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How to close a project

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How you conduct yourself as a professional and a person is vital during the last phases of a project, as it defines your brand as a professional project manager. Therefore, you should treat project closure as much more than a simple box-ticking exercise.

You should be maintaining your documentation for the inevitable closeout process, including the lessons learned throughout the various stage reviews up to and including the final launch. All critical documentation, including sign-offs, should be completed before transferring to archive.

Additionally, you should archive essential documentation in a way that it can be accessed and referred to conveniently, such as the basis on which important scope decisions were taken plus lessons learned. In more extreme cases, this could prove critical as it may form the basis of defence against legal claims, e.g. such as in construction projects.

Be controlled

Ideally, you should close your project in a controlled way, with any open items resolved, handoffs completed, and responsibilities assigned. Support this by eliciting confirmation and feedback from impacted stakeholders and business-as-usual (BAU) functions, to verify that there are no commitments left outstanding as early as possible prior to close.

Work with your team and stakeholders

As a people leader, you need to consider your project team and other stakeholders throughout the transition to make it as seamless as possible. You should be ending on a high note, and if not, you should be reassuring the team that their contribution was valuable and giving constructive feedback on areas that they could have done differently to improve the outcome.

Prepare to wind down the team as the work slows down and you transition into BAU. People management is essential as the team will shrink down to a skeleton crew as they either leave the organisation or get redeployed onto other roles or projects. Dealing with any emotions associated with any closure (early or otherwise) will minimise disruption to the wider organisation and team members lives. Other resources left both in terms of physical assets and intellectual property should be properly stored to the appropriate owner to manage it on an on-going basis.

Assess performance

Adverse post-project results may be attributed to poor strategic decisions or not executing correctly. Assessing final business case benefits against underlying assumptions at the start of the project will most likely realise different results.

Consider both the tangible and intangible benefits and their impacts on the business. Perhaps anticipated benefits did not fully materialise, or conversely, new opportunities that yielded greater benefits were identified and exploited. You can generate these risks and opportunities as uncertainties at the early stages are firmed up later on.

Celebrate your success

Always remember to celebrate the project's successes and recognise its achievements at the end. It serves as motivation and just reward for the expended effort to deliver your project. When you work with people, it's so important to appreciate that success and communicate it to your team – it can be easy to lose sight of that when you're focused on completing tasks on a plan.

Take time for personal reflection – create a development tool so you and the team can consider what you would do differently if you could do the project over again. It will enable lessons learned to be internalised as a mechanism for growth, so you can apply those valuable experiences into your next project. With that, you can view your next challenge with a renewed sense of confidence and purpose. 

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