Why Do Project Task Handoffs Fall Apart?

Transitioning a task from one owner to the next can be a major tripping point for project teams. Unfortunately, inefficient or incomplete handoffs can lead to delays, missing data, lost momentum, and steep financial consequences if issues snowball across other areas of the project or negatively affect deliverables.

Teams need to carefully monitor task transitions, and project groups should have an established framework in place to facilitate seamless workflow transfers.

If your group is experiencing unwanted drama or headaches around activity transitions, there are some common missteps that may be contributing to your trouble.

Lack of communication with the new task owner. You can’t assume that the next functional group in the workflow knows it’s time to take over. Even when a team is aware they’re next in line, the individual initiating the handoff still needs to be deliberate and clear that ownership of the task is changing and someone else is now responsible for moving the workflow forward. It’s also prudent to begin communications with the task’s next owner before the handoff occurs—some advance notice is not only appreciated, it can be the difference between a smooth and efficient transition, and one that’s slow and bumpy.

Lack of communication with other task stakeholders and interested parties. Most project activities have dependencies or adjacencies that translate into a small (or sometimes large) group of stakeholders with an interest in knowing about task handoffs. In some cases, those collaborators may be within the same workflow, but at other times the transitioning task isn’t part of their direct area. When user testing on a new software feature is complete, for example, tasks to fix bugs will be handed off within the development team. However, the group responsible for training system users may also want to know that testing has finished so they can update session materials to reflect the latest functionalities.

Lack of visibility that a task is ready to hand off. In some activity sequences—particularly those that are complex or have many moving parts—it may not be obvious when a stage completes. Unless the team is using a strong project methodology and has the necessary tools to maintain awareness around task status, it can be surprisingly easy to lose track of when it’s time to hand a workflow off to the next group. Unfortunately, this lack of visibility results in unnecessary delays, some of them potentially quite lengthy. Teams can either wait for the next task owner in line to inquire about the status of the task, or they can implement a more effective methodology to monitor activity sequences and keep them on track throughout the project lifecycle.

Lack of follow up with the new task owner to confirm they have everything they need. Connecting with the group that took over the activity to see how things are progressing is a good idea for several reasons. First, it gives you the opportunity to ensure that any instructions or knowledge you passed along were interpreted correctly. Do they have any questions? Are they encountering difficulties launching their portion of the task? A quick check-in also helps to validate your transition process. If you’re regularly needing to supply information or answer questions that should have been addressed during the handoff, then you know your process could use some tweaking. In addition, the steps you take to transition tasks to a new sub-team may need to evolve over time. Following up with the next activity owner in the flow will help you spot areas that should be updated to keep you in tune with best practices and your organization’s project maturity.

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