OpenSense Labs: The Ins and Outs of Project Ownership Transfer

The Ins and Outs of Project Ownership Transfer
Gurpreet Kaur
Fri, 06/11/2021 – 16:15

Is it possible for us to finish everything we start? Is it possible for us to achieve every milestone that we set for ourselves and stick to every new year’s resolution we make? In a perfect world it would be, but sadly we do not live in a perfect world. 

And it’s not necessarily a bad thing to take a step back from a project you know you won’t be able to finish. I started painting my room when the pandemic began as a way to waive off the boredom, and half-way through I realised painting wasn’t for me. It was too exhausting and I wasn’t even good at it and most importantly it made me lose focus from my actual paying job. You can write a lot when you have paint all over your work desk, trust me. 

So, these unfinished projects have to be taken on by someone else, right? You can’t leave the room half painted, that would be a look the 21st century isn’t ready for. So what happens? Do you hand over the paint and the brush to the person taking over and forget about it? Not exactly. 

There are a whole bunch of things that you have to relay during the handover and keep a diligent eye on the new person to ensure that he is taking the project into the desired direction. You have to have the room painted as you had initially planned, you can’t expect a subtle lavender theme to turn out to be a neon orange at the end; that’d be a catastrophe of the highest order.

Now, we won’t be talking about painting rooms throughout this article. No, what we will be talking about is the way project managers handover business projects that are work-in-progress. What are aspects they focus on during the transition of duties, so that they do not affect the project’s completion? And does the transfer actually become fruitful for the project? Finally, I’ll share some instances from OpenSense Labs, wherein our project manager had to handover a project. So, let’s start.

The Handover Begins With Knowing the Company

If we look at project handovers, there are two scenarios that basically decide how much work it is going to take from the project manager himself. 

  • One of them is when a project is being transferred to a PM who is already a part of the organisation. 
  • And second is when a new project manager is hired within the organisation to take over an already in-progress project.

The first step we are going to discuss isn’t really necessary for the first scenario, but quite crucial for the second. And that is the knowledge of the company, its mission, its way-of-conduct and its overall cultural dimension.

Someone who has been a part of the organisation, even if it is for a little while, would already be familiar with it; however transferring project ownership to someone new would have to go through an acclimation process and that is what this step of project ownership transfer is all about.

Why is this acclimation important?

Because it provides perspective 

Being familiar with the organisation’s vision gives a perspective on things for the PM that he otherwise may not get. This perspective is important for things to sail smoothly throughout the remaining life of the project since it’d provide you with a purpose along with an overview.

Because it helps in communication 

Every organisation has its own culture. At OpenSense Labs, we follow the opposite of a traditional work culture with stringent rules and regulations that limit the scope of projects and employees. Liberty, openness and equality are some adjectives that would describe OSL’s office regime. This culture is directly related to how communications go down the hierarchy. Being familiar with it helps new PMs to fit in with the team and take things forward in a way it is used to.

Because it helps in decision making 

When you study the company you are going to take a project from, it would help you make better and more informed decisions without any disruptions.

A table is comparing a company's local process to global processes.
Source: Toptal

The above image talks about some of the daily decisions a PM has to make, and knowing how to make them would make his/her work a lot easier.

Familiarising Yourself With the Nuances of the Actual Project Is Next

Now, you know the company, but do you know the project and what place it has in the company’s revenue stream? Knowing that is the next stage of project ownership transfer. This is also referred to as the knowledge transfer or at least its beginning.

Your organisation is going to have a number of projects running at all times, they could be about helping small entrepreneurs become more successful, however, all of these projects cannot be at an equal level of prominence. Some would be high priority and some would be on low. Identifying the significance of your project is what you would need to do first.

Once you have done that, you can start looking at your own project with a fine tooth comb. You would need to know everything about it to ensure that the outcome is what is expected. Start with the generic nature of the project. 

What is the project type, in-house or external?
What does the target audience look like?
What is the marketing strategy?
What are the competitors providing?

An answer to all of these questions will help you get a better understanding of the project. When you have that, then you have to dig deeper into the transition and learn about the change, everything preceding it and everything that has to follow.

