How to Write a Handover Document

When a team rapidly expands or faces turnover, whether permanent or temporary, its critical that information is passed on in a concise and effective manner. Employee onboarding is often overlooked but having a quality process reduces the amount of disruptions you’re likely to face. In most cases, you’ll want to get your new employees up-to-speed as quickly as you can, which is easy to do with a good handover document. In the following article, we explore what a handover document is, the information it generally covers and how you can go about creating your own. 

What is a handover document?

A handover document is a summary of information that you want a new employee to know. The document may cover topline training, critical information about day-to-day operations or the scope of an ongoing project.

Depending on the nature of the task, a handover document can cover ‘meta’ information such as long-term goals, team structures and overall business objectives or ‘micro’ information – such as how to perform a specific responsibility.

A handover document must be clear, concise and easy to follow, as it’ll likely be read by a variety of people during its lifespan.

Handover documentation is useful for new employees entering a team – whether they’re completely new to the business or transferring from a different team or project.

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Different types of handover document

Because a handover document is just a summary of information, it has several applications in the modern workplace. The different types of handover documents include:

Project Handover: The project handover is used for specific projects that multiple teams may work on. An example of this is a project or campaign that goes through a design team, development team, marketing team and sales team. At each stage of the campaign, it’s vital that each team understands what’s happened and the next actions, which can streamline the overall timeline.

Knowledge Handover: This is generally the most common form of handover document and details the specific tasks or responsibilities that a role is accountable for. A knowledge handover should be structured in a way that is easy to understand and offers a concise summary of the information, as it’ll likely be used by someone without prior knowledge of the contents.

Department Handover: This is similar to a project handover but includes more information about a specific team or element of the business. It can give context to a new employee but may also be used when one department shuts down and another department takes on its responsibilities. Having a good department handover document means no responsibilities are forgotten about during the transition.

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How to create a handover document

It’s important to have the handover document finished before its needed, as that way you ensure that its complete, correct and ready to be used. Below are some of the key considerations when creating a handover document:

1. Decide who the handover is for

Before you start writing, take the time to decide who the handover is for. Is it for new employees to the business? Is it a simple breakdown of a project? The target audience dictates the language you use, the structure of the handover and how much depth is required.

You’ll generally liaise with a line manager on who the handover is for – meaning they decide on the strategic importance while you focus on providing specialised knowledge.

2. Bring together the content into a simple format

Once you understand who and what the document is for, it’s time to bring together all of the content you need. Take the time to explain any complicated processes or concepts in a simplified way. Format the document using bullet points, clear sections and even data visualisation if necessary. 

For the most part, your handover document is either a text document or a PDF, as they’re best suited to the task and accessible by most people. You may want to use a spreadsheet, presentation or other specialised document to convey certain points. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide on what tool is best for the job at hand.

3. Provide a clear summary of scope and responsibilities

If your handover document is a transfer of knowledge or day-to-day operations, there needs to be a clear rundown of the responsibilities and scope of the position or project. This point is vital if you’re creating a document for a successor or new employee, so take the time to look at the following: 

– Full overview of tasks and responsibilities

– Any necessary skills or software to complete the task

– Any targets that have been laid out

– A rundown of how to report on these deliverables

– Deeper explanations of the reasoning behind specific processes or decisions

– Potential challenges that may arise

– A summary of hierarchy

An easy way to do this is to think about all of the things that you’d want to know if you were going to be coming into a role or project and using the handover document.

When laying out the handover document, avoid jargon or terms that are business or industry specific. While your team may use them, a new employee likely won’t, unless they’re coming from a  similar background.

4. Schedule a handover meeting

When you have a ready handover document, you may want to present it in a meeting. This is useful if there are more complicated aspects that need explaining even despite your efforts to simplify. 

Invite any key stakeholders to your meeting that may be involved in the handover, including management. This way, everyone knows what’s been said, where they stand and what’s expected.

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