Team Hand-Off Document
I recently had to hand off the teams I had been managing for the last 2 years. Luckily, it’s because I was promoted and started running a new department that doesn’t include those teams. Thinking about the knowledge transfer to be made, I realized that I wouldn’t be able to track the tons of information to be transmitted if I didn’t make notes. This wasn’t just about what the teams had been doing, but also about what I had come to envision for them in the future. So, I spent a week collecting all the topics that came to mind in order to write a handoff document for each team, as a way to better organize the discussions around this process.
Once finished, I thought I had a great idea for an article. Upon googling about it, I ran into Lara Hogan’s post on the topic, which had a lot of the same ideas in, to my liking, better writing than I thought myself capable of. However, seeing as my process and approach are different, I didn’t feel discouraged but rather inspired to put my own experience into writing. And of course, since I was already a follower of her blog, I would need to think if I hadn’t read about it in the past, and forgot it just to remember it in the shape of “new ideas.”
The process (recipe)
- Recap topics to be transmitted. Take one week just to make notes.
- Write the handoff document.
- Send it to the new manager (write a proper introduction to declare the purpose of the document).
- Wait for a confirmation of reading.
- Have the first meeting to go through the document. Let the new manager ask questions so the process is more focused on the information she prioritizes rather than what you’d like to share.
- Detect which topics require a specific meeting and if more people should be involved.
- Run the meetings.
- Stay for 1 sprint (we are kind of doing scrum) to show the process and dynamics. Let the new manager drive.
- Redefine the next and last 1:1 with your team members to become 1:1:1 (new manager, team member, and you): make a proper introduction, but let them interact. Jump in to clarify. The idea is to have you 3 in the same room at least once so there are no doubts regarding what has been said. It’s also great to assure continuity on some topics such as career path, ongoing projects, etc.
- Fade out until you are invisible. That’s how you know that the team you worked so hard to build is safe in informed hands.
Here is a template with the sections I included and a description of each. You might need to tweak or even create a new one from scratch, depending on your particular needs.
Provide a quick description of the document, the goals, and intentions. Feel free to include your motivation (even if that means adding a link to this post).
The new manager probably knows how to do her job. It is important to clarify that it’s not your intention to teach, train, or mentor but to share knowledge regarding a specific context. Mine went like this: “This document aims to transfer knowledge for a particular context, which means, describe the state of the art of different aspects of the team. You will find personal opinions regarding management and the result of building a team answering to a specific management style. By all means, it is not my intention to impose that management style on you. You will probably detect opportunities for improvement (or simply things you’d like to do differently) by yourself. The description of the current scenario should help you to mind the gap and analyze what impact those changes could have so you can make an informed decision. Additionally, I am intending to be as concise as possible so we can use this document during the hand-off period. That means this document is not a substitute for the knowledge transfer and handover processes, but a guide to organizing them.”
Table of contents
You should always include one. It’s free and it helps the reader understand how the document is structured
Explain the logic of the team. How are they working? What are they used to do? What are their core values? Are they autonomous and self-governed? How do they handle communications? Consider splitting the topics into subsections.
Take some time to write about each team member. Take into account that, even if this document should be confidential, leaks happen. Don’t put information that should only be transmitted during a meeting.
I repeated this structure for each team member:
What is she doing on the team? Is she taking more responsibilities than the job description ones? How did she get here? Tell the story.
Describe the action items that came up from the last performance review (or any other milestone). Continuity is also about following these up.
Strengths and Weaknesses
It’s important for the new manager to understand to which areas she should give more space, and to which ones she should pay more attention.
Describe how the team organizes its work. Is it divided into iterations? Which ones? Years, quarters, sprints? What is the source of requirements (backlog)? Which methodology is being used? How does the team plan? Who estimates? How is the team capacity being calculated? Do you have recurrent meetings? Do these meetings have a particular structure? Which metrics are being taken? How are these being analyzed?
Describe the big assignments the team is already working on. What is the state of each project? Is there a story worth telling behind that? Is there any documentation to read? Who is working on each project?
Share your strategic plans for the team. Include stakeholders to consider, if you have already spoken about it with them, if it’s just an idea or something that has been explored, etc.
I’ve recently applied this to two teams. It took some time to put all the information together but it’s worth it. At the end of the process, it saved more time, we didn’t miss anything important, and important topics are now documented. Furthermore, it’s an excellent way to guarantee that the transition goes as smoothly as possible and that the teams you have worked so hard to build are safe in informed hands. Additionally, this is a great and professional way of “wishing” the new managers good “luck”!