Project Management

12 minute read

Project Handover: 3 Steps for Long term Success

Devan Ciccarelli

Devan Ciccarelli

A project handover seems simple enough -- it’s when one or more components of a project transfer from one person to the next.

But if that’s all your team is doing, you’re likely to run into issues and possible headaches along the way.

See, a project handover is a pivotal time in a project that can either make or break its success.

When done correctly, the project should continue to run smoothly. The transition should be so seamless it should feel as if it never happened.

But if you don’t take the project handover seriously, you’ll end up with communication issues (read: breakdowns) and missed deadlines and deliverables.

Not only will this add stress to your team’s workload, but it can also ruin valuable business relationships if you’re not careful. 

Miss more than one deadline and your clients won’t want to work with you again (not that you could blame them).

A successful project handover will also drastically reduce questions from your team and clients later on.

You won’t be pulled back into a project you should have left months ago, and your team will be able to move on quickly and efficiently.

For readers thinking, Well, it’s not really my problem once I hand the project off, think again.

If a project handoff isn’t done correctly, it will quickly become your problem again -- one that continually pulls your attention away from other, more critical tasks.

So to avoid that situation, and to ensure your team always handles project handovers the right way, today’s guide will show you how to tackle one from start to finish successfully.

Want to learn more?

Take your project management skills to the next level with our comprehensive (and free) ebook!

How to successfully transition your project handover

It’s important to understand that even with this transition process in place, the handover isn’t going to happen overnight (nor should it).

If you rush this vital step, you’ll end up overwhelming your team, and you’ll find essential details slipping through the cracks.
With that said, your first step is to formulate a plan for your handoff.

It’s a good idea to create and document a formal process here. One someone can quickly pick up anytime a project changes hands within your team.

Bonus: There’s a free checklist for this at the end of this guide!

You should also create two separate yet slightly similar handoff plans for the following situations:

1. When a sales member delivers a new account to a project or account manager

2, When there’s a change in account or project managers

In the first case, you’ll need a clear timeline of when the sales team promised your new client their deliverables and any other vital details (more on this shortly).

As for the second, those details are just as relevant here, but it’s also essential your new manager gets up to speed with what’s already happened so far too.

So your project handoff plans need to reflect both these needs accordingly.

Here’s what else should be included.

Step 1: Determine what details need to be transferred

project_handover_determine_details Let’s break down these details according to each situation.

#1: Sales to project manager handoffs

This handoff is especially necessary since it sets the tone for your relationship with your new client.

A smooth onboarding experience can help prove you’re the company to work with or it can give your clients buyer’s remorse if it’s done haphazardly.

To steer clear of the latter, include these details in your handoff reports at a minimum:

1. Point(s) of contact. Who is your point of contact for your client? What about internally? Both sides should know exactly who is working on what.

2, Defined roles. On top of spelling out the who, you need to determine what each person is responsible for so everyone on the team, and on your client’s team, understands who to reach out to specifically.

3. Project scope. Your sales handoff should also include the scope of the project. What is the client paying for? How many deliverables do they get each week? What is their term period?

4. Deliverable deadlines and milestones. There should also be a clearly defined timeline outlining when things are due internally and when they’re due to the client. 

These due dates should also have a minimum 2-3 day buffer so your team can review and make changes before presenting the final product to the client.

5. Background information. It’s also a good idea to include essential details about your client that your sales team discovered during the onboarding process. 

These can be stats like their website goals, target audience, client preferences, likes/dislikes, and any other significant facts or quirks essential to providing excellent customer service. 

Once your sales team closes a deal, this document should be created immediately and delivered to the account manager as soon as possible.

At this point, you can move on to step #2.

But, before you do, consider how this process differs with the account manager handoff.

#2: Change in account managers

With this type of project handoff, you’ll still need to include the 5 points we just mentioned, but you’ll also need to add the following to your document:

1. What’s been done and delivered so far? This step is crucial to ensuring nothing gets missed during the transition.

So before a handoff is even made, your original project manager should sit down to see what’s been delivered so far.

This should be documented and logged so there’s no confusion later.

2. What’s outstanding? Next, your current manager should also make a list of what still needs to be done and when it needs to be delivered. 

Again, this step should not be taken lightly. 

Deadlines are often missed as people shift into new roles, so it’s essential to guarantee this does not happen. 

By making a clear timeline of what else needs to be delivered and including the due dates, you’ll save your team headaches and potential issues down the line.

