Project closure is often viewed as an afterthought by Project Managers:
We’re done, let’s run.’
But projects can become like a dripping tap. You tighten the faucet a bit more, but it still keeps dripping. What my friend, Ron Rosenhead, refers unglamorously to as ‘project dribble’.
Yet one of the most influential project management training sessions I ever attended, early in my PM career (by Paul O’Neill) identified the basics of project management in three lessons. The third was finishing well. And it’s only fair to acknowledge that some of the things I have been saying in training sessions fo the last 20+ years track back to Paul’s advice closing a project well.
To understand what project closure is, we must first start with the project lifecylce. Here is a fairly standard representation, that uses my preferred terminology.
The Project Closure stage is the fourth and last phase in the project lifecycle. It is the stage where you carry out all the formal and informal tasks that will close your project down in an orderly manner.
Project handover bounds this stage at the start, and a formal statement of closure bounds it at the end. Within the stage, there are three things you need to do. In this article, we will examine each of them in detail.
Before we look at what project closure entails,let’s just make a brief survey of what some of the formal approaches to project management have to say on the subject.
I think it is fair to say that PMBoK has little to say about its ‘Close Project or Phase’ process group, which it describes as:
The process of finalizing all activities for the project, phase, or contract.’
The formal standard for the ‘Closing Process Group’ is very thin. The detail is contained in the Inputs, Tools & Techniques, and Outputs (ITTO) statement. This reconciles very well to what I’ll say later in this article.
‘Closing a Project’ is one of PRINCE2’s seven processes. There are five activities in the Closing a Project process
The ‘Closure Recommendation’ activity leads to ‘Authorize Project Closure’ activity which is part of the ‘Directing a Project’ process
The ApM’s Body of Knowledge sets out an even higher level description of project management. It adopts a very similar lifecycle model to the one above. The three stages, concept, definition, and implementation, come before a fourth and final stage: ‘Handover and Closeout’.
The APM’s definition of project closure is:
The formal end point of a project or programme, either because it has been completed or because it has been terminated early.’
It seems to me that Agile project management is far more interested in the doing than the starting or closing of a project. Therefore, Agile methodologies differ little from traditional, established project management processes in the way they ultimately closed a project down.
But Agile is not a formal project management methodology. It is an approach to delivering projects. So, let’s take a look at the most widely used Agile methodology, Scrum.
See also our articles:
Scrum does things in much the same way as I have documented below, but within the framework and terminology of the Scrum methodology.
For example, the lessons learned process is done through a final project ‘Retrospective’. The lessons learned lead the documentation of ‘Agreed Actionable Improvements’. These can then be implemented in future projects.
In this framework, we’ll split project closure into five parts:
Handover marks the boundary between the Delivery and Project Closure stages. So I could argue that we don’t need to include it in this article. But that would be silly.
Many Project Management processes see handover as the first step in closing a project. So, what do you need to do?
You’ll need to produce some form of final performance report, You will often supplement this with:
You’ll transfer the project’s deliverables to the new beneficial owner. This will either be an internal transfer of operational responsibility or a more formal transfer of ownership from one organization to another. Along with this transfer, you may need to document and get acceptance for:
3. Gain formal acceptance
You’ll need to create a record of project acceptance, which is usually referred to as either a ‘Handover Certificate’ or an ‘Acceptance Certificate’.
Following the completion of your project, you’ll need to undertake four reviews. However, your own project process may consolidate them into a smaller number.
You’ll often need to produce a formal report to document the project and how well it met its goal and objectives. We usually refer to this as a ‘Project Closure Report’ or ‘Project Performance Report’
I’m sure you already maintain a regular process for harvesting lessons learned throughout your project. If you don’t: you should.
At the end of your project, conduct one last Lessons Learned Review. Use it to update your ‘Lessons Learned Log’, which you can then close out. You may also need to, or choose to, write a final Lessons Learned Report. Then, you would circulate it within your organization.
You may or may not have confidence in organizational learning where you work. But, what has incontrovertible value is the process of a ‘Lessons Learned Meeting’ for the project team involved. In Scrum, this is often called a ‘Project Retrospective’.
So a vital responsibility as you close down your project is to give your team members the recognition and feedback they deserve. Good quality feedback is hugely valuable in helping people to develop their skills and their career. And, in some organizations, you will also have a responsibility to deliver a formal performance appraisal. Don’t let this responsibility get in the way of the recognition and developmental feedback, though.
The fourth form of review is a ‘Post Project Review’ or a ‘Benefits Realization Review’. However, you cannot do that within the closure stage, because it can take some time for the outcomes and benefits of the project (or not) to become clear.
Some processes recommend a lag of between one and 3 months. I like the PRINCE2 recommendation of 6-18 months, but that is often most appropriate for large, capital projects. Your job here is to schedule your post project review.
The sooner you have it, the sooner you can remedy any problems. But if you have it too soon, you won’t have sufficiently robust data and evidence for a proper evaluation. Assess the timing for each project, on its own merits. The outcome of this review is often a Post Implementation Review (PIR) Report.
Our Project Management Checklists Pack has five Project Closure-related checklists at time of writing, with more added from time to time:
Projects seem to spawn paperwork and admin. And, while nobody likes it, this can be the cause of the ‘dripping tap’. It just doesn’t get done.
So, knuckle down, gird your loins, and plough through it.
Here is a checklist of typical admin tasks you’ll need to carry out.
Always celebrate the end of a project. It provides your people with enhancements to four of the biggest workplace motivators:
The final thing to do is to formally close your project. Issue a ‘Project Closure Memo’ or ‘Project Closure Notification’ for sign-off by the right person or group for your project:
There are three particular challenges project managers face towards the end of our projects. These can frustrate your attempts to finish your project tidily.
People get that ‘end of interest’ feeling and itchy feet to go with it. So they’ll look for the next opportunity and grab it when they can. To counter this, you need to take a proactive interest in each person’s career and involve yourself in helping them to manage their transition. That way, you can influence the timing and manner of their leaving. You may like our article: ‘Are You Handling a Team Member Leaving Your Project Properly?‘
This is where we get bored when all the best work is done, and can’t find the motivation to finish off the last 5 per cent. Top tips include:
It’s all to easy,at the end of a difficult project, to declare it a success, and define success by the metrics you have achieved. Not only is this self-deluding and tantamount to a fraud on your employer and the project’s sponsoring organization… But you will also fail to learn anything from your project experiences if this happens. The solution is obvious: you need to lock in your criteria for evaluating project success at the Definition Stage.
Finally, I’d like to offer you my own favourite tips. I learned these the hard way, through real project experience over 12 years of delivering major projects for clients.
We want to hear from you in the comments below. And we’ll respond to every contribution you make.
Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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