What kind of progress has been made in the project?
Which aspects of the project are outstanding?
What tools and processes were being followed?
What are the restrictions and blockers holding that project back?

These questions are extremely important to ask as they would help you in knowing the deadlines and reaching them on time. Being familiar with all the issues hindering the project completion, be it about the team or client communication, won’t let you get blindsided, which can happen after a takeover.

Then You Get Acquainted With the Stakeholders and the Team 

In every project transfer, there are people who play a significant role in its completion. These are the people who are essentially responsible for all the work that goes into the project and its consequent success. As the new project manager, you ought to become acquainted with them from the very first day of the ownership transition because acclimating to people is the most difficult task of any process.

The Stakeholders

Starting with the stakeholders, these people are the ones who are going to directly benefit from the success of the in-progress project. It can be the client and his organisation and it can be people within your organisation, if it’s an in-house project affecting them.

Talking about the client, the focus is to make him comfortable with you and you being comfortable with him. During the entire transition, the client has to be kept in loop. Even if the previous PM had been fired, the client has the right to know. 

At OSL, we introduce the new PM to the client in phases. After some time, the new PM is involved more by making him prepare meeting agendas and answering client questions.

At OSL, we introduce the new PM to the client in phases. We ensure that once the former introduction has been completed, the new PM is always present in client calls even if he/she is not contributing anything. Even without the contributions, they’d be learning and that is what the transition is all about. After some time, the interaction is made more frequent and the new PM is involved more by making him prepare meeting agendas and answering client questions. During this time, the old PM is always there to handle any mishaps. Once those mishaps are no longer happening, it means the comfort is achieved and the new PM is given the command.

For an in-house project, the stakeholders would be the people using the end-product. Because they need it they’ll become your project’s advocates and in turn yours too. You have to capitalise on that. You should make yourself acquainted with them and get their feedback on the project you are delivering by testing an early version of the project on them as an option. 

Every stakeholder of the project would always want it to be successful and it is up to you to get them involved to improve your chances of success.

The Team 

Then come the people whom you would complete the project with. There are three things you have to be mindful of. 

  • One is the team’s structure and hierarchy, if there is any. You should know how they operate and what is the working dimension, remote or co-located or both. 
  • Second is to dig a little history and know about any grievances they might have had with the previous manager or even among themselves.
  • Finally, you need to know whether the team you have is of the right size, you could be understaffed or overstaffed.

These help you become one of them and make everyone feel included by eliminating any kind of friction between you and them. Having the old PM with you during the transition can help make the acquaintance process go by faster because you’d know the kind of authority and system the team is used to making the transition easier for them. Of course, if the PM has already been fired or there was no PM at all, it might be a possibility.

Understand how human psychology works in the project management here.

Knowing Exactly What Is Required of You 

Now comes the part you will play in the project. Of course, you are going to be handling it, but where would you start delivering?

Here the first important thing to know is the reason you are taking over. The previous manager could have left the organisation or he could have been made to leave. The former scenario doesn’t really have any relation to the project itself, but the latter could and you ought to know that. If a PM was removed or fired, there has to be a reason, right? He may not have done the job in the appropriate manner or he may have mismanaged the project and even the team, whatever the case, learn about it and start rectifying from the get go. Trust me that is the first plan of action expected from you.

You can only do that once you know what exactly the role of a PM is in the organisation. By this, I mean a few things.

  • You need to be aware of the way you are going the handle the client and the team;
  • You need to be aware of the extent of your duties and whether they go beyond the scales of the project;
  • You need to be aware of the procurement process as well as vendor selection as you may have to do it at some point;
  • You also need to be aware of the way your performance is going to be evaluated, how and who is going to review it.

A knowledge of all these aspects will only help you perform your duties better and get the project completed without any impediments.

Read our blog ‘Feature Prioritisation in Projects: How It’s Done Right?’ to know more about project management and the feature prioritisation that goes in it.

The Final Handoff 

The above mentioned project handover necessities actually sum up the entire process and usually most of it is mentioned in the handover plan or document, which the old PM goes over with the new PM in due diligence. 

