10 April, 2023

What are the 3 Phases of an Effective Project Handover?

By Mike Clayton

When you get near the end of your project, there’s one big milestone: Project Handover. In a sense, this is where your work comes to fruition.

While it’s technically wrong to think of it as a single event, or milestone, handover marks the completion of delivery and the start of the closure stage of your project. So, it’s a big deal.

And precisely because handover is more of a process than a milestone, there is a lot to get right. So, in this ultimate guide to project handover, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.

What are the 3 Phases of an effective Project Handover?

Our Project Handover Agenda

We’ll start by answering the obvious question about what project handover is. And then we’ll tackle the detail of how to do it in the simplest, most obvious way: before, during, and after. Finally, we’ll end up by signposting you to some useful tools to make it easy for you to get your own Project Handover right.

Let’s get started…

What is Project Handover? The Essentials

When we talk about project handover, we are usually speaking of the handover of the project’s deliverables from the project to the operational environment. Put another way, the products go from the responsibility of you, the Project manager, to an operational manager – sometimes referred to as an Integration Manager.

Why did I highlight the word ‘usually‘?

Because the term is also sometimes used for the hand-over of a project from one Project Manager to another. While some of the ideas in this article will be relevant, i would refer you to our companion article, ‘One Day You’ll Need Our Ultimate Secrets to Project Takeover’. This looks at it from the perspective of the Project Manager to whom the project is handed over.

One Day You'll Need Our Ultimate Secrets to Project Takeover

When I talk about the handover of the project’s deliverables, there’s something critical to remember. At this point, you are also handing over responsibility for the realization of the benefits of these products. Benefits realization is an essential part of your preparation and execution of project handover.

Take a look at this short video…

Project Handover is a Process, not an Event

Usually, project handover is seen as a part of the closure stage. Most methodologies describe it there.

The PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (the PMBOK Guide) 6th edition places it in the Closing Process Group. And PRINCE2, likewise, places it as a part of the Close a Project process.

But the reality of Project Handover is that it is a process that spans the end of the Delivery stage and the start of the Closure stage. I like to represent it as the boundary between the two stages. And, if there is a ‘moment of handover’ then this is reasonable.

Responsibilities for Project Handover

As with any process, it is wise to document who is responsible for what. I would use a Linear Responsibility Chart (LRC) or perhaps a RACI Chart to do this. Items to consider include:

  • Sign-off on each side of the handover
  • Making and carrying out follow-on actions (like snagging)
  • Benefits realization
  • Configuration management
  • Documentation management
  • Contractual commitments
  • Training
  • Stakeholder communications
  • Formal reporting

And some of the people or roles to think about are:

  • Project Manager
  • Project Director, Sponsor, or Executive
  • Operational Manager, or internal client
  • External client
  • Senior User
  • Senior Supplier
  • Project Assurance
  • PMO or Project Support
  • Workstream leaders

The Three Phases of Project Handover

Because project handover is a process, it’s wise to think about it as a series of stages. We’ll adopt the simplest model:

  1. Pre-handover – a preparation stage
  2. Handover – the nearest thing to the ‘milestone’
  3. Post handover – following-up

I would also alert you to the possibility that, although we talk of the Project Handover, this need not be the case. Rather than a single release and handover of deliverables, it’s entirely likely that, on a big project, you may plan for multiple releases.

Phase 1: Preparation – Pre-Handover Activities

As with everything, Project Handover will go best, when you prepare for it. And, as you may expect from me, I recommend you start by making a checklist. In fact, if you look below, you’ll find we’ve already started the process for you!

