Intentional Project Ramp-Off: A 4-Step Transition Plan

Change is inevitable on projects. Changes may happen as a response to user feedback or market shifts, but they can also happen in the form of team members. At Atomic, we see a lot of value in rotating people between projects. We have practices, such as paired programming, that mitigate some of the downsides of rotating team members. However, it’s still important to take steps toward a successful ramp-off. Here is a four-step transition plan you can take to make sure your team is still set up for success long after your departure from a project.

1. Identify activities and specialized knowledge.

We try to ensure knowledge is shared throughout the life of a project, but each team member becomes a specialist on a few things.

This is healthy. On large projects, it’s not realistic to expect developers to tackle work in any area when there are multiple complex areas. On small projects, you probably don’t have the luxury of multiple people in project leadership roles sharing responsibilities.

It’s important to identify where you are the expert and what activities you carry the rock forward on. Here are some questions you can think about to help you create a list:

  • What have I been working on the past three months?
  • Are there any deliverables/documents that I maintain or create?
  • What questions do my teammates regularly ask me?
  • What recurring meetings do I lead?
  • What things are coming down the pike that I’ve been thinking about or involved with in the past?
  • What “glue” work do I own for the team?
    • As you create a list of answers to the questions, also think about what other team members, if any, would have similar items on their list.

      2. Create a transition plan.

      Once you know in what areas the team leans on you for direction, you can begin to create a plan for ramping off the project.

      A transition plan can have many shapes, and I think dictating a particular format would be wrong. However, I do think a good transition plan includes a list of activities or areas identified in the first step. Along with each activity, the plan should have:

      • New owner/specialist candidate
      • Target transition date
      • Completed/Status

      Creating a document might feel rigid and over-structured, but it has benefits. It will force you to think about how much you have to offload and the realistic timing of those things. It’ll also help you track the progress so you are comfortable when it comes time to roll off. Lastly, it creates a deliverable that you can share with the rest of the team so everyone is in alignment.

      3. Communicate your plans and timing.

      You want your team to feel confident about moving forward after you’ve left the project. The best way to do that is to show them that you have taken time to think about and plan your transition.

      Communicating your plan can be as simple as running through the transition plan you made above and making it accessible to other team members.

      Make sure you give your team time to give you input about your plan. There’s a good chance they’ll find a few gaps that need to be accounted for.

      Also, communicating your plan to the team helps highlight which specializations may not have a new owner. This will help your teammates plan for that risk.

      4. Resist the urge to stay engaged.

      One of the toughest things to do is to commit to disengaging from your project. You want the project and your team to succeed, and you don’t want to burden them with your absence. However, I’ve found that the best thing for the project and for you is to make as quick an exit as possible.

      There’s a strong chance that whoever the new specialist is in your areas will not have the answers at the ready as you did. However, being available to answer questions yourself pushes off the pressure for someone else to pick things up. Not being available gives the new person a chance to truly take ownership.

      If you’re in a leadership position, it’s beneficial to disengage quickly so the team can adjust to new dynamics and hierarchies. Whoever is taking over your role will have their own style and tweaks to the process, and they should have the space to make those changes.

      Disengaging from projects is a difficult, thorny process. You might have both personal and practical concerns when you leave. However, with a strong transition plan and a clean exit, you will feel better about the position you’ve left both the project and team in. Good luck with your next transition!