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Managed Handover - Making a smooth getaway

Updated: Mar 24, 2023

Reposting this Linkedin artice which I originally wrote in April 2018

Projects end. Roles change. Regular employees get (some) protection during transition periods but as an independent consultant getting laid off periodically is just part of the job description - we are paid more when we are in work to cover the "between assignment" periods.

I have spent my entire career working on short term projects so I've had plenty of practice winding things up at the end of an assignment. It is actually one of favourite phases in a project - a chance to take stock on what I've achieved, think about what I've learned, gently test the water to see what new opportunities are out there. It is also a great moment to leave a positive final impression which may help open doors in the future.

Over the years I have settled on a standard approach for running these changes and since it's fresh in my mind after completing my latest transition I thought I'd write up "what I do". Note that the timings that follow are based on a 10 day transition. For shorter periods the process is basically the same, just with less time for each step.


I grew up in the South West of England and among the coastal hills there frequently the first sign that you are reaching the sea is a kind of space on the horizon because the land is running out - a gap of blue sky which inland would be filled by fleeting glimpses of the next row of hills.

Similarly, the first hint that at assignment might be about to end is normally not anything specific being said, but rather stuff which isn't. There have been a couple of times over the years when I was surprised that my role ended but in most cases I already knew or suspected it was likely long before I heard "officially" that I wasn't being renewed.

At the start or middle of an assignment there is generally a long list of "do next" topics which are keep coming up for discussion; often they are a slightly annoying distraction as the team is asked to spend time needed to delivering our current promises thinking through how to meet the shiny new business needs which have just been discovered. While priorities frequently shift, I can usually see a credible roadmap of follow up areas where I see opportunities to help drive the future success of the project and / or team.

In contrast, if an assignment is nearing its natural end, the "do next" topics and discussions tend to dry up, either because the remaining actions are lower importance and don't have the clear business value to keep stakeholders engaged or because new actors have arrived who are successfully taking responsibility for the next set of activities.

Of course, the easiest way to avoid surprises is to simply ask the hiring manager whether they are likely to renew you. The trick is getting an accurate response without any sugar-coating from concern about hurting your feelings. I like to pose the question calmly and confidently making clear that I am still available if needed while framing it with some excitement about new opportunities I am interested in following up on.


It's official and you've been told - your contract is not going to be renewed. You have a clear end date, likely only one or two weeks from now, and need to find a way to wind up or hand over all of your current responsibilities.

Hopefully you saw it coming and were already mentally and emotionally on board with the change; if not then as an independent it's still best to roll with it as best you can - a couple of quick questions may help to understand what you missed so you can be better prepared next time around but there's really no upside trying to argue your case "in the room". By this moment the decision has already been made and all you can achieve is generate bad feeling which may make it that bit harder to get another assignment someday in the future.

My approach for the conversation itself is to keep it positive and upbeat, empathise with the hiring manager about her decision, discuss who I am going to transition to and any major risks I see in the process as well as an initial framework of what I still expect to be able to complete versus topics I will need to hand over in their current state. Beyond that, I avoid too much discussion of the transition process itself, since I find that much easier to "show" rather than "tell".

Immediately following the meeting I start putting together a first draft transition plan covering everything I am still working on:

  • TOPIC - Short description of item to be handed over - it should be specific enough to hand over to a specific team member

  • OPEN ITEMS - Detailed bullets for remaining action points relating to topic

  • HANDOVER TO - Single team member who will be responsible for topic once it is handed over. Even if multiple people will receive info during transition, there should always be one owner to confirm transition has been completed and handle any new issues which come up afterwards

  • HANDOVER TARGET - Date by which topic handover should be completed. These should be spread through the transition period

  • COMMENTS - Any specific info on transition process and timing

My aim is to get the an initial version out to the core team the same day in order to both announce my upcoming transition and get confirmation that I am including the full list of activities.

