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CLOSING- The Most Often Ignored Project Process

When playing blackjack an ace is the most valuable card in the deck. According to whim, it can be played as a high card or a low card. Closing is the ace in project management. It can be an asset or just the joker. Which way does your team play the game?

Some project managers figure the game is over once the customer has signed off on the final project deliverable. We’ve heard the all too familiar excuses a dozen times or more. “It’s done. I’m outta here. Let someone else handle closing. My next project is too important for me to be spending time finger pointing and bemoaning the pitfalls of the last project.” And so lessons learned become lessons lost. Best practices are not implemented. The cycle repeats. Processes do not improve and we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. There’s a better way!

At the end of each phase a milestone is encountered. It marks the completion of a series of related activities whose accomplishment produces one or more deliverables. Phase closing processes include acceptance of product deliverables and an audit of project performance to date. This brings the phase to an orderly close and provides a logical decision point for determining whether the project should proceed into the next phase or not. The phase end review provides an opportunity for project stakeholders to collect data, share information, make decisions and communicate information with relevant parties. Reports from phase end reviews capture information in a timely manner and become useful inputs to the final project close out report.

Once the goods have been delivered and the customer has signed off, closing should be a fairly straightforward process. Key closing elements include:

Conducting Close Out Meetings- There are two ways to learn; from success and from failure. Both can provide valuable insights. Documenting and sharing how things were done correctly is easy. People willingly share how they contributed to success. It is important and the processes that lead to success must be formalized. In contrast, discussing project failure is never an easy task. This is particularly true when stakeholders must share and document their own shortcomings. Overcoming this obstacle frequently requires a major cultural shift. Management must refrain from fault finding and focus effort on obtaining recommendations for future projects. Blaming decimates team morale, increases conflict and is counter productive. Instead, we must get to the real issues by focusing on process improvement.

It’s worthwhile to discuss the project with the customer, sponsor and team members; each has a different perspective.

Documenting Lessons Learned- Lessons learned throughout a project’s life cycle are invaluable. Summarized evaluations from closeout meetings should provide plenty of input for improvements. Once the lessons learned have been discussed and documented, the team should make recommendations to the project sponsor as to how the lessons can be shared on an enterprise wide basis. Finally, the lessons should be summarized for inclusion in the project closeout report.

Preparing Project Close Out Report- The closeout report provides a historical view of the project plan, budget and schedule. In effect it documents the history of the project and provides a summarized lessons learned report. In preparing the report, the project manager should consider the outputs of the closeout meetings and address these questions: Did the project finish on schedule and at planned cost? Was a PM methodology used? Were administrative items handled properly? Should we update processes, methods, techniques or tools? Were there resource issues? Are there any outstanding items remaining? Has the product been successfully transitioned to the customer?

Recognition and Team Party- Most of us view the project end party as an opportunity to unwind, pass out congratulations and enjoy each other’s company. It acknowledges the accomplishment of work by team members and rewards their extra efforts. In addition, it provides an opportunity to network and consider future alternatives. Team members are considering where their next position lies, while the project manager is in search of a new project. It is a time for saying goodbye and building morale.

Closing is an important process; worthy of our best efforts. As project managers we can increase the visibility of closing by including closing activities in our project plans, scheduling time and budgeting for those activities. We can avoid making the same mistakes, while helping our peers learn from our mistakes. Ignore closing and the game will end long before it’s over.

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