Top tips on taking over a project midway through
Updated: May 28, 2021
Project managers might occasionally find themselves taking over a project midway through and it can feel like a headache. It’s no one’s fault. The outgoing project manager (PM) could be someone internal who is moving on to another project. They might be a freelancer returning in-house or taking some leave.
No matter the circumstances, it’s just easier to begin at the beginning than it is to pick everything up when decisions have already been made and working relationships already formed.
There are ways to make this difficult situation better. The trick is to make the project your own and here I will explain how.
Familiarise yourself with the project
Before you can put your stamp on the project, you need to get to know it inside out. As with any new project you take on, make sure you get all the key project details from the outgoing PM.
Some PMs will write you handover notes; if they are under time pressure they might hope, instead, to cover everything in one meeting. Either way, I prefer to fill in the project handover form that I created for this purpose. Read on to download a free copy to use on your projects.
This ensures that I have all the information I need and that it’s organised in a way that I find easy to navigate.
Top tips for your handover form
If you want to create your own handover form, here are some tips for key points to include:
The most important points to cover are schedule, budget and quality requirements – which could encompass review processes or items that must be checked by freelancers.
Make sure you find out when your work ends. Does it end when you have delivered a key piece of work, such as the edited author manuscript? Does it end on a certain date? If the former, then you will continue to be involved even if there are delays. This is very important to bear in mind for other work you might take on.
Find out what the client’s priority is on the quality, schedule, budget spectrum (especially if they are a new client). This can empower you to make decisions later on. If you need a few extra days to sort out a problem at copyediting stage and you know the client is more concerned with quality than the schedule, you can feel confident in the decision to delay the schedule.
Find out what the client’s expectations are concerning communication with them. They might want to have regular catch ups with you, or they might only want to hear from you if there is a problem you can’t resolve. You also need to know which decisions you have the authority to make and which need to be referred back to the in-house team.
Finalising the handover
Review all of the documents handed over to you, even those not necessarily in your remit. You may be receiving the complete author manuscript and have nothing to do with the writing of it. It’s still useful to review the author brief, if it’s available. These documents can often answer questions you have about the details of the project. Alternatively, they might raise questions that you should ask before you start your work.
It’s a good idea to hold a project handover meeting with the key team members. It’s helpful to meet the people you will be working with and this is a good time to scope out their expectations.
Finally, make sure you introduce yourself to anyone else you haven’t yet met, such as authors.
Make the project your own
It’s tempting when a project has already been initiated to follow exactly the plan you’re given. The previous PM might have gone to a lot of trouble to set the project up. It can feel like you’re trampling all over their work if you deviate from their plans.
But I’m here to tell you that’s exactly what you should do. There’s no need to do away with a brilliant project plan for the sake of it, but every PM has their own way of working and what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you.
The outgoing PM might have given you a brief for the proofreader which they prepared in advance. When you look at it, you know it’s good, but you have that niggling feeling that it isn’t quite how you would have done it. This is when you should dig in and update it. You aren’t bound by the previous PM’s work and you should make it your own.
Top tips for taking ownership of the project
Write your own briefs. As discussed above, even if they have been written for you, make sure you’re happy with any briefs provided. There might be information you like to include that the previous PM didn’t, or you might have your own ideas about checks you want to be undertaken. Don’t hesitate to update the briefs as you see fit.
Choose your own freelancers – as long as no one has been promised the work yet. The outgoing PM might recommend freelancers, but if you have a trusted freelancer you know would be perfect for the project, sign them up. A recommendation is really useful, but nothing beats your own tried and tested experience.
Create new working relationships with key stakeholders, such as authors. They may be used to the workflow they have set up already, but you might want to switch it up. You could arrange regular calls with them or you might want to set up a shared-access query spreadsheet for everyone to update. Whichever is your preferred way of working, don’t be afraid to ask them to follow it.
Watch your project thrive
Now that the project is your own, you need to feel comfortable with the project plan. Following these tips will ensure that you feel confident about the work to come.
Lastly, if at all possible, keep the lines of communication between you and the outgoing PM open. You never know when their knowledge of the history of the project might come in useful.
Below you can download a free copy of my new project briefing form. It’s a Word document, so you can adapt it for your own projects and start using it straight away.