There are a number of sayings that stress the importance of closing out a project. For example, “begin with the end in mind”, or “it ain’t over until it’s over” are two expressions that highlight the importance that must be placed on closing a project out. When your Gantt chart application shows you that there’s just one final milestone to hit it’s your job as a project manager to make sure that the deliverables, activities, and processes are in place to ensure a project comes to a graceful and successful end.
Why Are Projects So Hard to Bring to Closure?
When you think about how to plan a project for closure, you may wonder why this is so difficult. There are a number of reasons why this is the case:
1. The Devil is in the Details
To use another cliché, the devil is in the details. When a project begins, most people that are involved are excited about the prospects that it will bring to increase revenue, decrease cost, help with sales and marketing, or get paid for by a client. The big picture looks exciting and everyone is anxious and ready to go. Once the project has sloughed on for a couple of months, however, everyone begins to realize what a grind this project has become. There are a number of unanswered questions and decisions that need to be made in order to finish the project. This requires meetings, time, and bandwidth and has a tendency to keep project closure at bay.
2. Requirements Change
Depending upon the duration of the project, the requirements that were in place when the project started may have changed. This could be due to a host of reasons, ranging from legal considerations to a change in plans. You should count on these changes occurring as it will happen on nearly every project. Have plans in place to allow for this type of change to occur and make sure everyone knows that this will extend the closure activity related to the project.
3. People Change
There’s horror story after horror story of how one person may have initiated a project and then that person leaves the company or moves to another department. They are replaced with a brand new person who has a very different view of the world, and more importantly the project. “We’re not doing it that way anymore”, are the first words out of their mouth as they sit down at their desk for the first time. You will definitely need to know how to plan a project for closure when the new sheriff comes to town.
4. Clients May be Extremely Picky
Clients come in all shapes and sizes. There are those clients that are great to get along with, they are easy-going, flexible and just focus on the big picture. Then, there are those clients that are fastidious, demanding, persnickety, and finicky. These are the clients that come with a punch-list of items that must be done in order to close the project out that is an inch thick. This certainly presents a challenge when it comes to wrapping a project up, and more importantly, getting paid.
How to Plan a Project for Closure
There are a number of steps that can be taken to deal with the various situations described above.
Begin with the End in Mind
We’re back to the expression, “beginning with the end in mind“, but there is definitely value in it when it comes to closing out a project. This is where you establish and define your project objectives, what the project is designed to accomplish accompanied by objective measures and specifications. The key is “objective” measures and specifications. There is a big difference between saying that the result of the project will “look good” (very subjective…who is it supposed to look good to?) and “the color will be green, the size will 6’ x 6’, and it will be made of a particular type of wood”. The second is very specific, objective and is easy for people to compare and validate.
Prepare a Checklist of What Must be Done to Close the Project Out
With the specificity of the objectives described above, it is now time to put together a checklist of all of those items that must be complete before a project is considered finished. This list should include the following questions:
- Are all project activities finished? Have all the meetings been conducted that are necessary to complete this project? Have other departments or the marketplace been made aware that this project is complete? Are there any other activities that may have been missed up to this point that need to be complete?
- Are all required deliverables complete? This is a good time to reflect on the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). Take an objective stroll through this document and ask yourself if all tangible deliverables have been completed. This includes documentation, training guides, and other deliverables that may not be “mission-critical” but are nonetheless important to the closure of the project.
- Have all necessary acceptances and approvals been obtained? This is one area where newer project managers run into trouble when it comes to how to plan a project for closure. Not to be negative here, but the reality is that you sometimes can’t take people at their word. Putting their name in writing guarantees that selective memory will not be an issue. I’ve unfortunately seen it way too many times when an approving manager of a department verbally says “Yes”, but won’t commit their “Yes” to writing. Then, when something goes wrong after the project has been delivered…they don’t seem to recall giving their verbal approval.I cannot stress enough how important it is to get sign-off and approvals in writing during the lifecycle of the project. You never, ever want to stray too far away from these approvals. This makes the person providing their signature accountable for their actions and forces them to look at the deliverable prior to saying it’s ready to go.
- Have all required administrative tasks been performed? This includes closing out any open contracts, making sure any and all time has been entered against the project, billing is complete and people on the project have been released and/or are assigned to new projects.
- Is all project documentation and deliverables archived? You want to make sure that all documentation related to the project are in a central repository for easy access later. This may serve as the basis for a similar project in the future, or you may need to answer questions that arise about this project. It’s also a good place to store the Lessons Learned from this project. But, make sure you have these in another location as well where you are actively implementing these in future projects.
Include Project Closure Activities in the Project Plan
Once you know how to plan a project for closure, you need to include these activities in your project plan. It’s easy to take these steps for granted because they occur around the end of the project, and many times even after the project has been delivered. But, answering the questions above, pulling the proper documentation together and related activities takes time. You need to budget that time into your plan, otherwise, you will find that this most important step may not get done.
If you “begin with the end in mind” and realize that “it ain’t over until it’s over” you are well along the way of understanding how to plan a project for closure.
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