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How to close a project?

Today, we will talk about the subject of how to manage and close a project.

Why is formally closing a project so important? That’s because, as project manager, the formal closure of a project is indeed in line with your interest.

There are several reasons why you should formally close a project. The first one is that you can improve your ability in the field of project management via all those project experiences. The second one is that you may get into trouble if you did not close a project correctly and formally. Troubles like: the client may complain about how you have not finished the project even though the project has ended; or, after the project’s end you realize there may be some key deliverable being missed; or, some issues of the project team have not been solved in the project.

As the project manager, you may find that any of the above issues would make it difficult to do your future project management work. Therefore, plan and manage the closure of the project, will certainly benefit not only yourself but also your company and your team.

1 Three common issues about project closure

Recently I was sharing project experience with my colleagues, three common issues about project closure were mentioned.
The first issue, many companies only keep e-mails and other communication records for a period of time, including my own company.

Furthermore, due to regulations about information security, we can not copy the information through mobile devices for backup. For instance, in my colleague’s new project, a technical plan used to solve a problem ten months before was needed. That technical plan was in one of his emails, which can help him communicate and cooperate with a supplier and develop corresponding plans and strategies. But our company only keeps our emails for six months, which made him difficult. After thinking for a whole night, no solution was found.
The second issue, when we discussing projects of the past, they could hardly say what accomplishments were achieved by the projects.

Because they did not sort out and summarize the scope of projects, they felt difficult to introduce detailed deliverables of the projects. That did not mean they had not achieved the deliverable, it was just that they had not summarized the information of the deliverable at the end of projects. Several months later, the company decided to initiate another similar project, there came the problem: everyone had not found any organizational process assets of the past projects and did not know how to do a similar new project.

The last issue, when we have to initiate a new project, to offer the company some basis for decision making, we usually would have to seek the data of marketing, financing, and other data of the past projects.

But, we would usually find that the decision basis of the past projects was missing. As the result, the PMO department of the company had no choice but to gather all the senior managers and leaders of relevant departments to have a decision meeting that lasts an entire day. That one-day-long discussion made all participants mentally exhausted.
The three issues above are actually irreversible. As the project managers, what we could do after the issues happen is actually not much. At the time, the only thing we could do is to solve the problems based on personal experience or asking experts for assistance, but it would take lots of time and energy of our own. That’s why effective planning and management of project closure is so important.

2 What does valuable project closure look like?

First, project closure is the easiest to be neglected among all the project management processes.
The reason is, at the last phase of the project, many stakeholders, including team members, would usually have their attention on the next new project. Actually, most of the team members would probably lose their interest in the current project once most of the work or deliverables have been achieved and accepted. Therefore, what we need to do is to properly tailor the closing process, to make the process not too formal or too tedious, especially under the circumstance of not involving any legislation or regulation. This would make the project closure more valuable.
Second, the solutions of the three issues mentioned above would generally lead to three correlative benefits.
The first benefit: searchable information of project communications. Many key emails and other communication information of the past could actually help us to better cooperate with future project stakeholders.
The second benefit: when team members being transferred from one project to another, they would usually carry some very precious information or data, which are concluded or summarized from the experience of past projects. The above case has very well demonstrated that the value of a project does not end with the project’s ending.

The third benefit: any project decision requires a decision basis or criteria, which is based on the past project’s information. Once the project ends, the decisions which are made in process of the project are easy to forget, and very hard for us to recall how we made all those decisions and what the decision basis is.

3 The core value of project closure

In PMBOK, there is a paragraph that describes project closure like this:
“The Closing Process Group consists of the process(es) performed to formally complete or close a project, phase, or contract. This Process Group verifies that the defined processes are completed within all of the Process Groups to close the project or phase, as appropriate, and formally establishes that the project or project phase is complete. The key benefit of this Process Group is that phases, projects, and contracts are closed out appropriately. ”

The main purpose of this article is to share with the readers the idea of how to successfully achieve organizational projects like that. What you should always keep in mind is: Project’s closure is important to both the project manager and the organization.
As demonstrated in the above, the three most important things of project closure are: build a searchable library for information of project communications; hold meetings with team members to share project knowledge; and document the decision basis for all the decision making in the process of the project.

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