We’ll look at four things to prepare:

  1. Users
  2. Stakeholders
  3. Commissioning the deliverables
  4. Documentation

Preparing Users for Handover

Before you hand over any assets, processes, or resources, the people who will need to use them need to feel ready. And there are two principal ways you can do that:

  1. Live experience
    Users can gain a measure of the live experience of the new process or asset by shadowing project team members or participating in testing – particularly the user-acceptance testing stages.
    This is probably the best way to convey knowledge. But, if you can’t make this happen for all users (because there are too many), then these are likely to become your super-users.
  2. Training
    Most users will gain practical knowledge through training. You may allocate one or more of a number of resources to lead and deliver this:
    1. Project team members
    2. Dedicated expert trainers
    3. Manufacturer’s or supplier’s trainers
    4. Super-users

Remember that the experience and training need to cover both:

  • operational use of the process or assets
  • maintenance of any assets

Preparing Stakeholders for Handover

Clearly, in the run-up to any handover, stakeholders need to be aware of what will happen and the timing of it. You’ll need to create a communications plan and allocate team members to aspects of it.

For most stakeholders, the handover is likely to be a ‘good-news’ event. But never neglect those stakeholders for whom it is either an inconvenience or, worse, a transition to a more detrimental state. Not every stakeholder will necessarily benefit from the outcomes of your project.

If you fail to properly engage with those stakeholders for whom this is a bad time, they may make your handover problematic. And, worst of all, they may do so in a way that you are unable (or poorly prepared) to predict. At least by engaging them, you have a chance to mitigate any disruptive behavior and, at the very least, anticipate it.

But the ideal outcome is that, by treating them with respect, potentially antagonistic stakeholders will accept the reality of project completion and handover with a measure of equanimity.

Final Commissioning ahead of Handover

Before handover can take place, any assets need to be fully commissioned and any processes or technology fully tested.

I shan’t go into how that works, because it will be particular to the specific technology and industry you are working with. But I would comment that the planning for this needs to be a part of your main project plan

Preparing Your Documentation for Handover

Once testing and commissioning documentation is complete, you should have available all of the documentation you will need for handover. So your task here is to collate and check it all.

I’ll put a list of all of the documentation you need to include in the project handover in the next section.

Phase 2: Conducting the Project Handover

It is during this stage that responsibility transfers from the project to the operational business or client. If there is a ‘moment’ – or a milestone, it is at the completion of this stage.

And, I would say that there should be a milestone. It is a point of celebration for your team.

However, ahead of that celebration, there is plenty of work to do, and here are my thoughts…

The Personal Touch: Conduct Your Project Handover in Person

I know we’re in strange times and you may need to interpret this in a Zoom/Teams sort of a way, but…

Always make your handover from your (Project) responsibility to your client’s (operational) responsibility in person. As much as possible, make it a human event with hand-shakes and signatures.

And also aim to involve users and your project team members in the process. It’s the users’ first point of ownership and your team’s last. So this transition can be emotionally important for both parties.

Getting Project Handover Sign-off

If there’s a moment, then this is it. A signature on a pre-prepared handover or acceptance document that your client or operational owner accepts responsibility for your deliverables.

Typically, any acceptance documentation comes with a schedule of follow-on actions. This is a note that acknowledges that the project may not have completed every tiny detail, but that the new beneficial owner is happy to take on responsibility for those few outstanding, ‘snagging’ items.

I’d expect, by the way, that the project team will provide a measure of support for completing these actions during the post-handover period (see below).

What You Need to Transfer at Handover

Aside from any assets, products, or processes, what you are handing over is largely information. And that transfer needs to be from the brains of the project team to the systems the operational teams will use. That way, the knowledge is secure from fading away. However, it is likely that there will be an amount of know-how that is neither:

  • straightforward to capture in documentation
  • easy to include in formal training

The real handover is between:

  • project practitioners and experts, and
  • end users and operational team members

Therefore it is important that any team members who will not be around for long can transfer their knowledge before they move on to the next thing. Here, I am thinking particularly of the need to debrief contractors and consultants.

