You're finally finishing up an important and lengthy project, and you're basking in the glow of a job well done. Now it's time to move on, right?
Wrong. As a project manager, you have a responsibility to customers and team members to close your project formally, as well as practically.
Why does closure matter?
By definition, a project has a beginning and an end. But without a formal closure process, project teams can fail to recognize the end, and then the project can drag on—sometimes at great expense.
Project closure ensures that:
- Outcomes match the stated goals of the project.
- Customers and stakeholders are happy with the results.
- Critical knowledge is captured.
- The team feels a sense of completion.
- Project resources are released for new projects.
Which projects need closure?
Every project requires closure. For large or complex projects, it's a good idea to close out each major project phase (for example, design, code and test, or training) individually. The closure process can also help by identifying lessons learned on projects that are canceled or deferred before completion.
Finalize the project's documents
Project closure begins with wrapping up administrative documentation and providing a support plan for product maintenance.
Much of a project's documentation is created over the life of the project. Document collection and update procedures are probably already well established. Even so, you need to:
- Collect final time sheets, expense reports, and team status reports.
- Close or complete remaining tasks in the project schedule.
- Collect final cost and schedule metrics.
- Make final payments to vendors and contractors, and close out contracts.
- Review and update the issues log, highlight remaining issues, and decide how these issues are to be addressed.
- Prepare a plan for handling ongoing product support.
- Prepare a final project status report.
Capture the knowledge
Your project has likely produced documents that will be helpful during future projects, in troubleshooting the product, or in a future audit. Documenting of this valuable information is often deferred or overlooked because team members become busy with new projects, but the longer you wait, the less likely you are to capture all of the important data.
Set up a library
Store all key documents in a project library that is accessible to future project teams. Possible document categories include:
- Project planning documents
- Status reports
- Design documents
- Test cases and test results
- Issues and resolutions
- Risk documentation
- Change requests
- Important communications (both those sent and those received)
- Time and expense reports
- Contracts and invoices
Ideally, the project library is set up at the beginning of the project, and team members add documents as they produce them. It's a good idea to maintain the library in an electronic format that is backed up at regular intervals—something as simple as a set of folders on the LAN or as robust as a knowledge management system.
At project closure, review the contents of the project library and update them where necessary.
You also need to collect any relevant paper documents and store them in an organized set of files or binders.
Document what you've learned
Some of the most valuable knowledge you can capture is in the form of lessons learned. You can gather this information from several sources:
- Survey team members about what worked and what didn't.
- Call a meeting with your sponsor and executive stakeholders to capture their thoughts.
- Ask consultants and vendors for objective feedback, both about your organization and about the project's execution.
Provide a summary of your results to team members, either as a presentation at a meeting or as a formal document.
Receive knowledge transfer
Have you used consultants on your project? Ensure that they don't walk away with your most valuable asset—critical knowledge that your organization can use.
Don't release consultants until they have transferred all of their important product maintenance knowledge to the team. The transfer might take the form of documents created by the consultants or training sessions that the consultants conduct.
Get final signoff
Schedule a meeting with the project's sponsor and key stakeholders to get their final signoff on the project. A formal signoff documents that the sponsor is satisfied, objectives have been met, and the project is truly complete.
Of course, keeping the primary focus of the meeting on signoff is important. If time allows, however, you might also want to briefly:
- Review final metrics.
- Spotlight project highs and lows.
- Acknowledge the contributions of team members.
- Share the key lessons learned.
- Discuss related projects for the future (such as software upgrades, new features, and other opportunities for ongoing improvement).
Shut down the project office
If your project team used a project management office or a dedicated work area, you probably have to make arrangements for returning that space to general use. For example, you might need to:
- Return rented furniture or PCs.
- Reassign temporary staff.
- Close down LAN and e-mail accounts.
- Shut down utilities.
When you organize the shutdown process for the project office, it can be helpful to review the original setup procedures.
Recognize and reward
Your team members have worked hard, and now they deserve some real recognition. As their project manager, you have the best understanding of who pulled the project out of each tight spot, which members have transformed themselves with new skills, and who might be ready for a new level of responsibility. This puts you in the perfect position to remind the team's superiors of what each team member has brought to the project.
Provide each team member with a performance evaluation:
- Highlight contributions the member made.
- Identify skills the member updated.
- Recommend new roles the member might be ready for.
Provide a copy of this document to the member's supervisor. Make sure that the evaluation also reaches all department leads as well as the human resources office, where your feedback can influence annual evaluations and salary discussions and aid in team members' transitions to new projects and new responsibilities.
After putting in all those long hours, your team needs and deserves a celebration. A team dinner, a team outing, gift certificates, or other rewards are minor costs that generate a large return in terms of morale and job satisfaction.
Thank each team member personally
In addition to your group acknowledgments, be sure to take each team member aside and thank them individually. Make a point of reminding the sponsor and other executive stakeholders of individual members' contributions, and of letting them know how much a personal thank-you would mean to your team.
Make a public announcement
An announcement to the organization is a good way to highlight the success of the project and its benefits to the company. For example, you might arrange for an executive to send out an e-mail message recognizing the team's efforts, or publish an article in the company newspaper touting the project's success.
Formal project closure ensures that your team has met its objectives, satisfied the customer, captured important knowledge, and been rewarded for their efforts. With the door closed securely behind you, you can move on to your next project with confidence.
About the author Jeff Barager is a senior consultant with Point B Solutions Group, LLP, a professional services firm focused exclusively on project leadership and execution. He has led projects in a wide range of industries—from high-tech, to insurance, to non-profit—working on software selection, system integration, disaster recovery, and knowledge management. The Project Management Institute has certified Jeff as a Project Management Professional.