In a rush to get projects done, one of the most often overlooked, but critical, tasks of a project manager is conducting the project close out step.
This step can be a key learning experience and process improvement activity for future projects by taking a look at what worked and what didn’t work so well in addition to ensuring project stakeholders are happy and that an appropriate archive has been completed for the project.
By the time most projects are completed (finally!), everyone is “so over it” that the temptation to move on to the next project quickly has a really strong pull on most people. But you can’t just say, “Thank you very much” and walk away without making sure that everything is tidied up and all parties are in agreement that the project is really done.
The best way to make sure your project is properly closed out is to define the end at the beginning of the project. That way, you can perform your closeout processes as they occur during your project rather than waiting until the end and having a huge task to accomplish. You want to coordinate the closing process steps with your project sponsor and make sure you run it by the project team members so there aren’t any missing pieces. You also want to make sure this activity is built into your schedule and your budget. There’s nothing worse than getting to the end of a project that came in “on budget” only to find that wrapping things up will make the budget miss its mark.
I like to have a closeout checklist that I monitor during the project and update as the project progresses. You can get a free closeout checklist here – no strings attached, but you’ll need to register to get the download.
Here are four key areas of focus for your project closeout.
1. Project Sponsor Acceptance
Your project isn’t really done until your customer says so. This step involves meeting with the project sponsor to discuss closure around the acceptance criteria for the project that was defined at the beginning. If you’ve involved your sponsor for the duration of the project, this should be an easy task for you. It most definitely should not include any big surprises, but may reveal a short punch list of items that need to be finished up before final acceptance.
2. Conduct Project Assessment
It’s important to get feedback from all project stakeholders, including your project team members, to enable opportunities for improvement in future projects. This can be as simple as asking two key questions – “What went well?” and “What could have gone better?” If you use a checklist for your project, you can capture lessons learned as you move along the project life cycle that will provide valuable information for the project assessment.
3. Complete Project History / Archive
A big part of managing a project involves managing the files that go along with it. This can be a pretty overwhelming task if you wait until the end of the project to create your project history. It’s a good idea to set this up at the beginning of your project and provide project team members with guidelines for handling project documents as the project progresses. Then this step becomes more of a final check to ensure it’s complete.
4. Celebrate Success
It’s really easy to forget that celebrating success is important to making future projects go well. It’s also part of the change management process that helps all stakeholders involved move forward with the post project state. And making people feel good about the work they’ve completed is never a bad thing.
Whether your project is big or small, a properly closed out project can help you perform better on future projects if you use the lessons learned for continuous improvement in your project management practices.