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TD Magazine Article

The Capable Takeover

What’s an L&D practitioner to do when inheriting a learning program that’s still in development?


Mon Jun 03 2024

The Capable Takeover

What's an L&D practitioner to do when inheriting a learning program that's still in development?

When I started my new role as a senior manager in corporate L&D at the end of April 2023, I assumed sole responsibility for a program that had been in the works for more than a year. The development had slowed significantly in the previous six months, after the program manager left the company. With the goal of launching the program by the end of September 2023, it was up to me (and the two-person team I would hire) to make it happen.


Looking back at the approach my team and I took to achieve our goal, I identified actions that were beneficial as well as elements I would have done differently. That led me to recognizing three Rs of an effective project takeover: Review, reset, and reintroduce.


To look back on; take a retrospective view of; to go over or examine critically or deliberately (Merriam-Webster)

After a year in development prior to the pause and my arrival, the program—which focused on developing the company's senior leaders with personalized learning, executive coaching, mentoring, and networking opportunities—had a considerable amount of slide decks, Excel sheets, note files, and other documentation. I felt as if I were standing at the bottom of Mount Everest, looking up at the summit without a guide or even a map.

During the review phase, I did a deep dive into files, meeting notes, communications (chat and email), and any program outlines or plans I could get my hands on. The information was easy to find, yet difficult to assemble. A Microsoft Teams channel contained all the chat communication from the cross-functional project team; the files on which the team collaborated; and a link to the OneNote file the previous program manager used to log such information as meeting notes, research, and communication plans. I also located files in other Teams channels and SharePoint pages that related to the different vendor relationships, past pilot programs, and similar programs in other divisions.

In addition to collecting all the files, I held knowledge-sharing conversations with my director and vice president to learn everything I could from them. I also met with individuals outside the team who had been involved as well as with vendor partners to understand their services and how we could work together.


Initial conversations started with general questions: Who, what, when, where, and how? Taking in that information and pairing it with the deep dive of the program files, I began to ask more targeted questions to help deepen my understanding and widen the view of how each piece would come together to create a successful program. Targeted questions included:

  • Understanding that the goal is to develop our senior leaders, how do you see \[item or vendor\] helping them?

  • What does success look like at the end of the program? How will we measure or show it?

  • What components of the pilot program did and didn't work?

  • Based on the information from internal executive interviews, what are they looking for from a program like this?

Now it was time to organize the material. I placed all the information in a slide deck and systematically went through content, hiding or removing anything old or invalid, such as previous program outlines, outdated goals, and confusing graphics. I used the slide deck as my information hub.

I had a slide with links to websites, SharePoint sites, and OneNote. I repeatedly reviewed the material. With each examination, I became more comfortable with the previous expectations of the program, which gave me new questions to ask and paths to research. I finished combing through everything by the end of May 2023, at which point I saved a new reference file called the June Information Deck.

Having a deeper understanding of the program's backstory and expectations, my focus for reviewing the June Information Deck was to begin outlining the program. Using the previous information, updated expectations from my leadership, and new research, I removed information that didn't align, added relevant information, and created new slides to document the plan I had for the program.

When July came, I saved a new copy of the file as the July Information Deck. The two members of my team had started by that time, so the information decks were vital in helping them understand the program's backstory. At the end of July, the file transformed, with new slides, more detailed outlines, and a complete picture of the program. The latest iteration become our "source of truth" deck—where the team knew it could find the most accurate information.


Conducting such an in-depth review enabled me to extract good and relevant data to help move the program forward. When you take over a program or project, do everything you can to review the material and set yourself up for next steps.


To set again or anew; to change the reading of often to zero (Merriam-Webster)

A reset is in order because following the previous plan may not be the direction to pursue now; factors may have changed between then and now that affect program decisions. As you start to think through how to move forward, treat this program as new—not just something you have picked up, as is, to launch. I tried the as-is approach because the previous team had completed so much research and development that I thought it would be easy to pick up and go. But it wasn't; it took a lot of work.

I should have taken a step back to look at the program with a new lens and ask, "What do I want this program to look like?" Between the research the previous project team conducted, my previous experience in developing new training programs and reviving and launching unfinished training projects, as well as the latest research I had completed, I could bring in the different pieces when I needed to build from them. I should have pictured it as having a blank slate and building from there.

Start your reset by creating a project plan that outlines the phases of development, assigns key dates, and maps out the tasks required to launch the program. With an established plan, refer to the review and identify the initiative's already completed steps as well as the steps that need immediate attention. This phase also gives you the opportunity to reset expectations and measurements to track the program's success.

