised by other teams. Furthermore, it is prudent to consult with your direct manager as to whether any approval is needed for the addition of new vendors, and if so, the procedure for approval.

It is important to factor in your company’s service-level agreement (SLA) expectations when making a decision. If your project is of the utmost importance, it is essential to seek out vendors who provide 24/7 support and swift problem resolution. On the other hand, if the expectations for the project are not as high, you may wish to look for more affordable options that may take longer to respond.

Make a Vendor List

It is important to have an established vendor list for any project. If one does not already exist, it is recommended to create one. To get started, create a new document containing the following fields:

  • Name – You can link to their website.
  • Category – Don’t overthink this at first; just write down what makes the most sense at the time and change it later if clearer categories emerge.
  • Short description – Be brief, just enough to explain to you or others how the vendor assists you (e-shop payments, infographics freelancer).
    Contact the vendor – It’s a good idea to keep those on hand because they can get lost in email.
  • If someone from within your organisation is engaging with the vendor or developer who has implemented a third-party solution, they are the most knowledgeable about the vendor and the relationship your company has with them. This internal contact is the go-to person for any questions related to the vendor and their integration.

This list will enable you to keep an accurate record of each vendor’s project performance, as well as to gain insights into the current status of the project and identify potential bottlenecks. By having a clear understanding of the project’s progress, you will be better equipped to make well-informed decisions and ensure successful completion of the project.

Project Manager Summary Checklist:

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

Summary

This guide and checklist are intended to provide an overview of the key elements to consider when taking over a project. From familiar topics to those that may be new to you, it is important to ensure that all items are addressed to ensure that the project is transitioned smoothly to the new ownership. Going through all of the items outlined in this guide and checklist will help to ensure that you have a strong foundation from which to start.

You can use the checklist below as a reference in the future.

Takeaways – Checklist for Project Takeover

Company Summary Checklist:

  • Mission and Vision – Determine what the company does and why
  • Culture – Recognise your company’s cultural norms
  • Local Decision-Making vs. Global Decision-Making – Recognise the decision-making process

Business Summary Checklist:

  • Business Plan – Learn about the business model and revenue streams
  • Product – Get a good understanding of the product
  • Stakeholders – Contact key stakeholders

Project Summary Checklist:

  • Why are you assuming control? – Did the previous PM leave, was fired, or was there none?
  • Understanding the scope, schedule, and budget are critical assets.
  • Project Champions – Identify your most important supporters.

Team Summary Checklist:

  • Project Team Status – Determine the relationships and structure of your team.
  • Project Team History – Learn about the team dynamics and history.
  • Status of Staffing and Growth – Determine whether your team is adequately staffed.

Project Manager Summary Checklist:

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

Join the Top 1% of Remote Developers and Designers

Works connects the top 1% of remote developers and designers with the leading brands and startups around the world. We focus on sophisticated, challenging tier-one projects which require highly skilled talent and problem solvers.
seasoned project manager reviewing remote software engineer's progress on software development project, hired from Works blog.join_marketplace.your_wayexperienced remote UI / UX designer working remotely at home while working on UI / UX & product design projects on Works blog.join_marketplace.freelance_jobs