The Project Notebook

Transition: The Forgotten Project Management Phase

By:  Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP

Copyright 2011, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

Most project managers are familiar with the five phases of a project life cycle.  However, buried somewhere between the execution and the close-out is a critical period when a project transitions to production or is integrated into an organization’s functional activities.  The challenge for a project manager is to identify the transition needs early in the project life cycle so that effective planning can take place in an orderly fashion and not in a last-minute crisis mode.

Some project management reference sources include transition planning and execution with little emphasis on specific concerns that need to be addressed.  These efforts are generally specified as some of the last activities in the project schedule.  Because of that chronological placement, project managers are often challenged to convince customers, clients, sponsors and/or users that transition planning cannot be deferred until the day before “go live”.  Because transition activities require resources, there are budget as well as schedule impacts that need to be addressed early in the project life cycle.  It is often in the transition stage that performance/quality may also be compromised in an effort to insert critical activities that were not previously identified.  In extreme situations project managers and teams may be forced to work 36 hours or more without sleep to ensure that at least some of the transition needs are met.

What are major transition components that must be considered?  A primary concern is how the project outcome will actually be implemented and who needs to be involved.  What are the operational and organizational impacts that will occur not only within the organization but also throughout the entire supply chain?  Who are the people who need to be involved and when do they need to be involved?  A sure recipe for disaster is to “dump” a project outcome on people who have not been involved throughout the project.  It’s bad enough when this type of “surprise” is internal.  However, when customers, vendors and other external entities are not involved in the transition process, the results can be devastating to an organization’s continued existence.  Even if the project outcome is a “win-win” situation, no one likes surprises.  A customer who has not been appropriately informed that he/she will now be transacting business via a website rather than with a live person is a lost customer.

Another key factor that is often overlooked in transition planning is the use of tangible milestones and deliverables.  No plan is perfect.  What types of indicators need to be in place to indicate the degree of success or potential failure that is occurring?  For example, if a new piece of equipment is to be installed, what tests are necessary to ensure effective operation on the day of implementation?  It’s not only a matter of identifying the necessary tests but also documenting the test plan/script, specifying the required outcomes of each test and assigning human resources.  Finally, what criteria will be used to determine which problems identified by the test activities need to be addressed prior to implementation?

Orderly, effective transition can “make or break” the best managed project.  Early planning, involving the appropriate people and specifying relevant feedback measures go a long way toward ensuring a successful transition.  No project manager can afford to “forget” transition.

 Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia.  She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices.  Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States.  She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee.  She can be contacted at

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