Resetting requires clear communication with your leaders, project team, and stakeholders. You want them to know you have done the review and research, understand what the previous program lead did, and will be taking a fresh look at the material to ensure a successful launch. Communicate the information via a simple email, short meeting, or conversation. It will create the new starting line for you as the program owner.

Here is an example of how I would have introduced this step for the program I inherited: "In the weeks since I took over the Executive Development Program, I have been reviewing all the information you previously gathered. I would like to thank you for all the effort put in so far to ensure this program is successful. As the new program manager, I will be creating a new project plan to help move the project forward. You will notice the documentation will no longer live in the current SharePoint page; my team will archive those files. Once I complete the project plan, I will inform you of the updates and any changes from the previous program outline."


To introduce (someone or something) again (Merriam-Webster)

Because I did not fully reset, I missed properly reintroducing the Executive Development Program. I had been working on program development for more than a year. I spoke with my leaders about the initiative and presented updates to the broader L&D team, assuming that they were sharing those details with senior leadership as I got the program back on track. However, while the leaders knew a program was on the horizon, they did not know that development had restarted. Going into the first big step toward launch—soliciting nominations for program participants—I learned leaders were not familiar enough with the initiative, which caused confusion about what exactly it aimed to do.

Therefore, after a reset, a communication plan to socialize the program will be necessary. Even if the audience had heard of the program during its initial development and talked about the initiative being part of future plans, some parts of the program have changed based on your review, whether it's revised content, timelines, or the appearance or colors of materials.

If I had done a full reset after I reviewed all the previous documentation and started a new project plan, I may have avoided confusion around the initial ask for nominations. There were times during development when stakeholders asked me about changes I made, and I wasn't as confident as I needed to be in my why.

As you reintroduce the program, you may come up against questions about what you changed and why. There may even be pushback on certain changes and new requests from the stakeholders. Those situations can feel overwhelming. To navigate them:

  • Know the why—why did you change, add, or remove something from the original plan?

  • Use data and research to support any changes.

  • Remain willing to listen to their input and compromise if needed.

  • Find allies within your stakeholders. As you decide to modify parts of the program, gain input and support from stakeholders, who can help champion the new direction.

As you go through this step, thank the individuals who helped with any research on the initiative before you took it over. With my program, I went to the team that helped in the initial research and development phase. I reviewed the updated version with them, and I took the opportunity to say thank you because, with the research and development they had done, I was able to get to that progress point as quickly as I did.

Finally, reintroducing the program means being prepared to repeat yourself a lot. Depending on your organization, you may have to do a roadshow with your program to socialize it. For instance, you may have to prepare a presentation for an all-hands meeting, and then a more specific report-out for executives. You likely will repeat yourself as you tell the story so that various people understand the program.

Starting from scratch

I am happy to share that my team and I did accomplish the goal of program launch by the end of September 2023. While taking over a program in the middle can be difficult, the three Rs can help you succeed.

Now, the question is: How can you avoid putting someone else in that situation? When starting a new project, build with a takeover in mind. After all, you may receive a promotion, move jobs, go out on leave, or experience one of a variety of factors that can result in someone acquiring the program in the middle of development.

To ensure the process goes smoothly for that individual, first, align with the business. Strategic alignment is a core responsibility of L&D. If a project is in line with the business, it's easier to outline clear and specific goals. As you draft the goals, it's important that the business, department, and learner goals align. If the business wants one thing, but the department and learner want another, the results will not satisfy anyone.

During the program build, use templates and tracking systems and establish standard operating procedures. A variety of project management software enables users to build a program from start to finish. If you use the software, save what you produce as a template. That way, next time, you can use the template and plug in the dates and people accordingly. It is so much easier to set yourself up for success if you keep those things in mind.

Make sure to document how to use the templates and tracking systems. Think about this: If you step into a program and no one has been taking notes, making presentations, or intentionally documenting anything, you could end up with a couple of emails and secondhand conversation recaps. That's a terrible position. Therefore, document all the information and keep it organized.

Finally, set up checkpoints, whether dictated by the program or the calendar. At each checkpoint, take a breath, look back, and ask: Are we aligned with the business? Are our goals still clear? Do they still match up? Do we have all the templates that we need? Are all our tracking systems in order, and do we have everything documented clearly in an organized way? Course-correct on anything out of alignment before moving forward.

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