Passing The Baton In Project Management

December 8, 2020 archive perspectives

Last Saturday, I watched two friends and 20,000 strangers cross the finish line of the Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon and Half Marathon. It drew an eclectic crowd: from Ethiopian Olympic hopefuls to tutu-clad grandmothers. I squeezed into a spot at the finish line to watch the masses sprint, skid, walk and crawl to the end. It was emotional for many, and the crowd cheered for everyone.


Standing at the finish line, I was reminded of how much I enjoy watching running. The summer Olympics takes place this year, and as always, I’m looking forward to the track relay races the most. While the quad muscles are a spectacle in themselves, the handing off of the baton is what always draws me in. It takes place in half a second’s time, but it’s an exceedingly precise and calculated maneuver, and it carries high consequences. If you drop the baton, you lose the race.


For these races, the baton signifies a hand-off of responsibility. But the hand-off carries weight in itself. Drop it, and the next runner is set-up for failure.

In project management, there are many series of hand-offs, beginning with client project kick-offs (where the project is handed off to the team), to mechanical documents (where the design is handed off to the developers), to the final client package delivery.

Just like the Olympic racers, these critical hand-offs take practice and planned communication amongst the team. And just like the racers, the consequences of a failed hand-off are grave.

While I’m no seasoned relay racer, I’ve found that the following is vital when passing the baton in project management:

1) Establish a process for the hand-off

The Olympic teams don’t leave the hand-off to chance. They practice. Over and over again. In Project Management, everyone may know the handoff is going to take place, and in theory, it’s a simple process. But communicating that process in advance in key. What date will it take place? What time? How will the team in the next phase know when you’re ready? Do they need to communicate when they are ready? Establish this process in advance, and document it.

2) Know who you’re handing it to

Other than dropping the baton, there’s nothing worse then handing the baton to the wrong person. Know your teammates. Know who is responsible for the next sprint.

3) Details are important

In relay racing, maybe it’s the distance you stop from one another. In project management, maybe it’s the file format you’ll be sending the mechanicals in. Details are the difference between a lousy, clumsy handoff, and a successful, smooth one.

4) Focus

Passing the baton is serious business. So is transitioning from one phase of the project management cycle to the next. Focus on the task in front of you, and you (hopefully) won’t misstep.

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