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How can we hand over projects better?

This APM Research Fund study seeks to answer the question: How can we hand over projects better?  How do we improve the transition of a project from the project team delivering in a project life cycle to the end users’ business as usual activities, to ensure the realisation of the benefits the project set out to achieve? 

Who is the intended audience?

Anyone involved in commissioning, delivering or receiving the outputs of projects, for example:

  • Construction project teams – there is an industry drive currently to better manage transitions and design and deliver buildings properly. Government Soft Landings will be mandated on all Central Government projects from April 2016 and the construction industry is increasingly being required at procurement stage to demonstrate commitment to improved knowledge transfer and handovers (correct prior to election 2017).
  • Senior project professionals, influencers and clients. The research is designed to provide guidance on how to improve outcomes. This most benefits the recipients and commissioners of projects.
  • APM members – The output of the research will be advice and guidance for project managers.

Why is it important?

Handing over projects from the project phase to the business as usual environment is often perceived as the end of the job by project practitioners and the start of the job by the end users who will be assuming the management responsibility afterwards.  The output of this research is to capture lessons learned and success factors from projects that have completed that transition (some more successfully than others) and share these with the project management community in the hope that it will help more projects to handover successfully. 

Who took part in the research?

The research was led by Owen Anthony, an experienced project management practitioner, who, as well as being a full member of APM, is also a member of the Soft Landings User Group.

What did we discover?

Not all projects hand over successfully. This is frequently attributable to many factors. The purpose of this research is to draw from the experience of previous projects, identify both pitfalls and good practice and distil them into guidance that practitioners can adopt for their own projects. Learning these lessons helps to mitigate the risk of poor handovers and improve the likelihood of a successful project handover.

Defining handover is necessary to ensure all parties have an agreed focal point and their efforts are aligned to a common goal. Dates, priorities and responsibility allocation must be clearly communicated. Assumption of these can put handover at risk. Understanding that handover is a transition period rather than a date is paramount to smooth the change curve and close the gap between project phase and operational/business as usual.

Understanding the need to transfer knowledge and train those who will be ‘handed’ the project is essential. The following suggestions came from the research to support this:

  • Establish a common data environment.
  • Work with the ‘end users’ to ensure the right people are being trained at the right time, in the most effective manner, to support the transfer of knowledge and responsibility.
  • Produce documents that are meaningful and useful to the end users.
  • Conduct dry runs to simulate the operational phase.

The research conclusions provide 12 recommendations that have been split into four subcategories:

1. Commercial/contractural

2. Process

3. Data and knowledge transfer

4. People

What were the main challenges?

  • Obtaining participating organisations and individuals that provided a good cross section of the UK project profession that enabled handover to be assessed across a range of business sectors
  • Understandably, where handovers have been less successful, organisations may not be willing to share all the pitfalls in case of bad publicity / commercial implications.
  • Getting respondents to consider how it could work rather than how it has worked in the past and how industry norms dictate current behaviour.
  • Isolating which factors in the project lifecycle have an impact on handover specifically, as opposed to just good project practice.

Download the report

Participating organisations included:

  • AWE / Ministry of Defence  
  • Birkdale Prep School
  • Bright Bricks Ltd
  • Cardiff Commissioning
  • Civica
  • Crossrail
  • Education Funding Agency
  • Handsworth Grange Community College
  • Infrastructure and Projects Authority
  • Laing O’Rourke
  • Mediacity / Peel Holdings
  • Merseylink
  • Mott MacDonald
  • Sheffield City Council
  • Sheffield Local Education Partnership
  • Soft Landings User Group
  • Transport for London
  • Vinci Construction

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