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Five Tips to Help You Hand Over Your Projects for the Holidays

Project Manager TransitionWe’re approaching the summer holidays and if your projects have run like mine this year, your carefully planned deadlines no longer coincide with the dates that you are going to be out of the office.

I don’t like going away and leaving my projects in someone else’s hands. Not because I am a control freak (although I suspect it is partly that) but because something always happens when I am not there. However carefully I plan it, I always seem to end up putting someone else through a stressful time as they have to act on or resolve an issue while I’m out of the office.

Here are my tips for making sure your projects run smoothly while you are away.

Use your email signature

I’ve seen more and more people using their email signature as a way to alert people to upcoming out of the office time. It reads a bit like this:

Email signature, contact details, etc
Advance notice: I’ll be out of the office from Tuesday 14 July until Friday 24 July.

The text is normally in red or bolded (or both) so it stands out. I have no idea how effective this is and whether it just means you get a ton of emails on the day before you are due to leave, but it seems like a sensible thing to do in an environment where you have a lot of messages and people need to know where you are.

Handover your projects

This might sound obvious but you need to plan to handover your work.

Your handoveree (that’s not really a word, I know) doesn’t need to know everything about the project. They simply need to be briefed on:

  • Main deliverables during this time, if any
  • Main risks or issues that are currently on the table and might need watching
  • Main stakeholders and the project sponsor’s contact details so if anything urgent does come up they know who to talk to
  • Where they can find information about the project
  • Major decisions that should be taken during this time, if any, and what your recommendation would be and/or criteria for making that decision.

You may have other things to add to that list depending on your project.

Set up a meeting with the person who will be covering for you while you are away. I find that it helps to create a document with all the key points. They can then use this as a reference while you are away and update it with anything that changes.

If you have an automated approvals process or a project management workflow, such as the change management process, set up a delegate for your time away so that you don’t inadvertently stop changes or processes moving forward while you are away.

Tell your sponsor

You should tell the key stakeholders on your project that you are going away. Give them lots of notice. Let them know who they should talk to when they can’t talk to you. If it’s that sort of project, let them know how they can contact you during your vacation, if you are prepared to take their calls.

Use your out of office message

Set up an out of office email response message letting people know that you are away from your desk. You can automate it to go to internal recipients and then set a different one for external senders as well, if you’d like to tailor your responses.

Here’s an example of a bad out of office message:

I’m on annual leave until Friday. I’ll pick up your email on my return.

This doesn’t give the recipient any useful information because they cannot be sure which Friday you are talking about. And if they have an urgent query, they’ve now drawn a blank as you’ve given them no alternative contacts.

This is better:

I’m on annual leave until Friday 24 July 2015. I won’t be accessing my email during this time. If your question is urgent, please contact:

Project Alpha: John Smith (telephone number xxx, email xxx@zzz.com)
Queries about invoices: Accounts Payable team (call xxx and choose option 3)
Other enquiries: Emma Jones (telephone number xxx, email

I’ll respond on my return.

List the contacts for each of your projects or major areas of responsibility if you have them (if you don’t, just stick your deputy on the list). Check with each person that you name that they are happy to cover for you while you are away. It’s tricky responding to queries when someone you have never heard of before calls you up with a question about a project you know nothing about (that has happened to me). If in doubt, put your manager as your out of office contact as he or she should be able to direct enquirers to the right person on your behalf.

Remember to update your voicemail message as well. If you are out of the office for a day or so then it probably isn’t worth it unless you get a lot of calls a day. If you are away for a week then it’s polite to let callers know that you won’t be returning their calls for a while.

Take a handback

Schedule time in your diary for your return so that you can pick the project up from the person who was looking after it for you. Don’t assume nothing has happened. You never know what they might have dealt with or done while you were away.

Personally I’m not particularly good at switching off on holiday so I would have checked all my emails anyway and kept up to date in a passive way through that. But I don’t advocate that: I think holiday time should be for holidays and when you come back you’ll normally have a huge pile of messages to go through. Make sure that you talk to your cover person as soon as you can so that you get the context for any of those messages that relate to the project.

These steps should help you feel more confident about leaving your projects for any length of time. Do you have any other tips to de-stress during your holidays and handover your work to someone else? Let us know in the comments.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a career project and programme manager with over a decade of experience in healthcare and financial services. She's also a content strategist, award-winning blogger and author of several books about project management. Find her online at A Girl's Guide to Project Management

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