Make Project Closeout more than just “Stick a Fork in it, we’re done!”

This is a guest post by Kiron Bondale. Kiron has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized change management projects, and has worked in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management and project consulting services to over a hundred clients across multiple industries. Kiron blogs at Easy in theory, difficult in practice.

Depending on how your project has gone, closure often feels like the mirage of an oasis witnessed by delirious travellers in the desert – close enough to touch, but tantalizing far away.

However, on all projects, that day arrives when the project team believes that all approved scope has been delivered, and the rush begins to transition to the next project.

Don’t succumb to the temptation to short-change the closure phase as there are a few critical activities which you will miss out on if you lock the project door and throw away the key.

What have we learned?  While valuable lessons are learned throughout the lifetime of the project, closure provides that final opportunity to assemble the team, key stakeholders and sponsor to review what worked really well and what could have been done differently.  Team members should now have some perspective to be able to prioritize which lessons were the most profound, and could be asked to distill and refine usable change recommendations which could be passed on to a PMO or other process improvement body for incorporation into your methodologies.

Let’s play “Hot potato”?  The project team might feel that scope elements which were not completed or defects or enhancements which were not addressed have been transitioned to operational teams, but without a formal touch-base with those teams to ensure that they have accepted responsibility for those post-project activities there is always the likelihood that the hot potatoes will be dropped.  In such situations, you and your team members might find it very difficult to move on to their next projects, and the old project might begin to resemble a psycho from an 80’s horror film who won’t die no matter how many bullets are pumped into it.

How did we do? Once the dust has settled on change implementations, you will likely find your project customer is ready to evaluate the team’s performance.  Whether your company uses a formal delivery evaluation scorecard or attempts to gather this information informally during a meeting, this is the best time to get balanced feedback which can be used for continuous improvement and future marketing purposes.

How did you do? Along with getting feedback from your customer or sponsor, closure should provide a project manager with the perspective and time to provide constructive, objective feedback on the performance of team members to their people managers and to thank people managers for their support of the project.  Even in weak matrix power structures, team members will likely have spent more time working with you than with their people manager.  While project managers are unlikely to have direct influence over their formal performance appraisals, wise staff will accumulate a portfolio of project evaluations as an input into these appraisal sessions.

Party time!  Team dissolution can generate sadness and other strong emotions in team members.  A team celebration provides a great opportunity for the project manager to recognize sacrifices made by the team members and their families over the lifetime of the project, and (if the budget will support it) to present team members with individualized keepsakes to help them remember the good times.

Rush through project closure and as Charles Barkley said, “Sometimes that light at the end of the tunnel is a train!