How to Smoothly Execute the Project Closure Phase

• Project

You and your team have gotten the deliverables approved and all the items in your project plan have been checked off. The team is jubilant and excited about the end-of-project party. You might want to hold on to that bottle of champagne. We have one last thing to do–properly close the project.

It may look like you only need the first four phases to tie up the project and call it a day. After all, the project is technically complete. But, there is a lot of stodgy work like approvals, signatures, payments, and paperwork that makes the project closing phase equally important in project management. It helps you transition your project to the client smoothly and helps you not repeat the same mistakes again.

The project closing phase is a process in itself. You need to get the sign-offs on deliverables, disband the team, close out contracts, and archive the documentation for future reference. 

How do you know when the project is done?

Is it when your task list has all items checked off? Or, the little progress bar in your project management software is a glowing green that screams “100% complete”? Is it when the clients or the end customers have started using the outcome of your project? Or, is it when the management assigns you another project?

The short answer is it could be any of these and how you define “done”.

The long answer is a bit more complex than that. Knowing when we’re actually done with the project depends on the project, the customer, and the agreed-upon completion criteria set during the project plan.

How do you deem a project successful?

It’s not easy to say if a project has been successful or not. It’s a matter of how you define success or rather how your clients define success.

Here are the questions you need to answer:

  • Did we meet the goals and objectives?
  • Are the clients happy with the outcome?
  • Is the management happy with the outcome?
  • Did we deliver the project on time and within the budget?
  • Was it worth the time, effort, and cost?

Quite often, a project’s success is measured only by budget and time. There are countless examples of projects that exceeded their budget and schedules and yet are considered successful. For example, the Denver airport ended up costing twice its budget and only received half the expected traffic in the first year. Was it a failure?

Maybe. Maybe not.

At times, some aspects of a project may fail and still produce good results in the longer run. A rule of thumb to determine success is that if the desired quality was achieved and the business results were satisfactory.

Steps for properly closing a project

Before you can officially close the project and move on to the next one, these are things you need to complete:

1. Transfer all deliverables

It’s time to go back to the scope document and see if everything that the project promised to accomplish has been delivered. It’s sometimes the case that deliverables are transferred over the course of the project or when project milestones are reached. During the project’s closure, make sure that you’ve delivered everything that’s been previously agreed upon.

Hand the project deliverables created during the execution phase along with the necessary documentation and other agreed-upon services like demo and training. Ensure that the client is satisfied with the finished project.

Check out the strategies for successful project execution.

2. Complete the contracts

Once you’ve handed off all the deliverables, the project stakeholders need to sign off on the completion of the contracts. Everyone approves of the results and agrees that the deliverables meet their requirements.

The invoices are paid, the project objectives have been met, and everyone agrees that the contract has been fulfilled. A project cannot be completed unless this step has been carried out.

3. Have a retrospective meeting

The most important reason for closing the project is to formalize the learnings. Hold a reflection meeting after the completion of the project in order to contemplate on their successes and failures during the project. You’d have generated a wealth of information over the course of the project. There would have been so many lessons learned along the way, irrespective of the outcome of the project. This sprint retrospective learning sets you up for future project success.

Revisit each project phase and determine how work progressed, the mistakes made, and the things that were done right. In fact, being a successful project manager is doing more of what went right and less of what went wrong.

Ask yourself and your team the following questions in addition to the above discussions:

  • Did we do a good job of anticipating and mitigating risk?
  • Are there ideas to improve the existing process?
  • Was there something you’d have done differently?
  • Were there any compromises along the way?

4. Disband the team

Now that every team member has done their part, it’s time to release them to other projects. Now, this may not always be the case. There are fixed-team projects where teams are not disbanded and they just move on to the next project.

Notify the external vendors and contractors about the completion of the project. It’s also time to review pending payments and complete the procurement closure.

5. Document all learnings

The reflective meeting would have helped you summarize the learnings from the project. But, you’d have generated a trove of documentation, starting from the project initiation phase. Note down the highlights in a readily accessible file and archive the official documentation. Make sure that it’s easily searchable with proper naming conventions.

If there are similar projects in the future, you can use this documentation to estimate time, costs, and other resources.

Celebrate success with your team

Celebrating success is an extremely important aspect of the closing phase. Show your appreciation to the folks that were committed to the success of the project. Thank people personally. It goes a long way.

Highlight the lessons you learned along the way and show them that you’re interested in working with the team again on a different project.

Now, pop that bottle of champagne and revel in the success of your project!