It's so hard to say goodbye

learning to let go of a project or program is a skill unto itself


By Sheilina Somani, RPP, FAPM, PMP, Contributing Editor

Although inevitable, moving on from a project or program can be very difficult. For contractors, it's business as usual. But for staff members—or contractors closing out a longer-term position—transitioning a project or program into new hands can be a challenge.

It can be a time of monumental change, with stakeholders expressing a range of emotions encompassing everything from joy to sadness. The incumbent project manager might feel excitement about new tasks ahead or the relief of letting go—but a professional understands we must do everything possible to make the transition as painless as possible. The starting point is to welcome the new owner/manager. This encourages stakeholders to transfer trust from the exiting project manager to the newcomer. Sometimes stakeholders feel that we are abandoning them to move on to more interesting or exciting options. Sensitivity and grace are valuable attributes for facilitating change and creating a sense of continuity.

Here are six ways to prevent your departure from triggering problems:

1. Communicate the vision. Make clear that the project has a current state and a future state, and show who is responsible for each. Revisit regularly as part of succession planning.

2. Make the exit part of the plan. Handover and close must be a visible part from the start. Add tasks, ownership and accountability for this phase early and revisit often.

3. Remember to document. Use tools to document and manage change and deal with any legal considerations (e.g., who approves invoices and accepts work as completed). Plan ahead through long-term ownership costs for the business.

4. Maintain risk management. Document the opportunity that the change represents and the potential for increased satisfaction.

5. Support the handover process. Demonstrate support for the new owner/manager. Bring the person to meetings and provide him or her with all relevant information.

6. Leave completely. After the handover, refrain from commenting about any new processes or changes in methods. There are many ways to complete a task. It's part of new ownership and must be allowed to happen. If you demonstrate disappointment, stakeholders will too.


The ultimate goal is to gracefully make way for the next person to benefit from work already completed.

The ultimate goal is to gracefully make way for the next person to benefit from work already completed. Each new project is a world to explore—and you want your successor to hit the ground running. PM

img Sheilina Somani, RPP, FAPM, PMP, is the owner of the U.K.-based consultancy Positively Project Management, a senior project and product manager, a speaker and a mentor.




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