The summer holidays are fast approaching – if you haven’t yet taken a break yourself. At this time of year project teams are depleted as people take their annual holiday. It happens regularly, and good project managers are prepared for the challenge of running their project with fewer people over the holiday period, and managing those handovers. Here are my tips on how to streamline the handoffs between people as they go on holiday and then come back again.
Ask what reporting is expected from you if the person you are covering for is going away over month end.
Ask what they want you to chase up while they are away.
Check if there are any meetings they need to you go to in their absence, or whether you should cancel any regular meetings.
What boundaries are you operating in? Are you operating on a ‘light touch’ basis just dealing with crises as they arise, or should be you approving budget items, scheduling resources and briefing the project sponsor?
While your colleague is away, don’t copy them in to every email. Instead, create a document where you can add all the updates. You can send them this when they are back, along with any pertinent emails. But try to avoid bombarding them with emails that they’ll have to read when they are back, especially if things change a lot and half their emails will be irrelevant.
Who can you go to for advice or decisions while they are away? Having someone ask you to cover for them while they are on leave is a sign that they have confidence in you to deal with any issues that arise. Sometimes, though, you’ll need some extra support, so ask them where you should go for this if required.
Finally, don’t let them forward all their emails to you! Email inboxes can be set up with auto-forward rules so that their messages can be automatically sent to a named person. Don’t encourage this – if they put your name on their out of office message people will find their way to you without any additional help. Besides, you have your own emails to wade through.
Giving a handover
When it’s your turn to go away, think about how you are going to leave your project and ensure that things run smoothly while you are sunning yourself on a beach or skiing down a mountain.
Draft any reports that need to be submitted while you are away. The person picking up from you can then just edit your report in case anything changes.
If you briefed the person covering for you in a face-to-face or phone meeting, follow up with an email highlighting the main points that need to be chased or updated while you are out of the office.
Remember that the person you are handing over to also has their own day job to do! Don’t overwhelm them – they aren’t supposed to be doing your job on top of their own. Their role is to keep the wheels turning while you are away, and that’s all.
Make sure they understand the boundaries of operation. Something might come up that they need to handle in your absence, so make sure that they know what they can and can’t approve.
They will most likely be the person you put on your out of office message, but do check with them. Then put your out of office message on!
Let everyone know that you are going away and who is the contact person in your absence.
Share your stories of handover horrors or good practice in the comments!