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Seeing the Project Through to the End

~ By Brad Egeland

Quote: A whole is that which has a beginning, middle and end

You know the feeling. Getting a project from the beginning is awesome. I don't mean one you've "acquired" from another project manager who is leaving the company, being shown the door, going on leave or needed on another engagement. I do mean taking it through the planning phases and through execution, through testing for those tedious, complex technical projects, through rollout and handoff to support.

I mean taking the project from beginning to end. Uninterrupted. Alpha to Omega. Final destination. Finnis. Au revoir. Sayonara. Auf Weidersehen. Over and done…out.

It seems like - in the project management world - we rarely get to see a project through from absolute beginning to absolute end. There's too many handoffs because someone needs something. Or we're overloaded. Or a project we have on our plate becomes so critical that we have to hand others off. Frustration is the usual feeling…especially if you're getting rid of a baby you saw through from the beginning and it's going so well that you just have to see it through till the end.

So if you really care about the projects you manage - and if you're reading this, you probably do - you know the euphoria you feel when you take one from beginning to end. You know the feeling when it's ours all the way through customer handoff…and all goes well. It's a wonderful feeling. Again, I'd say euphoric.

I've thought this over. I've strategised throughout my career, and I've negotiated here and there - sometimes successfully - along the way. So let's discuss what you can try to do about those projects that you don't want to let go of…and the best way to let go of those projects that you really have no say over.

Hanging On

If it's your project and you don't want to leave it, you can always try to hang on. Negotiate with your senior management. Offer to give up other projects to keep the one you want to keep. Or tell them - and then somehow convince them - how critical you are to the project. Get customer feedback (good feedback, hopefully) on why keeping you on the project will give them more confidence and be happier in the long run.

As much as you possibly can, prove yourself to be indispensable to the team, project and project client. Make it hard - almost seem disruptive - for senior management to pry you away from this particular project.

Exiting Your Way

If you have to exit, do it on your terms…as much as you possibly can. Get things in order. Help choose a replacement. Tie up loose ends. How you leave things with the project customer and the state of readiness you leave everything in says a lot about you, your professionalism and your project management acumen.

Leaving It Good With the Customer

Finally, leave it all in good standing with the project customer. Why so much concern over the how the customer perceives you? Several reasons…

  • Reason #1: There's a good chance you'll face this customer again down the road on another project…so stay on good terms with them. You do that by breaking the news yourself, exiting with everything in place and mentoring your replacement for at least a couple of weeks.
  • Reason #2: You may want to work for your project customer somewhere down the road. If you ever leave your current organisation for greener pastures, one of those pastures you will consider may be this client. Looking back, I think that just about every organisation I left had a previous project client that I talked to or that sought me out for a potential working relationship. Don't burn bridges. Paint them. Keep them fresh.
  • Reason #3: Out of sheer professionalism, you want to leave everyone with a smile. If the project you're leaving goes south after you leave it, you are still part of it - or were part of it. You'll still be associated with the failure even if you had nothing to do with it. Leave everyone involved - all stakeholders, team members…everyone - on good terms. The benefit? That blow to you if the project does end up tanking will be lessened and maybe even eliminated.


When you must turn over your baby, you must. Unless you own the company, you will move on to another project if that's what management says you must do for the good of the company and the needs of another project. But that doesn't mean you can't go down fighting. That doesn't mean you have to give up gracefully. How you leave it with the customer - that last impression - is up to you. Make it a good one.

I'd love to hear about your experiences. How do you deal with project handoffs? Please share in the comments!

Comments (1)

Topic: Seeing the Project Through to the End
5/5 (1)
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24th August 2015 6:07pm
John Reiling (Mendham) says...
Excellent article, Brad. Most people, and PMs high on the list, want some "ownership" in what they do. Projects should be defined to be more on the short than the long side to increase the odds of the start-to-finish experience, and I think there will be better results all around.

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