In honor of the impending (and long overdue) start of the college football season, I wanted to talk a little bit about project handoffs, specifically changing project managers in the midst of a project. Hopefully project handoffs of this sort do not happen as frequently as the handoff between a quarterback and running back occurs in football, but in the past six months I have experienced more project handoffs than expected. Through these experiences, I have discovered a couple of techniques that decrease the chances of dropping the project, just like grabbing the ball with both hands is very crucial to not putting the football on the turf.
Both of these techniques are based on the mindset: that you may have to transition your project to someone else at a moment's notice. For the sake of everyone's psyche, we'll assume its because you transfer the project because you have the opportunity to work on another project that is the opportunity of a lifetime. If you live with this assumption, the natural thing to do on a regular basis would be to keep all the information about a project organized, and up to date.
The first technique is a tool I picked up from some of my peers to keep track of the various pieces of project information called the Project Log. Basically, it's an Excel spreadsheet with separate tabs setup to track:
Issues & Questions
Assumptions & Constraints
I keep track of this information in a spreadsheet so that I can easily sort the items with a specific status, or belonging to a specific individual. I also keep track of updates for many of these types of project information because a risk is rarely identified where a Mitigation plan is immediately identified or a question raised where an answer is quickly forthcoming. Keeping this document up to date, especially through maintaining a running discussion of progress toward mitigation plans, issue resolution, or answers provides a quick informative means of transferring information to the next project manager for your project. It works best if you update on a weekly basis, because you usually have at least a week to transition a project to someone else.
The other technique I use is to store key project related emails in the project document repository. I establish a schema for naming the emails so that I can quickly find them. Using the subject is not always the best approach because crafting a descriptive subject line is a lost art. I have ran into several cases where team members exhibit the common practice of hijacking an email that was about one topic to discuss a different topic, or choosing to title every email about a project with the project code and nothing more descriptive than that. I've found that using the following naming convention works well for me: Date_Sender_Topic.msg. For example: 20100829_KM_ProjectHandoffAdvice.msg, This allows for showing the messages in order by date when you are looking for a specific message. I know, many of you are probably saying “why on earth would you save all those emails off when email reader programs have such powerful search functionality?” I save off emails for two reasons:
So that I can store emails as official project documents, describing decisions, or key pieces of information.
I personally prefer to keep my email box as clean as possible. If I have a message in my email inbox, I naturally assume that I still have to do something with it. Saving it off in the appropriate location allows me to avoid the extra cycles determining whether I have done something with that message yet or not.
These practices come in handy when you have to quickly transition a project. It is much easier to provide a link to the PM log and the directories where your messages are stored, than to start wildly forwarding emails to you successor, hoping you remember to send everything. I suspect your successor would appreciate it as well That being said both of these techniques help running a project you are staying on smooth as well. By doing little bits of work to keep information about the project organized, you have fewer information fumbles, and more time to watch your favorite rivalry games. Go State.