July 2019

Help! Previous project manager won’t let me do my job

Dear Leah M.

What is the most graceful way of asking a previous project owner or team manager to step down or back away so that you, as the new lead, can be fully given the reins to do your job? This is a scenario where the new project lead is fully capable of doing the position (so it's not a training/capacity need), yet there is a bit of founder's syndrome/control preventing the previous owner from letting go.

New Cowboy in Town

Dear Cowboy,

Since you are “New in Town,” I’m going to assume this highly capable and ambitious “project lead” is, in fact, you. I will also assume that our antagonist suffering from a case of “founderitis” is your colleague and not your boss. I make these assumptions because the relationship between the two of you is delicate, and the power of your relative positions will influence your approach.

Let us take a moment to consider the old project lead’s feelings. Were they forced away from their dear project, or did they offer it up for the taking? Do they still have professional relationships or accolades tied to the project? Did they dedicate countless hours and gallons of blood, sweat, and tears to this work before you arrived? In all fairness, letting go of something you care about is hard. And if it is truly founderitis, it’s extra hard because it’s something you built yourself, from the ground up.

Ask the previous project lead for a meeting where the two of you can map out the best way of transitioning the project from them to you. This meeting should have two parts…

#1 - Ask them for their thoughts on the best way to carry the project forward – What are the essential things to know and do? Not only is it just a good idea to transfer learning, it will help them feel better about the transition. And when they feel better they might just loosen up a little.

#2 - Together, list out the various activities involved in leading the project and determine a final deadline for the transition of each, as well as how the two of you will manage responsibility in the meantime. Maybe there are even a few things that would make sense to have the old lead advise on going forward.

Write it all down, send it in an email, and when those dates roll around you have full authority to pull the plug and push the old project lead out of the sandbox. It’s yours now.


Leah M.

Also from Leah M…

How do I ask my boss for the training I need? Creativity is great, but not when you’re always using it to get by in a job you weren’t trained for.

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