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How Do You Assume Leadership on an Existing Project?

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 4/3/2013

Have you been assigned to take over an existing project? Whether the original project manager has left the company or remained, once you take over the project how do you direct it and guide your team to a sucessful completion?

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    How to Handle the Take Over

    Brett Farve Viking by Mendreola 

    The NFL quarterback, Brett Farve has been a Green Bay Packer, a New York Jet, and now a Minnesota Viking. As a team leader, this guy has the skills it takes to step into any football team and take over. As a project manager, what happens if you are asked to take over an existing project? Effective project managers can use their project planning skills to keep the team on track and count on a successful outcome.

    Before you jump in and start giving orders, ask yourself what you really know about the project, its team, the stakeholders, and the goal. If you can't easily answer these questions, you'll need some tips to guide you in the existing project takeover.

    First download our template on How to Takeover Existing Projects, a Microsoft Word document you can tailor to the existing project. This document will help you identify things like project status, timeline, budget and funds available, projections, and accomplishments.

    Next, review everything you can on the project before you set up a team meeting. Read project initiation documents, client requests, team assignments, the project scope, and find out the desirable outcome. Speak with supervisors and network with other managers on how former projects were successful in this department.

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    Meeting With the Team

    Now that you've read about the project, you still need to find out how the team looks at the project. Here is where your project manager planning skills are important. It's time to set up a project team meeting to listen, ask questions, and determine the best route to follow. Here are some tips on meeting with the project team:

    • You Are in Charge - Make this clear from the start. Be open, honest, and introduce your unique project manager style. Give the team a sort of bio on yourself. Tell them what you have done and what you want to achieve. Don't be a bully; be proactive and excited about the project.
    • Talk About the Project - In order to achieve the project goal, talk about the project. What has been achieved so far? How were those items achieved? What parts of the project remain undefined or are incomplete?
    • Listen and Communicate - During the team meeting, listen and communicate. From your own project research, offer a project road map on steps still needed.
    • Identify Team Leaders - More than likely, the former project manager has already set up team leaders. Take time to talk with these leaders individually and as a group to get a feel of the status of the project. Find out if the team or team members are lost or confused. Take notes on how to improve weak areas. Ask team leaders for suggestions on weak areas.
    • Keep Team Spirit Alive - If the team you've inherited doesn't trust you or feel you have team spirit at heart, your project may fail. Tell the team what you plan for recognition, team successes, and team evaluation. Congratulate them on their work so far.
    • Realign - Now that you know what still needs to be done, the time frame, and what team members are working on what part of the project, sit back and see if you can re-align the project to make it run smoothly. If you feel you need to change parts of the project around, switch team members or meet with the stakeholders for further clarification. Try and do all these things as they are important in putting your project management style on the project.
    • Evaluate and Control - Once you've sent your team out to delve back into the project, take time to evaluate, meet with team leaders, analyze, and set and review project controls. Use change management skills if you identify areas of change.

    It can be difficult to take over an existing project; however, if you take the time for baby steps in the beginning, you'll be successful in the end. Brush up by reading Project Management Basics to be sure your existing project take over is a success.

    Photo Credit: Brett Favre Viking by Mendreola

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