Advice for Junior PMs – #11 – Plan for Transition to Operations as early as possible

How many times have you heard the expression “tossing the football over the fence” related to something that your project is building? In the world of projects, this expression ultimately means giving accountability/responsibility for maintenance and support to a group different than the project team. Some members of the project team may transition to support roles; but ultimately the group that will have to own the product/service will be different.

Having worked with a myriad of maintenance managers – both technical (IT) and construction focused – the common complaint of Project Managers by Maintenance Managers that are so focused on delivering on time/on budget/to scope is always the same: “they have surprised me with something new to what we are doing, and I don’t have the staff to support something new. We’re simply not ready.”  Similarly, the common complaint of maintenance managers by Project Managers is that: “they are so difficult to work with.  They have these silly requirements that will add so much work to the team.”

The lesson from Clayton Christensen’s “How will you measure your life“, as well a whole group of academics and business leaders, is to not wait to build capabilities for when you need them, but to build the capabilities as soon as practically possible so that they are available for use when you need them.

What does that mean in the context of projects? How can you avoid the pain?

1. Know your scope
If you haven’t considered transition to operations as part of your scope, you don’t have the complete scope for your project.  Ensure that you work with the maintenance team to document exactly their requirements for transitioning to support, and update this document if any changes occur throughout the project.

2. Early engagement
When you first start scoping a project, figure out who the supporting organization will be, and give them an information session. Allow them to ask questions. Give them the proposed timing for your go-live. Talk to them about what they will need to support. Help them understand how you will be changing their world, and ask them what you can do to help them be successful.

3. Build Tools
As you work through the project, start thinking about the support materials that the project will need to build for the maintenance organization. Do you need quick reference guides, process documentation, screen shots of a new application, central repository of safety documentation, or something else entirely? And just like you would with the product itself, be sure you review these deliverables with the support organization.

4. At time of go-live, involve the support organization
Involve the support organization when building production servers, commissioning communication towers, performing installs on users’ computers, inspecting sites, or anything other major deliverable activity to highlight what has been delivered, what your client/customer/users are experiencing, and to start the transition away from the project team to the maintenance organization.

5. Get sign-off
There is no worse feeling than doing a good job, only to have someone come back and challenge you as to whether you did the job at all.  Get sign-off on the document that you developed in point #1 above.


As a project manager,its your job to ensure that your team’s achievement of transitioning to support is well planned an executed.  What other strategies have you used to make transitioning to support painless?