Jumping on a Moving Train

What if you are assigned to an active project? When might this happen and where to start? Do you know how not to screw up when jumping on a moving train? 

Hey Crizpers, have you ever been in a situation when a company asks to join an active project? Usually this is a cat in a hat and you never know what to expect when you are in. Let’s sink into this case and find out what to undertake when the check is produced before you buy.

When a Point of Departure is Behind

No-one is insured from the moment when you are asked to manage a project that is already moving forward. There is always a possibility that tomorrow you will be at this place. Of course, making an inquiry the management team is expecting you to become a savior of the day. Isn’t it a great feeling being a Superman? But where to start and the big thing is how not to screw up? Usually a Project Manager is assigned to an active project when the project is already in a certain condition. It’s time for you to put on the doctor’s gown and carry out diagnostics. What preconditions could stay behind of a necessity to jump on a moving train?

Backup your Peer

I guess the most common situation when a Project Manager is called to an active project is when a current PM is taking time off. Should this be a vacation or a sick leave, this does not make a big difference. This situation should be the least hard and knotty.

Usually when a Project Lead is leaving for a rather short period of time, there should not be problems. Often a person you are going to backup could be in-touch during the absence time at least rarely.

Of course, with this active project you are getting an extra load and will need to apply an extra effort. However, accepting this request you could take some benefits too. It will allow you to see some insights from your peers management approach, and you will be able to compare them and to apply on your projects if appropriate. And, should you need a backup for your project, now you know where to go.


This one is a bit harder than a simple backup. In this case this is not gonna be a temporary effort. Most likely you are expected to finish the work and to deliver this project. If you are replacing another Project Manager, the first thing you need to find out is ‘Why?’. Try to get as many insights as possible. This will help you to build up an overall picture and to develop your own strategy. 

The reasons for leaving my vary significantly. It could be a maternity leave; a person could decide to leave a company, or he or she was terminated. Another situation is when a manager was not able to engage with the team. Thus, for busting up a project performance it was determined that another PM could help better. Maybe a previous manager was not appreciated by a client, this might happen too. In any case, try to find out the reason and then decide on the best approach to perform.

Should a manager decide to leave for any reason, it is still challenging to get on track. However, if it was an issue in communication between a manager and a team, or a manager and a customer, you would need to dig a bit deeper. 

Extra Forces

Two PMs on a Projects

Next case when you could be engaged for an active project, is when it is a really big project and a current PM needs help. This can happen on Enterprise solutions with several simultaneous deployments, or when the scope of work is extremely increased.

Should you someday be in the situation of a primary Project Manager, there is no shame to ask for help. When the request is constructive and if this will prevent a project performance from decrease, in most cases you will get the assistance needed. If you are the one who is a Superman, this would be a good experience working on the big product. And, collaborating with another PM you could distribute the accountabilities and effectively backup each other when needed.

Taking over a vacant Role

There might be a scenario when a project was initially kicked-off without a Project Manager. Some projects could be perceived less complicated than they actually are, or the company simply didn’t have a Project Manager resource available when the project was started. In any case, you could be the one who is jumpy in and saving the day.

Be ready to power up all your energy. There is a huge probability the project has a very simplified plan, or does not have a plan at all. You would need to build up an overall plan and to monitor and control the project progress simultaneously. 

Jumping on a Moving Train

So, you have been invited on a live project. It is time to develop a landing strategy and to decide how to perform efficiently considering all the circumstances and preconditions. Well, if there was a chance to say ‘No’, and if you do not want any challenging undertakings, probably this would be best way to react.

However, if you feel some special powers inside; if you like tricky cases; and if you want to add new solutions to your resume, then taking over could be a good move. Besides, not every company allows you to choose which project to take. In many cases you will be simply assigned to it.

How to Land

Firstly, cling the hand-rails and get the essentials. As mentioned above, the instant action is to define the reasons you are here. And, you need to know how much time you have to get on track. Basically, this depends on the reason itself. If you are joining a project that didn’t have a PM initially, or you are helping an active PM, no-one would restrict you from gathering insight during the project lasts. However, if the point to join the action was related to backup procedure or to the replacement, you will most likely be constrained by the time the previous Project Manager is going to be available for you to transfer the project information. Thus, try to find this out as soon as you can.

Fasten your Belt

Staring with familiarization, ensure that you have a chance to request for the transferring information. This could be an email with the project details; or a transition meeting with the previous PM or / and the Project Team. Would be good if you can have both. In any case, you need a confirmed record of the current situation that states the volume and quality of the information that you have received. I don’t want to discourage you, but this data could become good evidence for you in the future. 

Retrieving info about a project

For the familiarization details, the minimum you need to ask for is:

  • all the project documentation that exists; 
  • communication details with the customer, the team and stakeholders, and communication state; 
  • latest reports that were composed and shared; 
  • current state of the project scope, budget and schedule; 
  • project risks and approved risk management plan. 

Obviously, the more information and details you would be able to dig and retrieve, the better for you and for the project. 

Once received, ensure how much time you have to get on track and how long the person you are replacing is going to be available. You will most likely need to sync with this peep again, either to confirm you are fine with what you have, or maybe to request additional documentation or details. Therefore, try to schedule a follow up meeting. Again, don’t forget to record everything that you are provided with for moving forward.

Taking a Wheel 

The basic stuff for moving on is to understand the situation on a project; analyze the issues and risks; develop a strategy on how to improve the situation. From the above, I would say that the Replacement case is always the most concerning one. Other three situations are pretty much straight forwards. Should you need to Backup, to Help or to Take over a virgin project that was not touched by a PM before, there are usually less icebergs on your way.

In case of a Backup most likely you would need to supervise the project and to be a point of contact until the time you pear is back. 

If you are getting aboard to help another PM, you would always have this peep aside and it will extremely speed up the familiarization process.

Should a project be started without a manager, you could be able to build the management approach from scratch despite the ongoing activities. Thus, there are even some advantages present.

I would especially beware of projects that require a replacement due to the low PM performance. Often there could be more specific stories in the closet. If you are in this certain situation, make sure you are getting as many insights as possible. Try to build trusting relationships with the team. These guys will be your new project family and you are going to support each other during the rest of the delivery process. For more tips on the Team Engagement check out this link.

Next, start building relationships with a client instantly.

Meeting a Client

I am not the one to tell you that the most complicated work is collaboration with people. All of them differ from one another, thus every person needs an individual approach. Especially when we are talking about the customers. And here is a very certain case, as this client is experiencing a stressful situation. 

Imagine, you are investing funds in a project; you have a manager who you are in touch with and who is accountable for the project delivery. And at some moment it was decided to change this manager. You do not know whether it will impact the project progress, the information about the project, and largely, if this will demand you to pay more. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Meeting a client

There is a little difference whether it was a customer’s decision to change a PM or not. The customer will anyway blame the company, and you as a PM going to represent the whole team.

Therefore, as soon as you have jumped on this moving train and got all the internal insights that were possible instantly, start building your relationships with the client. If you manage to find the right touch point with this guy, it could improve the project atmosphere significantly. 

I encourage you to check out the article about Communication to get more insights on how to proactively develop a communication strategy. 

Have you ever jumped on a moving train? If so, what issues have you faced there? Let me know in comments!

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