Successful Project Handover: How to Plan & Get it Right

Handing over a project seems like a fairly simple task to execute. This is why, in my experience, not a great deal of thought or effort goes into the project handover process.

But if you can master the art of the project handover, you’ll reap the rewards: stakeholder adoption, meeting of commitments and even repeat business when the opportunity exists.

The Project Handover is as important as the Strategy

The two most important things to plan out on any project are the Strategy and the Handover.

A good project strategy requires an understanding of the project’s why. To be specific, your strategy is a combination of understanding the need or pain point, being clear on the approach, and agreeing the scope.

If you’re after a proven guide that will help you to consistently develop a successful strategy, then you should definitely check out my Project Manifesto.

The project handover is how we measure back on the initial project strategy.

It goes far deeper than simply producing and integrating the solution, that is, unless your stakeholders are robots who have been programmed to press play!

The handover is the steps you need to take to ensure the project team and all key stakeholders are clear and confident that the project has delivered on its commitment. It is the final piece of making sure your stakeholder achieves what was expected or promised.

The fact is, if you don’t ensure your stakeholders have all that they need to confirm delivery AND that they are both able to use and want to use what you’ve delivered, then your project has simply failed!

What goes wrong with Project Handover and why?

The problems experienced at handover are often a reflection of two things.

First, the project team (and key leadership) have not considered gauging their stakeholders measure of success during the strategy planning. This is often the case if the project team don’t understand the need or pain point they aim to solve.

Second, if we are clear on our stakeholder’s pain or the need that’s driving the project, we must also ensure our stakeholders have the clarity and confidence to use the solution you deliver – even after the project team is no longer available for support.

Sadly, I see several examples of this on technical projects where the ‘prize’ is creating the shiny new object rather than solving the need or pain point of a person or organisation. The most important fact to remember is that the shiny new object is only one of the things we need to do (albeit sometimes the biggest thing).

Often teams are so caught up in the doing of the solution and fighting fires along the way, they mistakenly see the completion of build or integration as the finish line, because this feels like the point of relief.

The Project Handover – not solution delivery – is the last step in any project

It’s time to reconsider how we define the end date of a project.

A project isn’t finished until our stakeholders have everything they need to happily use what has been delivered. By this definition, I suspect projects may go on for a lot longer than we initially plan out.

Which leads me to when we should be planning our handover.

Planning is the key to a successful Project Handover

You should ALWAYS plan out your handover at the very start of your project.

How can you be confident you have truly finished if you don’t know what finished looks like?

Plan out your handover when you are scoping your project. At this point, you will have gathered sufficient information to gain clarity and agreement on your scope as well as having outlined your deliverables.

What should you include in your Project Handover Plan?

The Who

Whose needs should you satisfy?

To truly know what needs to satisfy at handover, it is critical to identify your key stakeholders.

Typically, key stakeholders are identified while planning out your strategy. If you are unsure or not confident with identifying your stakeholders, check out my Project Stakeholders | How to Engage the Right People on Your Project article for tips on who to consider.

Once you know who your stakeholders are, you can take the necessary steps to understand what they require from the project team in order to deliver a confident handover.

The What

What do your key stakeholders need?

While different stakeholders will have different needs, here are the common needs the team can expect to satisfy.

Managing Change

> Are there any new processes, products, or ownerships required because of the project?

Will the new change require:

  • Documentation
  • New owners / levels of authorisation
  • Training
  • Licenses
  • Hardware / software

Accessing Support

>  Where do those impacted by the project go for help?

>  How can those impacted know the difference between something that’s a project fault, and something that wasn’t in scope for delivery? Is there a process in place to triage this? 

Project Information Archive

The custodians of the project may need to understand why decisions were made, any deviations from scope, treatment of outstanding or closed key risks.

This may be to build on the project’s deliverables in the future or if any modifications are required down the track.

It is important that this information can be accessed by the necessary individuals.

> This information archive can include things like:

  • Design documents
  • RAID registers
  • Key decisions
  • Official scope documentation
  • User access granted to key people for reviewing necessary project documents, folders, and directories
  • Will there be any renewals or ongoing maintenance post project delivery that the business stakeholders need to understand or re-negotiate such as licenses?

The Sign-off Process

>  Will a handover meeting be required to share the outcomes of the project including addressing unclosed risks/issues or any deviation from scope?

>  Is a demonstration of the project’s deliverable/s expected? Who will this audience be?

The Project Audit

>  Are financials closed out? Does anyone need to be notified of the final position?

>  Have all risks, issues, actions, dependencies been closed out and signed off? For any risks outstanding, are these known by the necessary approvers and is it clear that there are no impacts to achieving agreed commitments? And if so, has this been approved by the necessary people?

>  Has the scope been reviewed and satisfactorily met / delivered?

A Quick Reference Project Handover Checklist

Here’s a quick reference checklist to get you started on successfully handing over your projects.

Make sure that:

  • The scope document is reviewed at completion and has received approval that scope items have been satisfactorily met
  • If applicable, the design document is signed off
  • The Raid Register is reviewed and signed off with explanations and approvals for open items
  • User requirements have been met and signed off
  • All key items in your Communication plan are met or exceptions approved
  • You have closed out your project plan
  • You declare the financial position at completion of project, including approval and handover if necessary.

Take the time to make Project Handover part of Project Planning

Projects are initiated to create positive change.

When you choose to make Project Handover part of your Project Plan, you’ll be ensuring that your project will be adopted, allowing it to have the impact that was intended from the start.

You’ll leave your project stakeholders smiling long after the project has ended, and this is good both for your project, your organisation and your reputation.

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