Arguably, one of the most underestimated activities in project management is closeout.  I’m not sure why this is the case but I have observed several projects where they were not properly close out but rather came to an abrupt end.  It often involved one of two scenarios.  The first involves situations where all the project team members, including the project managers get assigned to new projects immediately after the project they were working on.  As such, they find that they have little to no time to conduct closeout activities properly.  They rush through things and closeout becomes a half hearted attempt to put the project to sleep.

The second type of situation involves struggling or failing projects that leaders within the organization may not have the political will to terminate.  What ends up happening here is the project coming to a painful end where resources are slowly pulled away from the effort until finally everyone stops even mentioning it.  It becomes a “while elephant” in the room that people tend to wish to avoid in the future.

Let me state here that there is no shame in terminating a project before completion if the organization discovers that the business benefits/organizational requirements are different from the initiation phase.  Similarly, if the project becomes a run-away (out of control) project where bringing it back on track is more costly to the organization than terminating it, then ending the effort makes more sense.  Unfortunately there can be situations where leaders within the organization are afraid of terminating the project because this act is seen as an admission of defeat or failure.  So, in this case the project drags along until the bitter end.

However, if we focus our energy on the average project that may have had some hiccups but ultimately delivered on its promised parameters, there are key activities that need to be established to ensure a successful conclusion to the project.

The PMBOK Guide identifies 2 types of closing processes, one dealing with administrative type of closure while the other dealing with procurement activities, such as contract closeout.  Both elements are certainly valid and as a highlighted focus, I thought I would share some best practices that I’ve identified either through practice or through my readings of project management.

  • Exit Criteria.  This actually starts during launch and is fleshed out during planning.  The project management team needs to identify critical success factors that can be used as benchmarks.  These will be used to measure if the project team delivered the project based on agreed upon parameters of if there is something missing.
  • Demonstrating Progress.  It is important for the project manager to prepare a plan update the highlights in details how each of the elements of the plan were completed successfully, or based on approved changes.  This progress update should address scope, time, and cost.  It should highlight any variances to the baseline and outline the impact of these variances.
  • Transition.  The project manager must develop a clear transition plan for the product/service of the project.  This focuses on handing over the project deliverables to the “customer” organization for maintenance.  Often teams find themselves unable to be released from the project because transition has not taken place properly.  This may require activities such as training and documentation.
  • Handover of Documentation. The project manager needs to ensure that project documentation and results are handed over to the appropriate entity.  This may require a walk through with the sponsor.  This is important as it can be used as an input on future projects
  • Team Performance and Release.  The project manager needs to be ready to provide a report of the performance of the project team members to the organization from which they were seconded.  This in some organizations is a formal process, while others may not require it.  In these cases, it is still a good idea to do that so that the functional managers can get an idea of their team member’s performance.
  • Post-Mortem Review.  Conducting a team meeting to discuss how the project went.  While I believe documenting lessons learned and best practices should occur throughout the project life cycle, it is still important to conduct a review of these items during the final team meeting to ensure that nothing is missed.
  • Recognition.  It is important for the team to receive recognition on the job that they did to deliver the project.  It may be appropriate to have the project sponsor hand out awards.  However, this is not simply about handing someone a $5 gift certificate to their favorite store.  It is about saying to the team, we appreciate your hard work and it has not gone unnoticed.
  • Supplier Closeout.  This is important on projects where you might have consultants or vendors that need final sign-off and payment.  It is better for the project manager to finish this activity before they are assigned to the next project, otherwise it may go unresolved.
  • Administration.  It may be relevant in some organizations to contact various departments such as HR and accounting to ensure that they are aware that the project has come to an end.  This will allow them to retire account numbers and stop billing the project for certain activities.
  • Communication.  As part of transition, it may be appropriate to communicate with key stakeholders that the project has come to an end.  Sharing the results with these stakeholders, along with what they may expect as next steps will help them understand the impact on their work.

The above list is in all likelihood an incomplete list so individuals who come across this post, please feel free to comment with your thoughts on closeout and any tips you may be willing to share.