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Changing Project Managers Midstream

written by: Russ Katzman • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 11/11/2014

So, you have been given the opportunity to step in and clean up the mess after another project manager has failed? Changing project managers is tricky business and should be weathered with the greatest degree of attention.

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    Establish Sponsor Backing

    Changing the PM in the middle of a project The decision to change project managers (PMs) will often come from the project sponsors. It could be that there has been insufficient performance on the deliverables of the project, or the customer has expressed displeasure with the relationship presented by the incumbent manager.

    Whatever the reason, you, as the successive PM, should push the project sponsors for open and explicit support. This should not be a surprise to the customer of the project, as a unified front is the best approach to accomplishing the tasks at hand. Meet personally with each and every project sponsor to have a candid conversation about their expectations of the project as well as your expectations of their role.

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    Fully Understand Project Requirements

    Anytime you join a project after it has begun, especially in the role of project manager, you need to fully understand the functional requirements of the users or customers for whom the project was initialized. Changing project managers is typically a unilateral decision and rarely allows for a smooth transition from the former to the latter. This means that you will need to rely on your peers, the project team and sponsors, and any available project documents to establish an understanding of the client's needs.

    You should not be above the idea of sitting with the client\user\customer and openly discussing his or her expectations of the project. This will lay the groundwork for good communication and feedback during the delivery of future project objectives. It gives you face-time with the customer, but also may provide further insight into what the client did not like about the previous PM.

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    Win Over the Project Team

    Win Over the Project Team The project team will be your biggest ally in changing project managers. Imagine a football team that is changing quarterbacks because the former was ineffective. The implication to the team is that they need a new leader who can help to accomplish the goals set forth at the beginning of the project. Be upfront with the team and explain the approach you take to a project and the ways in which it may differ from the previous project manager.

    Don't be afraid to change up the team members and their assignments, provided you have sufficient justification to do so. If there are individuals on the team that you don't know very well, spend some one-on-one time with the individual to understand what that person brings to the team. This is your team now, and you need to be comfortable with the role that each member is filling. Changing project managers can be a difficult time for the project personnel, and your best approach is to be open, honest, and in control from the start.

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    Get Small Victories Immediately

    As you execute the project plan, be on the lookout for small wins that can be earned immediately. This may be a simple outstanding deliverable (like an updated project plan) that the customer has been waiting on for an extended period. Whatever it is, your goal is to demonstrate that you can step in and immediately produce results. Playing the 'victim' and expecting that you will get extra time because you are assuming the reins mid-stream is a recipe for disaster. Step up and show that you can overcome the adversity and produce immediately.

    Image Credit: Renjith Krishnan/