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Taking over a half finished project

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The role of the project manager comes in all shapes and sizes. In a perfect world you might get to choose your project team or even your project, but in our often less-than-perfect world sometimes it’s necessary, for whatever reason, for a project professional to take over a project that is half-finished. This situation brings with it a whole different set of challenges for us and can test our skills and capabilities to the limit.

If you find yourself in this position, here are some questions you should be asking at the outset to give yourself the best possible chance of delivering a successful outcome.

1. What are the main project objectives?

Understanding a project’s goals is vital to delivering the right solution so take the time to look through the documentation properly. Talk to the team members, the stakeholders, the previous project manager (if possible) and anyone else involved to ensure that you fully understand the details of the project, what is expected and the likelihood of being able to deliver on those expectations in the time available.

2. Who are the stakeholders?

Take time to get to know your stakeholders. You want to know how involved they like to be in a project. Will they continually have suggestions, will scope creep potentially be an issue, or will they leave the project in your capable hands and be happy with regular updates. Working out this relationship will be instrumental in running a smooth project.

3. Take a look at the project schedule

Do not just accept the project schedule you are given; take a detailed look at it for yourself to find out where the project is in terms of its delivery timeline. The last thing you want is to find later down the line that there is a vital task missing or that the deadline is unrealistic. Fix these mistakes before you get started. If you spot any problems, ascertain how much leeway you might be allowed from the stakeholders in order to deliver a viable project. If necessary, instigate a full review of estimates, scope and final deadline.

4. What are the current issues?

You also need to find out where the project is in terms of its quality expectations, milestone deliveries, dependencies and, of course, costs. It can be helpful to know why the project is half-finished, did it hit a problem? Did the project manager leave? Are all the team members (or any) still actively working on elements of the project or did team members get reallocated to a more urgent project? Or did they hit a technical issue that is proving difficult to resolve. The more information you have the better able you will be to find a workable solution.

5. What skills are available within the project team?

Do the skills of the people in your project team fit the needs of the project? Do you have enough team members to meet your timescales and the right skills to deliver? If you need more, or different, team members now is a good time to put in that request.

This is far from an exhaustive list of questions you might want to ask when taking over responsibility for a project part way through, but asking as many questions as possible before you start the project – and getting answers – will help you lead the project to a successful conclusion.

What questions have I missed that you’ve found invaluable in this situation? Let us know in the comments.


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