Have you ever bought a new car? Or bought a new house? Have you had to return to the dealer several times before the car was as specified? Or chased up a builder over a snag list? If you have, you will appreciate how the whole experience can be marred by little niggles. As a project manager, you should be aware that tying up the loose ends at the end of a project can make all the difference in terms of your stakeholders’ perception.
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Challenges in Project Closure
Anyone who has studied for the PMP® exam will regard closing a project or phase as an effort with little significance. The PMP® course will have emphasized planning and control, but forget about closing at your peril.
For instance, the winding down of a project can be difficult for individual team members. If someone’s role in the project ends before the project itself completes, s/he can feel a great sense of loss, having been taken from the project before seeing if it turned out to be a success. Even worse, if someone is assigned to another project and has got up to speed on the new endeavour, it can be very stressful to be hauled back to the original project to fix problems in their previous work.
From a project manager’s view-point, having staff taken from the project can also lead to problems. Although our PMP® training suggests that negotiating for staff happens at the start of a project, some of our biggest battles are fought at the end, trying to retain a percentage of a person’s time to deal with issues. Often, these negotiations happen because the project has run late, so we are not arguing from a position of strength. However, if there is a general panic over the success of the project, senior managers might be willing to back our cause.
Whatever about staff, the last stages of a project can really leave customers with a bad taste in their mouths.
Ensuring Successful Project Closure
This is where the PMP’s® validate scope process justifies its place in the project management firmament by tracing requirements all the way through to final deliverables. It is also why Manage Stakeholder Engagement is so critical. If something will not be delivered (because of time constraints or otherwise), make sure the customer knows this well in advance.
But even if everything is running smoothly, make sure you understand your customer. When you were collecting the requirements, did the customer place great emphasis on any particular area? Often customers have a different set of priorities from the people who develop the product or service. Make sure that their concerns are dealt with properly. Remember your car-buying or house-buying experience? It’s the wonky hinge on a kitchen cupboard that defines the experience, not the immaculately tiled kitchen floor. Your Porsche 911 dream car could turn into a nightmare if it is presented with badly fitting mud-flaps from Halfords.
Be very clear what it is you have agreed to deliver and spend time on the presentation. For instance, a financial analyst might have been commissioned to produce a report on a certain market. The research may be exemplary and worth every penny spent on it, but the content will not impress if the report is not bound properly and printed clearly. “God”, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe is credited with saying “is in the details”.
Conducting a Project Post-Mortem
As a project management professional (PMP)®, make sure that you have your facts and figures to hand on what the end game of the project was. Have you a breakdown of your actual costs? Have you compared them with your baseline budget? Can you explain any over- or under-spending? How about your schedule? How did that compare with the baseline plan? Did risks materialize? Were contingency plans adequate? Did unforeseen events occur? Were workarounds adequate?
Or, in other words, conduct a project post-mortem. Be sure to archive the findings and ideally publish them, so other teams can reflect on the lessons you have learned. Invite as many stakeholders as possible, including suppliers, to take part in this. A project post-mortem is a good way to draw a line under the project and declare the output handed over to a maintenance group.
Speaking of suppliers, don’t forget to close contracts formally. Certainly don’t leave things like time and materials contracts run on, or leave open any internal project cost codes!
No matter what the weather is like, all project managers should remember to wrap up well.
Velopi’s project management training courses cover all the process groups, including closing. If this area is intriguing for you, you might consider one of our project management certification courses that are held online in our virtual classroom. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.