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Project Closure: How to Miss Nothing when You Shut-down Your Project

Project Closure: How to Miss Nothing when You Shut-down Your Project

Project closure is too 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. The never seem to properly finish.

One of the most insightful Project Management training sessions I’ve ever attended was early in my PM career (by Paul O’Neill). It 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 for the last 20 years track back to Paul’s advice closing a project well.

PMI Talent Triangle - Technical Project Management
Project Closure: How to Miss Nothing when You Shut-down Your Project
Project Closure

Here’s What We Will Cover

So, let’s get started by defining what we mean by ‘Project Closure’.

What is Project Closure?

To understand what project closure is, we must first start with the project lifecycle. So, here is a fairly standard representation, that uses my preferred terminology.

Project Lifecycle - OnlinePMCourses Model
Project Lifecycle – OnlinePMCourses Model

Of these, 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 the closure 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:

  1. Review
  2. Administration
  3. Celebration

therefore, in this article, we will examine each of them in detail.

How do the Formal Methodologies Deal with Project Closure?

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.

The PMI’s PMBOK® 6th Edition

I think it is fair to say that PMBOK has little to say about its ‘Close Project or Phase’ process group. It describes 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. However, these reconcile closely to what I’ll say later in this article.

Axelos’s PRINCE2®

‘Closing a Project’ is one of PRINCE2’s seven processes.

The Seven PRINCE2 Processes

There are five activities in the Closing a Project process

  1. Prepare Planned Closure
  2. Prepare Premature Closure
  3. Hand over Products
  4. Evaluate the Project
  5. Recommend Project Closure

Here, the ‘Closure Recommendation’ activity leads to ‘Authorize Project Closure’ activity which is part of the ‘Directing a Project’ process

APM Body of Knowledge

The Association for Project Management (APM) also defines Project Closure. The APM’s Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition 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 deployment, come before a fourth and final stage: ‘Transition’.

The APM’s Transition stage includes:

  • Handover
  • Commissioning and Acceptance
  • Formal Closure

As a result, despite the difference in terminology, the APM’s Transition Stage is equivalent to our Project Closure stage.

In the glossary, the APM’s definition of project closure is:

The formal end point of a project, programme or portfolio; either because planned work has been completed or because it has been terminated early.’

APM Body of Knowledge, 7th Edition
Glossary

Agile

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 close a project down.

But Agile itself 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.

Scrum

Scrum does things in much the same way as I have documented below. But it does them 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 to the documentation of ‘Agreed Actionable Improvements’. These can then be implemented in future projects.

A Project Closure Framework

In this framework, we’ll split project closure into five parts:

  1. Handover
  2. Review
  3. Administration
  4. Celebration
  5. Formal Closure

Handover

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?

1. Confirm the work has met requirements and specifications

Firstly, you’ll need to produce some form of final performance report. You will often supplement this with:

  • Test documentation
  • Quality control documentation

In a formal environment, these are likely to be signed or endorsed certificates.

2. Transfer of Ownership of Operational Responsibility

Second, 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:

  1. Warranty paperwork
  2. Follow-on Actions
    These are remedial actions, incomplete test fixes, or change control actions that not compete. You are transferring responsibility for these to the new operational owner. This is sometimes known as a ‘Snagging List’.
  3. Operational Use Memo 
    This is the documentation that goes with the asset or process. It includes operational and maintenance procedures, for example.

All of this may be wrapped up into some form of Handover document, which you will use to…

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’.

Ultimate Guide to Project Handover

For a full, detailed article on Project Handover, we have our Ultimate Project Handover Guide: What You Need to Know.

Review

Following the completion of your project, you’ll need to undertake four types of review. However, your own project process may consolidate them into a smaller number.

1. Project Review

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’

2. Lessons Learned Review

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’.

3. Personal Performance Reviews

Always remember that, as a #Project Manager, you aren't just a manager of your project; you're a manager of the people on your project. Click To Tweet

Always remember that, as a Project Manager, you aren’t just a manager of your project; you’re a manager of the people on your project.

So a vital responsibility, as you close down your project, is to give your team members the recognition and feedback they deserve. This means that 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.

4. Post Project Evaluation

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.

Do also take a look at our article, Project Management Review: A Guide to Project Audit and Assurance.

