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What to Watch For When Taking Over a Project

Through our project management careers we have either a) taken over a project from someone else or b) will take over a project from someone else. There is no avoiding it for anyone in the project management industry. Inevitably there will come a time where you are asked to take over for an absentee project manager. What do you do? What are your top priorities?


Documentation is the lifeblood of knowledge transfer. As part of my project management day-to-day processes, I try to instill a culture of documenting everything. Having good documentation can be the life or death of a smooth transition of any kind, let alone taking over a project from someone else. In addition to good documentation, you need a centralized and organized repository where your documentation is stored (what good is a well-written document if nobody can find it?). SharePoint offers a fairly robust solution for centralized document storage but an effective shared drive file structure will also work if it is well designed.

Budget and Schedule Status

Now that you’re responsible for delivering this project on time and on budget, it would be a good idea to find out where you stand with both of those measures. With any luck, you’ll inherit a group of spreadsheets and PSA reports that show estimates, forecasts and actuals in a comprehensive manner. As critical of components as these are, these are probably some of the easier artifacts to transfer from project manager to project manager.

Sponsor, Stakeholder and Your Team

As a project manager, it’s critical that you forge and maintain positive relationships with your project stakeholders. By having a roster of stakeholders you have a starting point. What a lot of project managers who are thrust into these positions forget is that the stakeholders have been on the project for some time while you’re still new. You have to quickly shed the “I need some time to ramp up” mentality when working with these folks. Their expectation will be a project manager who is deeply tuned into the project. Depending on the circumstances, there may be a small grace period but a good project manager will quickly identify the key relationships that need to be built and how to effectively engage stakeholders.

Taking over an in-flight project is never an easy task. You didn’t plan it, you didn’t scope or estimate it but now it’s yours. However, these times are often great opportunities for project managers to demonstrate their portability and ability to quickly immerse themselves into a project and deliver great results to their clients.

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