Taking Over an Ailing Project

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PMI Kenya Chapter

Stephanie is Lead Consultant for Jaeger Consultants Kenya Ltd. in Nairobi.

Taking over a project that was started by someone else is never easy, even with an extensive handover. When a project is ailing, it often has the added disadvantage that the previous project manager is not there to hand it over to you (or if they are, they hand it over in a haphazard way). This puts you in a precarious situation, and you will need to rely on quick action and solid communication skills to succeed.

Throughout my career as a project manager, I was repeatedly asked to take over an ailing project—one that was close to failing and completely off track. These included both internal process improvement and restructuring projects as well as client-facing installation projects. Even though these were very diverse projects, I still found that they had common needs—and a few simple steps can help you get off to a good start:

1. Understand the project.  Before you can fully take over the project, you really need to understand the project scope, the stakeholders and what the internal team thinks went wrong. This is essential and time consuming, yet you need to do it as fast as possible.

Even though the project manager does not need to be the subject matter expert, in this case it is essential that you understand the technical aspects of the project in depth. The project team is probably disgruntled, frustrated and suspicious of the new PM coming in.…

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