Get Project Management Checklists to help you close your Project Effectively

Our Project Management Checklists Pack has six Project Closure-related checklists at time of writing, with more added from time to time:

  • Project Closure
  • Post-Project Review
  • Lessons Learned review
  • Celebrate Project Success
  • Promote Learning Culture
  • Project Handover
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Administration

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.

Therefore, knuckle down, gird your loins, and plow through it. Here is a checklist of typical admin tasks you’ll need to carry out.

Project Closure Admin List

  • Paperwork
    • Contract closures
    • Sign-offs
    • Documentation
    • Plan reconciliation
  • Financial
    • Invoices
    • Bonuses
    • Accounts
    • Budget reconciliation
  • Complete Procurement Closure
    • Invoices
    • Filing
    • Asset marking/registration
  • All issues and risks dealt with or formally closed out
  • Agile projects: Clean down your task board
  • Quality Closeout files on
    • Quality Assurance
    • Testing
    • Quality Control
    • Business case and benefits plan reconciliations
  • Release resources
    • Internal & external people released from the project
    • Assets returned to owner, storage, or hire company
    • Deal with surplus materials
    • Accommodation vacated
  • Index and archive
    • Documents
    • Notes
    • Data
  • Formal project completion announcement

Celebration

Always celebrate the end of a project. It provides your people with enhancements to four of the biggest workplace motivators:

  • Recognition
  • Relationships
  • Reward
  • Respect

Formal Project Closure

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. This could be your:

  • project sponsor
  • client
  • customer
  • boss
  • project board

Project Management Templates

Two Project Closure Memo Templates are among over 50 project management templates in our Project Management Templates Kit.

Project Management Template Kit
Learn more about this valuable product, and Get Started Now!

Better Still…

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Project Closure Challenges

There are three particular challenges project managers face towards the end of our projects. And each of these can frustrate your attempts to finish your project tidily.

1. An Evaporating Team

People get that bored, ‘end of interest’ feeling. And, inevitably, they get 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?

2. The 95% Effect

The ‘95% Effect’ describes how we get bored when all the best work is done, and can’t find the motivation to finish off that last 5 percent. So, my top tips include:

  • Allocate the finishing tasks to a junior team member, for whom it can be a project in itself.
    This way, a chore can become a developmental opportunity
  • Alternatively, allocate them to a team member who has a personality that likes finishing off the details and almost can’t stand loose ends.
    In the Belbin Team Roles system, this is known as a ‘Completer-Finisher’ In the less-used Margerison-McCann system, the role falls within the cluster of ‘Concluder-Producer’, ‘Controller-Inspector’, and ‘Upholder-Maintainer’.
  • Be sure not to schedule a celebration, until all the admin is complete.
    A positive reward can be a great motivator!

3. The Rewriting History Problem

It’s all too 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.

Tips for Effective Project Closure

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.

  • Schedule sufficient time for your Project Closure, during your project planning process.
  • But make sure people don’t focus on closure rather than finishing delivery.
    This can  lead to a great closeout but an unfinished project. So be sure to only start closure activities once you have completed the handover.
  • Task someone with creating Project Completion Plan
    I’ve seen it called a ‘Punch List’, a ‘Closure Program’, an ‘LOP Plan’ (LOP – List of Open Points), or a ‘Finishing Project’.
  • Create a program structured rewards and recognition for your team.
    The scale of these needs to be appropriate to the scale of your project and the culture of your organization. Rewards and recognition say ‘thank you’. One idea I particularly liked from a colleague is to create a ‘praise wall’. Here, stakeholders and team members could post ‘praise cards’ for any team member, or sub-team.
  • Ensure team members tidy up behind themselves before they leave the project.
    They need to manage their project filing, dispose of waste appropriately, and remove personal items from the project work space. They also need to return any security passes etc.
  • Do your fair share (and more) of the admin
    This is a time when leading from the front creates the right sort of energy and commitment. No one likes the tedious admin tasks. So don’t let people think you are shirking your responsibility and loading it on them.

Phase 2?

This all begs an important question…

What are Your Tips and Advice for an Orderly Closure of Your Projects?

I want to hear from you in the comments below. And I’ll respond to every contribution you make.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 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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