Taking over a project/programme, what are the key challenges?

As an interim project/programme manager (and previously a managing consultant for various professional services organisations across Europe), I have often had to step in and take over an in-flight project/programme (at various stages of the lifecycle).

For any project/programme manager that has never had to do this you have been fortunate. For those project/programme managers that have I am certain, like me, you have come away with a few scars, but a little more “rounded” for the experience.

You certainly end up learning the hard way what is needed when being handed an in-flight project/programme.

I thought it might prove beneficial to jot down a few learnings…

Establishing where the project/programme is in terms of the people side is key. Reports are all well and good, but can you really trust what has been previously reported (from my past experience…NO).

Getting a handle on the team and stakeholders is fundamental. Don’t miss anyone out, even if they initially appear irrelevant, as this can come to haunt you later.

Typically joining a project/programme as the replacement manager you are unlikely to have any experience with the team. The challenge is getting up to speed with the unique characteristics and dynamics of the team as a whole and the level of experience, competence and motivation of the individual members. You should be able to get ascertain the level of engagement inside the team and externally with stakeholders, the degree of distractions and interference they face, and eventually determine other factors like accuracy of their estimates.

There is a similar situation with the key stakeholders. The challenge is getting up to speed with the unique characteristics and dynamics of the various stakeholders. Attempt to ascertain the level of engagement with the project/programme plus the interactions with each stakeholder.

Successfully moving the project/programme forward requires engagement with these key people. Having to build relationships from the ground up.

The personal approach is the best way of building a strong relationship with the team.

Be open to contributions and feedback. Listen to each member’s idea of where the project/programme is and where it’s going. Give them time to “err their concerns”. Get them to open up, provide opinion on the project/programme. You will soon have an idea (based on a consensus of opinion) of what challenge you face.

Don’t forget to acknowledging their efforts to date. Make them feel that they are important in making the project/programme possible and their ongoing efforts are needed.

In a relatively short time you will get a handle on the key people (team and stakeholders), plus have started to build the requisite relationships to get the in-flight project/programme moving again.

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