And it doesn’t happen overnight, it takes from a couple of weeks to a month, the gradual nature of the handover is what makes it fruitful for the project. Taking a few steps a day by breaking the transition into pieces that are easy to comprehend at a time is essential. Another aspect that is essential is you being shadowed, be it by the old PM or the team, that is what’ll help you learn the ropes faster.

You wouldn’t take the reins at once, it would come in increments of each step we discussed. 
You won’t be expected to answer the client worries from the get go;
You won’t have to deal with the developers from day 1;
You wouldn’t be expected to make a low performing project turn around at once. 

Everything would happen gradually. Once you have the apprehension of the company’s vision, the project itself, the stakeholders and the team along with everything that is expected of you, you’ll be ready to wear the PM hat and take the project on yourself. And the final handoff would be complete.

The Other Side of the Handover: OSL Handover Manual  

OpenSense Labs have successfully completed many projects in its life, however, sometimes these projects have been the rewards of more than a single project manager. There isn’t a particular reason for that. Sometimes the project manager had to hand over their work because he was leaving the organisation and sometimes it was because he was overburdened and couldn’t give his complete attention to the project. 

While researching this blog I talked to two of our project managers, Yash Marwaha and Abhijeet Sinha, to get a better understanding of project handover. Project handovers are a two way street, up until now we have discussed the side of the PM who will take the project forward, now let’s look at the other side and delve into the project transferer’s perspective.

Yash and His Handover Precision 

Yash is all precision and accuracy with a set system to make the handover as smooth as possible. The first thing he does is identify the type of project, which could be a long term engagement or support and maintenance. For him, this identification decides the timeline of the transition.

The steps that he follows usually go like this.

  • Creating a handover document and going over it with the new PM; 
  • Informing the client; 
  • Planning induction sessions with a handson walkthrough; 
  • Introducing the new PM to the client; 
  • Being available on calls between the new PM and the client until a comfort level is reached;
  • Finally changing the ownership when that happens.

This is a great system to follow for a handover, yet Yash has had to take over a project even after the handover has been completed. The reason was the new PM not being comfortable with the client. Even after doing everything by the book, things can still not go as smoothly as you may have wanted. You cannot control all the variables, let’s learn that from Yash.

Abhijeet and His Handover Diligence 

While Abhijeet follows much the same steps as Yash, he doesn’t focus too much on the time, rather he focuses on diligence. What I mean is he doesn’t feel that a handover has to be confined to a specific timeline. A similar project could have been handed over in a week, but that doesn’t mean that the current ownership would go the same way. For him, when you rush things, diligence goes out the window and chaos ensues.

He has two project transfers to prove his point. 

  • He had to hand over a project, redressal of a major tourism website in Kansas City, to Yash. The handover happened within 3-4 days, pretty quick, right? The reason was that Yash was already in contact with the client making the transition as smooth as smooth could be.
  • Then there was Earth Journalism, wherein an all new PM had to be assigned the ownership. He kept her in the loop for the client and the developers. He helped in removing the friction between the new PM and the developers, which happens in every transition, at the same time he ensured that she knew the contextual needs of the project. This transition took about a month. Learn more about the work done on Earth Journalism Network by OpenSense Labs here.

Project transfers can be a tricky business. There are a lot of parties involved and all may not welcome the change. As the project transferer, you have to be patient with everyone. You have to ensure that everyone involved is in favour of the new person, if not the final handover would not be the end of it. 

There is another thing that the OSL team shared with me and that is never ever transfer ownership of a three-month project mid-way. If you are to do it, do it in the beginning itself. There is no point in bringing a new PM after two months, it’s not going to benefit anyone.

Whether you are taking up a new project or getting a handover of an ongoing one, learning through Drupal website projects can be very handy. Learn what are the infinity stones of Drupal development, how to start the Drupal project the right way, how to manage your development workflow for Drupal project, and why product mindset should be preferred over project mindset.

Conclusion

In the end, all I want to say is that people have a tendency to take time to learn things and perform them in an efficient manner. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? So, what needs to be done during a project handover is valuing the learning curve. It’s going to take time and patience to make it fly. The kind of details an on-going project can have are quite diverse and making the new project manager get a hang of them is what matters. And that requires time from the organisation given to the new PM and his efforts in making that time worth it. 

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