Once the draft is ready I will also schedule a quick call with the core team either that day or the following morning to run through the plan and confirm that:

  1. The list of topics I've identified as needing handover is complete

  2. I have identified the correct owner for each topic that I am handing over

  3. That the team members I am proposing to hand over to will have time available on the days I am suggesting


In the first couple of days of the transition a large part of my time is still being spent on my existing responsibilities so I am careful to avoid over-committing to specific handover topics.

Throughout the transition I send out a daily update to the plan to my core team indicating which topics have been handed over and to whom to prevent any misunderstanding about which topics I still consider to be within my responsibility.

At this point my main focus is handing over easy items such as:

  • New and upcoming business needs where there isn't enough time left to make any real progress before handing over

  • Lower priority issues which don't have an immediate business consequence or obvious quick resolution and have got in stuck in the long grass

  • Topics with a natural owner who is already basically up to speed

In each case, my aim is just to provide all the information I have on the topic plus a couple of suggestions about possible next steps - at this stage I rarely "fix" anything that I am transitioning. Each discussion includes a confirmation that the new owner understands what I've handed over and will be able to take over any follow up question and other activities as they come up.

During this period I also spread the word about my upcoming transition to the wider team (e.g., during project status meetings) including explaining who will be taking over my responsibilities as part of the transition.


If the transition is going to plan then within a couple of days of hearing that my contract will be ending I will have achieved the following:

  • Core team members realise that my assignment is ending, have reviewed my transition plan and know and agree about which topics I will be handing over to them

  • Wider team are also aware that my assignment is ending and know who will be taking over from me

  • Future requirements / lower priority issues have already been transitioned although so far this has had limited impact on how the project is run on a daily basis

Once these steps are in place I am ready to hit the accelerator and switch the transition process into high gear.

For each topic remaining to be transitioned I make an assessment based on the following factors:

  • How important is it to the business that this runs smoothly after I leave? I hand over the highest priority items as early as possible to allow more time for the new owner to get up to speed before I finally leave

  • How quickly can the team pick this up? I will transition areas much sooner if there are other team members available who are just as capable of managing the remaining tasks

  • How much of my day do I need to spend supporting this topic? Generally I transition areas which are taking a lot of time as quickly as possible to free up my schedule for the rest of the transition

  • Are there existing meetings or deliverables I can use to transition a particular topic? If so I will adjust my transition timing to meet the existing schedule

  • Do I have time left to close this topic? In some cases it is the same or less effort to simply complete something rather than try to explain to someone else what is needed. In this situation I may hold onto a topic a little longer to give me time to finish up.

  • Do I still have something important to contribute? Even if I know I can't finish a topic completely, there are often a few areas where my specialist knowledge can really help to drive things forward. I try to keep one or two of these topics back to work on in my last couple of days after I've completed my main hand over.

While I am usually able to tie up quite a few loose ends it is important to stay realistic about what can still be achieved - trying to complete several months' work in a few days is *not* a recipe for a successful transition.


Towards the end of a transition my schedule starts to free up since I have already handed over most of my activities.

As each topic is transitioned I try to drop off the radar (e.g., no longer turning up for status calls) to leave space for the new owner to take over so while I do quietly monitor for any serious gaps or misunderstandings I really try to interfere as little as possible once a handover has been completed.

At this point I normally have one or two items left with open questions or other complexities that will make the transition take longer. My exact approach will vary by topic but the final handover will include a summary of current status plus a detailed list of next steps and owners.

If I'm on track then by my last day I have already effectively completed my transition with all topics handed over to new owners. From there, my final steps are:

  • Check in with core team / stakeholders on how the transition is going and providing advice on any new issues or questions

  • Update project backlog / documentation with details from the transition plan

  • Send out a final version of the transition report making it clear that all activities have been completed

With that the transition is done and I'm free to start chasing opportunities, knowing that I've done my best to secure the contribution I made in the assignment I just completed.

Thank you for your interest to read this far - this is a process I've come up with on my own over the years so I'd love to hear feedback and alternative approaches. I'm especially interested in any suggestions for how I might improve things next time around.

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