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How can we hand over projects better?

Owen Anthony, Project Manager and Daniel Nicholls, Research Manager, APM

Posed with the question how can we hand over projects better?  Handing over projects from the project phase to the business as usual environment is often perceived as the end of the job by project practitioners and the start of the job by the end users who will be assuming the management responsibility afterwards.  This view makes a number of assumptions with project handover being an often neglected area for project management which given that it affects a multitude of projects across all business sectors makes one wonder why there is so little coverage of this topic to date.

How do we improve the transition of a project from the project team delivering in a project life cycle to the end users’ business as usual activities, to ensure the realisation of the benefits the project set out to achieve?  These questions pose fundamental questions to anyone involved in commissioning, delivering or receiving the outputs of projects particularly in the construction sector where there is an industry drive to better manage transitions and design and deliver buildings properly. Initiatives such as the Building Services Research and Information Association (BSRIA) Soft Landings and Government Soft Landings as well as an increasing focus on benefits realisation are raising the profile of the transition from project phase to business as usual and the construction industry is increasingly being required at procurement stage to demonstrate commitment to improved knowledge transfer and handovers.

A a practitioner, Owen has first-hand experience of projects in the built environment and thought it important to capture lessons learned and success factors from projects that have completed that transition (some more successfully than others) and share these in the hope that it will help more projects to handover successfully. 

One of the challenges we had with the research was trying to obtain participating organisations and individuals that provided a good cross section of the UK project profession that enabled handover to be assessed across a range of business sectors.  Getting the input of some organisations was sometimes difficult - unsuccessful project handovers could be seen as bad publicity and have negative commercial implications and successful recipes for handing over projects can be viewed as a unique selling point or area of commercial strength that provides competitive advantage.  One of the difficulties of any study of this nature is getting participants to consider how it could work better rather than how things have gone in the past.  A final challenge we faced was isolating which factors in the project lifecycle have an impact on handover specifically, as opposed to just good project practice, which was easier said than done.

Not all projects hand over successfully. This is frequently attributable to many factors. We hoped that this research, drawn from the experience of previous projects, identifies both pitfalls and good practice and distils them into guidance that practitioners can adopt for their own projects. Learning these lessons helps to mitigate the risk of poor handovers and improve the likelihood of a successful project handover.

Drawing on input from a diverse and wide array of notable organisations including Civica, the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, Laing O’Rourke, Mediacity/Peel Holdings, Transport for London  and Vinci Construction amongst others some key learnings were identified.  Firstly, you the need to establish a common data environment.  Secondly, work with the ‘end users’ to ensure the right people are being trained at the right time, in the most effective manner, to support the transfer of knowledge and responsibility. Thirdly, produce documents that are meaningful and useful to the end users and finally conduct dry runs to simulate the operational phase.

The research identified 12 factors to ensure effective handover:

Commercial/contractual

  1. Requirements should be written into tender documentation/contracts in as much detail and as specifically as possible including engagement requirements, data environment and any standardisation of equipment or product that the client requires.
  2. Whole life cost must be considered if at all possible.
  3. Incentivise success. If a scheme is well delivered, this should reward all parties.

Process

  1. Handover is a process not a date. Planning for it should be from the start of the project and it should be viewed as an incremental transfer of knowledge and operation from project team to business as usual.
  2. The benefits and deliverables must be measurable and communicable from the start. Ask why are we doing this project and how will we know when it is done?
  3. Involve end users from the outset. Through stakeholder analysis, understand who will benefit from the project, who will be required to facilitate the delivery of the benefits and how the project outputs will impact their role.

Data and knowledge transfer

  1. Documentation must be written for the end users. It may require different sets of documentation for different users but for documentation to support knowledge transfer it needs to be meaningful, applicable and relevant to the end users.
  2. Collate lessons learned as the project progresses. It provides more meaningful data for future projects, it can be tied to stage gateways or key deliverables.
  3. Agree the information requirements at the outset. This ensures all parties have a clear deliverable, know what is expected of them and work towards achieving the goal from the start of project.

People

  1. Often overlooked but put simply get good people on your project and keep them for as long as you are able.
  2. Definition of stakeholders should be carried out throughout and in detail. Who will be impacted by the project and who is needed to make it a success?
  3. The client role is pivotal including client engagement.

The full report can be downloaded here

Contributors:  Owen Anthony is an experienced project management practitioner, who as well as being a Full member of APM is also a member of the Soft Landings User Group who acted as the study’s research lead.

Daniel Nicholls is APM’s Research Manager who commissioned the research study for APM and having been a project manager thought it important to help improve understanding around this often neglected subject. For more information on APM Research please visit www.apm.org.uk/research

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