3. Are there currently any issues or bottlenecks? Speaking of those, it’s also important to clear up and discuss any bottlenecks and problems right away. 

This is another area that can slip into the forgotten zone if your team is less than diligent. 

Find out answers to questions such as: 

  • Are there any pieces of the project currently stuck in limbo? 
  • Are you waiting on your team or theirs before you can move on?
  • When was the last time your team or theirs attempted to fix the issue or remove the bottleneck?
  • When was the last time you or your team touched base with your client on the issue?

This area of your project handoff should contain a log of what’s going on, what needs to be done, and when the last time all of this was communicated to the client.

You should also include a log of your procedures too.

4. What processes need to get done? When handing off a project to another manager, it’s essential that the same systems are followed to a T, so your client doesn’t experience any surprises.

This means you’ll need to document how processes have been done in the past so the next person can quickly pick up where the first one left off.

Once you have those items jotted down, you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Step 2: Schedule a meeting to discuss your project handoff document

project_handover_meetingAt this point, your project handoff report is almost complete.

From here, have your team discuss this plan so everyone is on the same page.

This is also the point where questions and changes need to be addressed so a final project handoff document can be created.

Schedule an in-person or Skype/Zoom/GoToMeeting discussion where both (or all) team members can discuss the handoff document and identify potential concerns.

It’s also vital to clearly explain due dates at this point, so nothing has a chance to become outstanding or late.

Another key ingredient here is the transition plan.

Step 3: Start the transition and project handoff

project_handover_transitionAs we mentioned earlier, this should be a gradual process -- not something that happens overnight.

The best way to do this is to break up your transition into smaller chunks or mini-milestones and space these out over a period of two weeks or more.

This gives everyone a chance to wrap their heads around what’s going on before the next batch of information comes in.

And in the case of an agency, spacing out how many clients are transferred over to new project managers is also helpful.

You can start gradually with one at a time and eventually double the number until you reach your quota.

It’s also a good idea to have your team members shadow your existing managers so they can get a feel for the client and your processes before they take over.

Having your new manager listen in on conference calls and adding them to the carbon copy on email threads can also help them see what’s going on before they dive into the project handoff and the actual transition.

Forward any previous correspondences between your team and the client to your new manager so they can poke around and learn what’s going on and what’s been done.

Before the transition is complete, you should also have your new manager lead a meeting or conference call with your previous project manager shadowing so they can build confidence and get feedback before taking over.

All of this helps to ensure your project handoff is seamless both internally and in the client’s eyes.

This not only contributes to the success of the project, but it can also help reduce stress and communication breakdowns, so your team works efficiently.

To help you do just that, we’ve created a handy checklist for you to use.

Use this checklist to reform your project handover process

Don’t let your project handovers turn into an overwhelming mess for your team.

Use this free checklist to create a seamless process that keeps everyone on the same page and ensures a hiccup-free transition:

Step 1: Determine the details and create a project handoff document:
☐ Who is the point(s) of contact?
☐ What is everyone’s role in the project?
☐ What is the project scope?
☐ What is the timeline for deliverables?
☐ Provide any additional background information on the client
☐ What’s been done and delivered so far? (for project manager handoffs)
☐ What’s currently outstanding? (for project manager handoffs)
☐ Are there any issues or bottlenecks? (for project manager handoffs)
☐ What processes need to be followed? (for project manager handoffs)

Step 2: Prepare for the transition with a meeting
☐ Discuss the project handoff document, so everyone is on the same page and questions can be addressed
☐ Specify upcoming due dates, especially ones with a short turnaround time
☐ Update the project handoff document once the meeting is complete

Step 3: Start the transition
☐ Create a timeline including mini-milestones of how you plan to make the change happen
☐ Have your new team member shadow your existing project manager on conference calls and meetings
☐ Forward all email correspondences to the new project manager
☐ Have your new team member lead a meeting or conference call with your original project manager shadowing so they can give feedback and help build your new manager’s confidence
☐ Keep an eye on the transition for a few weeks, and you’ll be good to go

Use this process for every project handoff, and you’ll minimize stress and missed deadlines and keep your clients and team members happy. 

Want to improve your project management skills? Learn how to manage risks and more with the Project Management for Business Professionals course.

Prepare to get certified in project management

Start learning today with GoSkills courses

Start free trial
Devan Ciccarelli

Devan Ciccarelli

Crafting fluff-free content is Devan’s jam. When she’s not writing for GoSkills, you’ll find her outside reading, soaking up the sun, or hiking her next adventure.