5 Steps to Project Closure (Checklist Included)

ProjectManager.com

ProjectManager.com has been used to plan over 2 million projects. Join thousands of PMs using our award-winning software—sign up now and get 30 days free.

Get a Free 30-Day Trial of Our PM Software

So much time and effort is put into the planning of a project, it is often forgotten that the end of a project is equally important. There’s a lot of work involved even once a project is technically complete. Our free project closure template is a great resource to help you remember what remains left to be done.

For example, there are many tasks that you still must complete. They might be procedural, but that doesn’t make them any less important. There are approvals, signatures, payments, all of which might seem like pushing paperwork to you, but tell that to the team member waiting to get paid.

Not to mention, when you are ending one project, you’re likely beginning another. Therefore, you want to get transition support for this changeover. You’ll have to release resources, archive documents and don’t forget to acknowledge the project success with a party or some type of celebration. That’s important, too.

Steps to Closing a Project

The close of the project is the final phase of your job, it’s the last turn of the project life cycle, and like any other aspect of a project, it requires a process. The following are five steps you should take to make sure you’ve dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s, as well as taken full advantage of the experience.

How to Close a Project; project closure checklist

1. Arrange a Post Mortem

Managing a project isn’t only about tasks and resources, budget and deadlines, it’s an experience you can constantly learn from. While you should have been learning throughout the project, now is a great time to look back without the pressure and distractions that might have dulled your focus.

Gather the core team to invite feedback about what worked, and what didn’t. Encourage honesty. By documenting the mistakes and the successes of the project, you’re building a catalog that offers historic data. You can go back and look over the information for precedents when planning for new projects. Projects are never standalone things, but part of a continuum, where the specifics might vary, but the general methods usually remain the same. There’s a wealth of knowledge produced after any project closes.

If you plan and manage your projects in a centralized project management software—like ProjectManager.com—you’ll have access to all of your previous projects. That way, when you’re planning a new project, you can quickly review old documents, tasks, comments and templates in the system. It makes onboarding for the next project simpler too, as the team members should already be in the system.

gantt chart view of a project plan that's being closed
A project plan next to a project archive list on the left

2. Complete Paperwork

As noted, projects generate reams of documents. These documents are going to have to get sign off and approval from stakeholders. Everything needs attention, and must be signed for, which is the legal proof that in fact these documents have concluded. That includes closing all contracts you might have made with internal partners or vendors or any other resources you contracted with.

This includes addressing all outstanding payments. You want to make sure that all invoices, commissions, fees, bonus, what have you, are paid. Complete all the costs involved with the project. It’s not done, if it’s not paid for.

Automated reporting software can be a huge help during this process. ProjectManager.com lets managers create reports with just one click. This includes reports like timesheet reports, so you can quickly see the hours worked by a team member over the life of the project. You can also create more stakeholder specific reports, like status reports, variance reports or project plan reports. It’s all automated in our project management software, helping you reach the end of the project even faster.

status report for closing project
ProjectManager.com has automated project reporting

3. Release Resources

You assemble a team for the project, and now you must cut them loose. It’s a formal process, and a crucial one, which frees them for the next project. Each team is brought together for the mix of skills and experience they bring to a project. The project determines the team members you’ll want to work with, and each project is going to be a little bit different, which will be reflected in the team hired to execute it.

Related: How to Manage Your Team’s Workload

This is true for internal as well as external resources. The external ones might be more obvious, as you contracted with them, and that contract is going to have a duration. When it’s over, make sure they’re all paid in full so they can sign off and leave. But internal resources remain, so you have to remind yourself that their time on the project is also limited, and you might be blocking other team’s projects if you don’t release your resources once the project is done.

4. Archive Documents

There are lessons to be learned from old projects, which is why you meet with your team regularly during the project and look back on the process afterwards. However, if you don’t have an archive in which to pull the old records, then whatever knowledge you gain is lost because of poor organization and management. You worked hard to have great project documentation, don’t lose it.

Before you close a project, archive all the documents and any notes and data that could prove useful. Even if you never access it, there’s a need to keep a paper trail of the work done on any project for other people in the organization. This might include legal teams, or HR teams, or even your successor. You never know when someone might have to go back and respond to a question or want to learn how an old issue was resolved. Consider it like putting away provisions for the winter.

5. Celebrate Success

If it sounds silly to you, then you’re not doing your job. There’s nothing silly about rewarding your team to acknowledge a job well done. It creates closure, which is what this part of the project is all about, but it also plants a seed that will bloom in later projects when you work with members of the old team.

That’s because when you note a job well done you’re building morale. It makes team members feel better. You might have been a hard task master in the project, but you give them their due for a job well done. That creates loyalty, and they’re going to work even harder for you the next time. And there will be a next time, because a happy team is a team that you retain. Why would you want to close a project and lose the very resources that made it a success? Loosen up!

Project Closure Checklist

To make sure that every i is dotted and t crossed, follow this step-by-step project closure checklist.

  1. Start at the beginning with the project scope document you created and make sure that you’ve meet all the requirements listed there.
  2. Make sure that all deliverables have been handed off and signed by stakeholders, getting their approval and satisfaction.
  3. Other project documents must also be signed by the appropriate person, this includes any outstanding contracts and agreements with vendors and other contractors.
  4. Once documents are signed off on, then process them and pay off all invoices and close out any project-related contracts.
  5. Add all documents together, including finalizing all project reports, then organize and archive them as historical data to be used for future reference.
  6. Use collected paperwork to identify and document the lessons learned over the course of the project, including any feedback from stakeholders, so you don’t make the same mistakes in future projects.
  7. Assign a transition support person to shepherd the project after completion, so that the project closure is thorough.
  8. Release or reassign the project resources, which includes your team and other project personnel and any equipment or site rentals used for the project.
  9. If you’ve not used a project management software, get one, as it helps control not only the life cycle of the project, but also the process of closing the project thoroughly.
  10. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, celebrate with your project team. They did the work and deserve credit and an opportunity to blow off steam until the next project is started.

Why Ending a Project Properly Makes Your Next Project Better

Once you’ve closed out the project, you now have the documentation to share and talk about with your team. You also get an opportunity to hear from the team in a more intimate and casual way that allows them to express their opinions on the management of the project.

All this information might not be used later, but it’s all useful in that it provides perspective and gives everyone involved a more rounded view of the project mechanics. Taking the time to have a postmortem after the project closure is complete puts you and your team in position to start the next project from a more informed place.

Part of closing a project is being able to plan and execute it. That’s where ProjectManager.com comes in. As a cloud-based software, it enables you and your team to get real-time data when monitoring and reporting on the project. Plus, your documentation is more accessible and secure. See for yourself, by taking this free 30-day trial.

This post was updated November 2019

Related Posts

Deliver Your Projects
On Time and Under Budget

Start planning your projects.

Start 30-Day Free Trial