How to successfully complete an interim assignment

25 January 2023

Bringing any interim assignment to a close can be a bittersweet experience.

Sometimes it’s a case of a great job and company, and I wish it could go on a little longer. On other occasions, moving on and looking forward to the next assignment can be a relief.

Irrespective of your feelings and motivations, it’s vital for you as an interim manager (IM) to complete your assignment with your reputation intact. The interim community is relatively small, and word travels fast, so referrals and reputation often determine which IM a client chooses.

Avoiding issues like leaving projects halfway through or burning bridges with client contacts is obvious. Still, some other potholes and hazards may need to be navigated when nearing the end of an assignment.

Experienced IMs will know and plan to avoid many common or recurring problems, but even so, there are still things that can happen beyond the IM’s control. Failure to avoid or manage such issues correctly could tarnish your professional reputation.

So, what can IMs do to ensure that they complete assignments successfully?

Plan for the end of your interim assignment from the start

Every interim assignment will end at some point.

Occasionally, your assignment will finish before it was intended to, but more often than not, it will carry on beyond its anticipated end date.

Whichever it may be, it’s a good idea to plan for your exit from the moment you begin your assignment. Keeping it clear in your mind that you will step away from your client at some point should help you focus on what legacy you leave after you have gone.

Agree on deliverables and timescales

Most assignments will begin with a set of objectives. More importantly, clients will assess almost all assignments for success based on whether deliverables and timescales have been achieved.

Understanding and agreeing to deliverables and timescales at the beginning of the assignment will help you define what you need to do to complete the assignment successfully.

Plan, plan, and plan some more

It may sound a little obvious, but a strong, clear, and agreed project plan will help to keep all stakeholders on track with progress.

With successful completion in mind, it is essential to include a handover element in the plan. The necessity for communications, reviews and knowledge transfer should receive as much planning focus as deliverables and timescales.

In doing so, you’ll give yourself a clear and defined exit pathway whilst reducing the chances of any ambiguity or frustrations remaining with the client after you’ve gone.

Communication is key

Communication is a fundamental and crucial contributing factor to an IM’s success.

You should liaise regularly with your project stakeholders throughout the project, particularly towards the end of an assignment.

Effective communication in the later stages of the project will assist the handover process and give clarity and confidence to the permanent employees that remain once you step away.

A regular and productive communication flow between you and your end client will also give you a clear view of when you need to begin making plans for your next assignment.

Conduct regular reviews

Interim assignments rarely go exactly to plan, so it’s important to keep stakeholders updated on progress.

Regular reviews will enable you to maintain control of the project and manage the project team’s expectations.

A good IM will ensure that reviews take place, are minuted, and communicated to the broader stakeholder audience as required.

The reviews will also allow you to prepare the project team for your eventual exit and give them confidence in the process or system in your absence.

It’s all about the handover

A structured handover should always form part of an IMs plan.

The handover is the most critical point of the project regarding successful completion. It allows you to review the objectives and deliverables of the project with the client.

You should take responsibility for and control the project handover, looking to make the process as seamless as possible. It should include all relevant permanent employees and ensure that they are all fully up to speed and understand how things should work once you have exited.

Supporting information, such as guides, instructions, or videos, should be complete and stored centrally for permanent employees to access.

And finally, the handover should allow you to ensure that nothing is left hanging or unfinished. We always advise our interims to avoid making assumptions. If you’re unsure whether something has been completed, check.

Leaving a legacy

Leaving a client happy and satisfied with a job well done is the aim of every interim assignment. So, when it is time for you to walk away, do so professionally, even if everything hasn’t entirely gone to plan.

As an interim, your client is paying for your experience and knowledge. It’s reasonable, therefore, for them to expect that you will transfer some of that knowledge to permanent employees.

Whatever the project you were there to deliver, should be able to continue running without a hitch when you exit. That’s the real mark of success. You’ve set up the infrastructure, you’ve educated the team and relevant stakeholder and you should have essentially made yourself redundant.

You never know when your client might need your services again or who they might refer you to, so follow the basic principles outlined above and always look to leave a lasting legacy.

Interested in becoming an interim manager? Check out our latest opportunities or get in touch.

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