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Getting Your Large Project Planning Team Ready to Hand Over to Operations

Move the work forward

One of our clients was the Assistant Project Director on the Nickel Rim South Project, which is now a major Glencore mine in Sudbury, Ontario. He told us that the key to a large project like this is being able to move work forward, and he’s right. When he spoke about ‘reaching back and passing forward,’ we thought of a good analogy. A relay race.

Think of the Olympics 4 x 400-metre relay race, and how important it is to cleanly hand off the baton to the next runner. That is often the difference between winning and losing. The difference on a project, is what constitutes ‘winning’? Is it crossing the winning line (that is, completing the project) or is it a clean hand-off to the next team? We think it’s the latter.

Forward thinking

Teams that work intentionally are always thinking forward and asking the right questions. Who is waiting for the work I’m doing right now? Who am I waiting for? What are we working on together? Have we planned for a smooth progression so we can hand off the work?

All projects come to an end, whether they are smaller software development efforts or the building of mine. In this case, the ‘finish line’ isn’t really the finish at all, but the beginning of the next phase of their project, operations.

On a mining project, many technical aspects are involved in transitioning from project execution to operations, from document control to legal agreements.

For the project team, the hand-over to operations has the same goal as any other hand-over – make the next phase a success. Hand over the baton as cleanly as possible. Set up the next team members as completely as possible.

5 Ways to hand over a project

  1. From one team to another
    Up to this point the project has been the responsibility of the project team, but now they have to enable another team to take what they created and make it work as a viable operation. How should we engage the new team? Clean communications become essential in this hand over period. Integrating the new management team of the operations into the project team is crucial. That team will have to live with the output of the project team.
  2. Keeping the momentum
    Closing out a large project is a gradual process as work is completed. While there is a formal hand-over point when responsibility for the site transfers, many members of the project team will have moved on to new projects by the time that happens. Still, the team leader must keep the team motivated and focused as the work winds down and the hand-offs take place.
  3. Planning to hand over
    As with every other aspect of a large project, planning is critical. Keeping the team focused on the end line is critical. Most likely, this becomes a joint exercise with the new operations team.
  4. Stakeholder communication
    Keeping stakeholders informed is crucial. The project-execution plan contains hundreds of individual work items that must be tracked and completed. Communication within the team, and with all stakeholders, has to be flawless.
  5. Lessons learned
    It is important to summarize in a document the lessons learned, both for the owner’s organization so it can improve its project-execution ability, and for the operation that will inherit the site since many activities will continue into the operations phase. For example, some aspects of the site may require more engineering while some pieces of work may not be completed at the time of the hand-over.

Handover success

It’s easy to think of an ‘end line’ for a project and to believe the race has been run. If this is the mindset of the project team, they have missed a crucial opportunity, to enable the new operations team to start their (much longer) leg of the relay. It’s the responsibility of the project team to do everything they can to set the operations team up for success, even as the project team winds its effort down.

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