Project closure is one of my favorite times in the lifecycle as a project manager. It’s when all your hard work pays off and you complete a structured, efficient handover to the business as usual team.
At least, that’s what I was planning for in my head!
In reality, it ended up more like a rush to get everything on the project closure checklist ticked off, complete the project wrap up and move on to the next initiative. We never seemed to have much time to invest in a thorough project review and smooth transition.
I know I’m not alone: 62% of project managers say it’s hard to deliver quality work due to the time pressures of working on multiple projects. If that’s what it feels like for you too, keep reading! I’ve managed to shift to a way of wrapping up a project that is simple and smooth, takes less time, and helps you learn from the experience to better lead your next piece of work.
Here’s my step-by-step process for project closure the no-stress way.
1. Plan for the end
Allow enough time on your project schedule for project closure activities. The closing phase should be at least as long as the kick off phase, in my opinion. If you stood your project up in a week, you can probably shut it down in a week too. If mobilization took a few months, you’ll need longer to complete all the closing tasks.
Even if you don’t know what work will be required during the closure phase, you can still block time on the project plan.
Typically, project work won’t use 100% of your time during the closure phase, so you and other team members might already be picking up new pieces of work. Use workload reports and capacity plans to balance the workload of team members so they still have enough time to finish their project closure tasks.
2. Use a project closure checklist
Ask your PMO for a blank project closure template, or create your own checklist. You can do this as you go through the project, adding on the items that you will need to remember at the end.
Example items for a project closure checklist include:
- Review scope items to make sure that you delivered them all (this should be an easy tick in the box, as if you wait until the end to work this out you’ve gone wrong somewhere).
- Get formal approval for deliverables by asking stakeholders to sign them off.
- Pay final invoices.
- Complete a project management review and lessons learned exercise (more on that below).
- Close down any open contracts with suppliers.
- Archive project documentation in your project management software.
- Close down the project in your project management software.
- Make sure project team resources are released back to their day jobs or transition on to new projects, providing feedback on their performance to their line managers as required e.g. for year end review.
- Celebrate what you have achieved!
Work through the checklist and complete the tasks.
3. Complete a project review
An important step for closing a project is to review what worked, what didn’t and what lessons and improvements you can take forward to your future work.
A project review can also be called a retrospective, a lessons learned exercise, a post-mortem… they all mean similar things and have the purpose of reflecting and learning. You will have been doing mini-reviews and lessons learned gathering during the whole of the project, but the activity at project closure can be a bit more formal and structured. However, it’s worth scheduling the time and securing organizational support for this activity upfront as 84% of project managers say they are not given the time to complete lessons learned.
When I run lessons learned reviews, typically I bring together the key stakeholders from the project to look at:
- How was the experience of working on the project? This covers the project management activities, team ways of working, and what we can learn about improving collaboration.
- How did we do with delivering what we said we would? We reflect on what was achieved and what was missed – and why.
- How did the project management processes and governance work for us? This allows us to discuss the tools, techniques, protocols, methods and software we used so we can make better use of them next time or make changes as necessary.
We would also discuss project-specific topics and things I know are likely to come up because they were a source of tension during the work. Tailor the questions you ask in your project closure review so you get a range of useful conversations.
Some of the information from the review will be used in the closure document for project evaluation, so keep good notes!
4. Gain management support for closure
I cannot stress how important this is, especially if the requirements on your project were uncertain and you dealt with many changes during the execution period.
When you work in an environment with a high degree of uncertainty, you’ve used techniques like ranged estimation to manage that risk during the project’s lifecycle. And you’ve also managed stakeholder expectations along the way. That doesn’t stop! You still have to make sure that the project sponsor is happy that the project structure can be closed down.
In my experience, some sponsors find it difficult to make that decision because they are used to changing priorities and having a project team available to implement new work or adapt to changing requirements as they come in. When the project is closed, they no longer have that team support network in place.
Help stakeholders have confidence that while this phase of the project is complete, the day-to-day management of the work can still continue with the operational team who will be responsible now.
You can share all the project documentation with them, including access to the project management software so they can see past activities and information that has led up to this point.
5. Complete the project closure document
My final job as a project manager is to get the closure document written, approved and filed away with the rest of the archived documentation. The closure document marks the end for the project. All future work is now in the domain of the deliverable owners or department leads: whoever has accepted the handover.
The project closure document covers the following points:
- A statement on how well the project met the original scope and the justification for any variance
- A comment on how well the project met the original timeline and the justification for any variance
- A review of project success criteria or key success factors and whether or not these were met
- A list of any activities that were not completed so the operational team can pick them up
- A list of any open issues or risks that need further attention
- A final summary of the budget
- Key lessons captured during the project review
- Acceptance (i.e. a signature or approval) from the project sponsor, acknowledging the project is closed
- Anything else you think it is important to include.
It often feels quite emotional to reach this point. You’ve worked hard on something, perhaps over several years, and that’s it. It’s done. You might not have the opportunity to work with that team again, or use the subject matter knowledge that you have developed over the project’s timeframe. You might feel sad to be moving on or relieved that it’s all finally finished!
Look out for each other during this time and help the team members mark the end with some kind of celebration.
Project wrap up is the culmination of what you have achieved together. When something ends, it means something else can begin, so use the closure phase as a way of recognizing your successes and looking forward to what is to come.
About the Author
Elizabeth Harrin is author of Managing Multiple Projects and several other books. She is founder of Project Management Rebels, a membership community for project managers who want to deliver with more confidence and less stress.