How to Plan a Successful Project Handoff

One of the things that the company has been working through is how to best handoff projects. Project handoffs between product managers happen for a number of reasons. Whether a PM in the company leaves, takes on another client or is promoted within the company, a PM should be prepared and organized enough to be able to hand off their project to another PM with minimal effort. As a team, it is our duty to ensure artifacts and documentation is in such a state that would allow handoffs to occur successfully. The client should not feel the impact and should continue to feel confident in the development of the product and their familiarity with the company. At Elevator Up, the techniques and artifacts we use to hand off projects include pairing, transparent and thorough documentation, and product roadmapping.

Similar to paired programming, we’ve learned that when we’re able to take the time to pair on work, we have a more successful handoff. When we pair, it gives the new PM the ability to learn in a controlled environment. The veteran PM acts more as a coach, letting the new PM take the lead on questions that come through, while still being there to answer questions, provide context, and walk through solutions. By working in this way, the new PM is able to drip learn behind the scenes. When the introduction to the content and to the client is more gradual, it’s possible to feel a little more courageous and confident when it’s time to take over the project full time. Pairing to learn the ins and outs of a product helps the new PM feel more ready to take on the work.

Besides pairing, having solid documentation to look upon will help the transition of work occur more smoothly. We call this document “the brain,” and each PM has one for the project on which they’re working. This document serves as a place to keep critical notes and context to the project. Along with “the brain,” other important documents including iteration notes and the product backlog with sketched user stories should be included in the same folder. By keeping good notes, any PM should be able to read through the history for context and understand the work accomplished and yet to be performed. This type of transparent documentation aids in the transferability of projects and transparency of work.

Beyond the brain document, a product roadmap is an important artifact to reference to understand what is next on the list of features to develop. Usually, the product roadmap is a living, breathing document that changes as priorities shift. It acts as a valuable artifact about which the PM may have informed conversations about a priority with the client team. If it ever needs to be refreshed (or even created), it can be done by creating a product outline of how a user interacts with the product and adding features that need to be developed under each of the outlined headers. This process of establishing priority allows the PM to have informed discussions with the client to ensure the most important and valuable work is being scheduled next.

While these tools and processes are normalized for product managers who work for agencies, we’ve found these are some of the most valuable artifacts and processes that we use at Elevator Up when one PM hands off a project to another. Not only do each of the tools aid in the successful, smooth transition of a project but they also allow for posterity. Being able to look back into past iterations, notes from past discussions, we are able to understand extremely helpful context into the product. Being able to pair with the veteran PM to learn the ropes makes it easier to learn, ask questions, and make progress in a safe environment.

If you are someone who works in an agency or even working in HR, how do you train people? It doesn’t even have to be industry specific. We’re curious how transitions happen within your organization.

~Amelie, Product Manager