Hand It Over
12 steps (and a bonus) to successfully transferring a project
by Joseph D. Conklin
No matter how much you like a task, at some point you can count on passing the baton. This happened to me following an agency reorganization. The goal was to centralize the statistical analysis function to encourage more collaboration and sharing of ideas. The move meant a new boss and a new office.
It also meant letting go of the research I had performed for my old group within a niche of the renewable fuels industry. This task consisted of scouring the weekly press for stories highlighting important technological, financial and public policy trends. My new and old management agreed this work was somewhat outside the scope of my new charter.
The handoff to a new hire in my old group went especially well, thanks to this 12-step process. Unlike many 12-step programs, it features a bonus step and some feedback from the person who received the training. Feel free to adapt the program whenever you need to hand over a task.
12 steps to task transfer
Step 1: Identify your replacement as soon as possible. I asked my old supervisor and division manager in the late fall who my replacement would be. Asking this far ahead of time encouraged the division manager to keep the need in mind when hiring new staff. The task was given to Max during his first week on the job early in the next year.
Step 2: Schedule regular training appointments. Every week for a month and a half, Max and I met for 90 minutes Thursday mornings and afternoons for training on the renewable fuels research.
Step 3: Put the necessary inputs in one convenient location. This step was the easiest because the data files and spreadsheets lived in their own dedicated directory on the agency’s computer system. Having all the necessary inputs in one place made for smoother training.
Step 4: Send outputs and documentation ahead of the first training session. I sent Max a copy of the standard email that goes out when a batch of articles is ready to send to division management. Attached to the sample email were copies of prior articles. Even before training started, Max had a good idea of what the final outputs look like.
Step 5: Make the first training session a high-level overview. Before spending hours looking up articles and editing spreadsheets, I covered the goals, history and open issues of the renewable fuels research.
Step 6: Set at least one concrete objective before each training session. I let Max know ahead of time the desired outcome of the next training session.
Step 7: Adjust requirements with the sponsor. I didn’t assume Max would have the same kind of time for this task that I had enjoyed. I talked to my old division manager about the other things he wanted him to learn and agreed on some options for adjusting the deadlines for the article research.
Step 8: In the beginning, show and explain. For our first few training sessions, Max looked over my shoulder as I worked on the computer. I stopped to explain the current step I was performing to find an article or edit the index file, and I paused so he could take notes.
Step 9: Remind and coach. After a few training sessions, Max came to my office. I began the searching and editing, but halfway through, we switched places so he could try completing it. I looked over his shoulder and pointed out things as I saw the need.
Step 10: Stand back. After Max was comfortable with the basic routine, we kept to the training schedule. Instead of meeting in my office, Max worked in his, trying to do as much on his own as possible. I stopped by periodically to see how things were going.
Step 11: Suggest improvements for the new person. Before Max sent his first email with the latest articles to the division manager and team leaders, I reviewed his draft and suggested ways he could check the completeness and consistency of his work. He revised the draft of the email accordingly.
Step 12: Set a firm date for the handover. After a month of regular training, Max was ready to own the task. The first of the next month was a few days away. We agreed that was a good date for him to officially take over.
Bonus step: Remain available for awhile. Fortunately, the reorganization meant moving up to a new floor in the building, not leaving the agency altogether. Max and I agreed he could call me at my new location if new questions came up in the future.
Thoughts from the trainee
Max wanted to start on the strongest possible note in his new job. He thought the training under the 12-step process was the most thorough he has received since coming on board. He appreciated the amount of time invested to make sure the transfer was a success. He looks forward to improving the task.
Max recommends trainers exercise patience, thoroughness and attention to detail rather than sheer speed when transferring a task. Also, veteran employees perform a valuable service when they share their experience. I couldn’t agree more. I wish Max well in his new responsibility. He is on a winning path.
Joseph D. Conklin is a mathematical statistician at the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. He earned a master’s degree in statistics from Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and is a senior member of ASQ. Conklin is also an ASQ-certified quality manager, quality engineer, quality auditor, reliability engineer and Six Sigma Black Belt.