If you are an IT project manager in today’s current business environment characterized by shifting priorities and scarce resources, there is a good chance that sooner or later you will be asked to take over a project that is already in the development phase.

It may be that the current project manager is leaving the company, have been promoted to new responsibilities, or the company needs him to take over another project more related with his background. It may be that the project did not have a project manager and now someone is needed to take over, or it may be a late or over budget project that the organization needs you to “fix”.

You are facing a significant challenge ahead of you; the project performance reports could be inaccurate, technical designs could be incomplete and have missed key user requirements or proper risk planning could have not been performed. The degree of uncertainty for you as the project manager is very high, that’s why it is recommended to perform an assessment of how the project has been run so far, reviewing each previous phase to raise relevant alarms and recommend corrective actions.

To support this assessment, following are 20 questions to ask when taking over an IT project:

Project Initiation and Objective Definition

1. Have a Project Charter been developed and signed by the sponsor and key stakeholders?

2. Does the project have a developed business case that demonstrates its benefit and alignment with the strategic objectives of the organization?

Technical Design

3. Is there a technical feasibility evaluation for the project?

4. Have a general technical design document been developed?

5. Is there evidence that the business owners and users reviewed the functional design, and that their input was included in the final document?

6. For all system components, did the development phase start after technical design was finalized?

Software Testing

7. Does the project have Testing Strategy, Testing Plan and Testing Design documents?

8. Where the Test Cases available to developers so they could consider any scenario that could have been missed during technical design?

Non Functional Requirements

9. Does the Project technical specifications include non-functional requirements, in areas such as level of service, performance, security, compliance and technical quality?

10. Is there an assessment of server and database capacity requirements?

Project Planning

11. Was the project schedule developed after the technical scope definition was finalized?

12. Was the input of technical leads, developers and experts included in the schedule?

13. Where project risks identified, evaluated and planned upon?

Project Execution

14. How is the project current performance in relation with planned scope, time, cost and quality objectives?

15. Are there any significant technical design issues opened and / or unresolved?

16. In case that the development team had to modify any functionally for technical reasons, where the changes discussed and agreed with the client? (Following change management procedures)

Project Management Procedures and Organization

17. Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined, documented and communicated?

18. Were communications and issue resolution responsibilities delegated? (Preventing communication bottlenecks)

19. To what extent the communication needs of stakeholders were identified? Was a communications plan developed?

20. Is there a clearly defined procedure for scope change management approved and followed by all stakeholders? (That prevents scope creep)

What’s Next

If the answer is yes to most of these questions, then you will be able to take over the project with the confidence that proper project management is in place, and chances of success are high. On the other hand, is the answer is no to most questions, the situation may look perilous, but nevertheless is an excellent opportunity to raise the alarm and get support for corrective and preventive actions before is too late.

Have you ever taken over an already started IT Project? What was your biggest challenge? Did we miss an important question? Which other questions would you ask? Please share your thoughts.