How to Handoff Like a Team

Do you have handoffs in your company?  A handoff is when one group transitions work-in-progress to another.  For example, your awesome sales department has signed a specific contract or scope of work with a client, and now it is time for the project execution personnel to deliver.  Or Engineering has designed a terrific product and now Manufacturing has to produce it.  Perhaps a diligent pre-construction group has procured all materials and prepared a construction site for the build crew to begin work.  Whatever the situation, handoffs occur all the time, and ensuring they happen smoothly for the whole team is critical for business success.

Having established that most companies have handoffs in one form or another, let’s consider the very simple flow diagram below:

Figure 1: Basic Order Fulfillment Process

Represented here is a basic Order Fulfillment Process of many companies.  Design may be swapped out for preparation, and sometimes is combined with execution, but the steps will still be applicable.   In a small company, the same person may be doing one or more steps, but for AJC clients, these basic steps have generally been divided into different departments.  The trick is, how to ensure that the knowledge learned in each step is effectively handed off to the next?  Especially when one group may have incentives to merely “throw [the work] over the fence,” as is often said when complaining about how ineffective handoffs can be.  Wouldn’t it be better if groups handed off like a true team?

Here are three steps for ensuring effective, team-oriented handoffs.  Note that the assumption here is that the basic process has been defined at a high level.  Since this is how to ensure robust handoffs from one group to another, the processes to list are the ones handled by each department.  Inter-departmental steps are better described via Process Maps.

  1. Define the information required for each departmental step of the process to be effective.  One tool that can be used is a SIPOC.  SIPOC stands for Supplier, Inputs, Process, Outputs, Customer and can be used for one or more processes and to varying levels of detail.  Remember that a SIPOC may have internal suppliers and customers as well as external!  The example below shows one step, but rows may be added for subsequent steps.
Figure 2: Example SIPOC for a Sales Step

  • Ensure alignment across all departments on the requirements at each stage, and who is responsible to provide each.  This can mean getting alignment on the SIPOC.  During this step, emphasize teamwork –overall business success depends on all groups acting as one team.
  • Utilize standard tools and processes to transfer information.  Document applicable tools and processes/procedures and store them in a designated storage area with universal access like a Document Management System.  Ensure that all team members are trained on procedures and tool use; get buy-in from everyone.
    • Examples of tools that help with handoffs: Checklists, Forms (with only useful information, see previous article “What’s in a Form”), holding handoff or “kick-off” meetings with standard agendas, and schedule templates.

The most important thing to remember is that relevant information needs to flow from one group to the next accurately, thoroughly, and right the first time.  Any gaps with these items likely will result in rework or an extended duration to complete each step and begin on the subsequent one, not to mention people getting disgruntled with each other.

Finally, I would urge everyone who is involved in handoffs to be patient with each other.  As one of my valued clients likes to say, no one comes into work intending to do a terrible job and undermine their co-workers.  Sometimes things may seem that way, but with a little respect and consideration, nipping these concerns in the bud with timely face-to-face discussions can really go a long way.  Be willing to work with each other, agree on what is needed and what will be done. Follow through on the needs of the downstream team, and to hold upstream teams accountable for what they promised to deliver.  Ask questions when you are unsure and communicate the answers to the wider team because if one person has a question, chances are someone else could also benefit from the answer. After all, most people want what is best for the customer and the company, and everyone truly is on the same team.