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Of all the challenges that might arise over the course of a project manager’s career, few are more pressure-packed than taking over a project that another manager has initiated. Rather than having weeks or months to prepare and plan before any project tasks are due, you might find yourself thrown into the middle of the project execution phase, with dozens of team members looking to you for immediate support and guidance.

If picking up a project midway isn’t difficult enough on its own, the consequences that lead to a transition usually mean that there are additional challenges waiting for the incoming project manager. Many transitions take place because a project has run into timeline or budgetary challenges that the previous project manager was unable to resolve. In other cases, a project manager may have decided to leave the organization, and may have already begun to disengage from the important day-to-day activities that he or she should be handling.

No matter why you’ve been put in the position, these project management tips can help you get up to speed quickly and lead your adopted project to a successful outcome.

Meet with Key Stakeholders

Before you spend any significant amount of time looking over the project plan or other documentation, set up meetings with executive sponsors and other key stakeholders to familiarize yourself with the project’s purpose and current status. Try to get as much information as possible on topics like current challenges, changes in scope and other aspects of the project that might be hard to ascertain from the documents your predecessor leaves behind. Naturally, if the former project manager has made themselves available to meet with you, he or she should be your first point of contact, but be sure to get input from other team members as well.

Review the Project Plan

Once you know the lay of the land, it’s time to dig in and familiarize yourself with task assignments, completion dates, budget allocations and other key details, the majority of which you’ll find in the project plan. If your organization is using online project management software like Clarizen, this step on your project management checklist might be relatively simple, because you’ll have instant access to all of the team’s current metrics, planning documents and online discussions.

Schedule Frequent Meetings

No one wants to fill up their team members’ schedules with unnecessary meetings, but when you’re taking over someone else’s project it may be essential. You may need to ask for some additional time for status updates and knowledge transfer on a daily or weekly basis while you get up to speed. Once you’re more familiar with what’s happening, you can gradually drop your extra meetings and let the team return to its usual cadence.

Focus on Risk Management

The last thing you want to do as an incoming project manager is to let something new slip through the cracks. For your first month or two on the job, pay extra attention to your risk management plan, and solicit feedback from your team on any items that aren’t immediately clear to you. If any risks have already turned into issues, be vigilant about following up on your action plans. When your team members see that you’re committed to turning the project around, they’re more likely to put in the extra effort as well.

Doug Uptmor
Doug Uptmor, Director of Content