But, of course, there’s also a lot of documentation that you need to hand over…

Project Documentation to Hand Over

Here’s a list of what I can think of…

  • Acceptance, Handover, or Sign-off paperwork
  • Operational manuals
  • Maintenance procedures and templates
  • Maintenance logs
  • Outstanding issues, follow-on actions, and snagging lists
  • Contractual documentation
  • Benefits realization plan
  • Acceptance report
  • Version control or configuration management records
  • and finally, any project or deliverable-specific documentation

Tying-up Your Project Handover Admin

Finally, before we move to the Post-handover activities, there may be some administrative activities that fall most comfortably in this stage. Here, I am thinking of things like:

  • Returning hired or borrowed equipment
  • Closing out contracts and signing off contractors
  • Releasing consultants
  • Updating systems and records

Phase 3: After Project Handover – Post-Handover Activities

‘It’s not over ’til it’s over’ – they say. There’s always more to do.

The Project Deliverables after Handover

The most evident thing is likely to be [a hopefully small amount of] snagging. These are any small tasks the new operational owners need to carry out to complete the deliverables. This list is likely to have come from the report from your commissioning or final round of user acceptance testing (UAT).

I would expect the project team to be on hand to help and support this. It is the responsibility that has transferred, but you still need to supply some support.

And, flowing naturally from this, is the need for Configuration Management, based on any changes made by the follow-on actions.

Benefits Management

Perhaps the most important thing is the benefits realization. It is largely the responsibility of the operational owners to realize the benefits of the products, services, processes, or assets that the project team delivered to them.

You will have included the Benefits Realization Plan among the documents that you handed over. Now it’s time for the operational team to own that document and work the plan.

Project Closure Activities

There is a whole load of things that you need to do to close down your project. And they all start once you have completed your project handover.

But they form a big topic. So I shall refer you to my article, ‘Project Closure: Your Complete Guide to How to Close-down Your Project’. It’s your obvious next step!

Project Closure - Your Complete Guide to How to Close-down Your Project

Project Handover Templates and Checklists

To support your Project Handover process, I recommend you develop a set of templates and checklists. These will support you in implementing a compliant and repeatable process. Do take a look at our article, Project Management Simplified: The Power of Checklists and Templates.

Project Management Simplified: The Power of Checklists and Templates


Our Project Management Templates Kit has six project closure templates:

  1. Operational Transition Memo
  2. Project Completion Report
  3. Closure Checklist
  4. Closure Memo
  5. …and a simplified version
  6. Project Closure Report
Project Management Template Kit


Project Management Checklists prevent mistakes, omissions, and duplication…

We also have a set of Project Management Checklists. Included among these are:

  • Handover Checklist
  • Project Closure checklist
  • Post-project Risk Review checklist
  • Project Lessons Learned Review checklist
  • Celebrating Project Success checklist
  • Promote a Learning Culture checklist
Project Management Checklists

But this one is on the house:

Pre-handover Stage

  1. Document roles and responsibilities for the handover.
    Consider using a Linear Responsibility Chart (LRC) or RACI Chart.
  2. Ensure as many users as possible have an opportunity to try out the product, asset, or process in advance.
  3. Set up training for all users.
  4. Create a communications plan to communicate the handover process to all stakeholders.
  5. Plan and execute final acceptance testing.
  6. Commission the product, asset, or process.
  7. Complete all testing and commissioning documentation.
  8. Prepare handover documentation.

Handover Stage

  1. Set up your handover meeting.
  2. Invite appropriate team members and users to the handover meeting.
  3. Secure sign-off of handover documentation.
  4. Conduct debriefs of consultants and contractors
  5. Hand over all project documentation.
  6. Return hired and borrowed equipment.
  7. Closeout contracts.
  8. Sign-off contractors.
  9. Release consultants.
  10. Update systems and records.

Post-handover Stage

  1. Carry-out follow-on actions or snagging.
  2. Document any post-handover changes in the configuration management log.
  3. Carry out activities in the Benefits Realization Plan.
  4. Carry out all project closure activities (see separate checklist).

What is Your Experience of Project Handover?

What have we missed out?

If you spot anything substantive, I’ll reward you with a free set of Project Checklists. Do share your own experience in the comments below.

Learn More

The best reference I have found to supplement your knowledge on project handover will get you thinking about how to hone your own handover process. And, happily, it is freely available online, in PDF format. It is a short report published by the Association for Project Management, called How can we hand over projects better?’ Do take a look.

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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