How to Close a Project

Welcome to the wonderful world of project management! The project management institute, the PM’s foremost authority, identifies five basic steps in the project lifecycle.

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Controlling
  5. Closing

In this final blog post of the series, we look at how to close a project.

What is project closure?

Project closure is when the project manager verifies that the client, stakeholder, or customer has accepted the project deliverables.

The project manager will also review the entire project before closing it, rating performance and comparing that to the baseline.

The project team will be part of this process, offering their observations and feedback, collected in a lessons learned document. This provides guidance for future projects.

By taking this step, you and your team will improve future project capabilities, become a more accurate estimator, and enhance your ability to identify issues and risks.

 Need a flowchart? Here’s our proprietary tool.

Hand-off to Customer or Operations

Ensure all deliverables have been given to the client (internal or external). Before this formal hand-off, go through the project, identifying every agreed-upon deliverable and ensuring completion. While some may have already been handed off, now is the time to cover all your bases by formally packaging and giving every piece to the client.

  1. Hand-off

Transferring the deliverables to the client may be done electronically or in a meeting. Most importantly, you must ensure their reception.

  1. Document customer acceptance

Get approvals for the deliverables. Make sure that everyone agrees that the project is complete. Obtain signoffs from all relevant parties—definitely, the client and project stakeholders.

  1. Client Evaluation of Project

While there were regular check-ins throughout the project execution, at this final stage, it’s helpful to get client feedback on the project as a whole.

  1. Client Evaluation of Deliverables

Have the client assess the deliverables—did they meet their needs and expectations? Getting their comments is a great way to know what your team is doing well and where they could improve.

Verify and Document Results

Go through the project yourself

At this point, the project team has produced the project deliverables…you believe. Now is the time to double-check these results. Create a review document that lists each deliverable or client goal. Beginning with the most crucial, go through each one by one. It’s best to focus on tangible deliverables, documenting their quality and effectiveness. Review the project plan, referencing standards of success for each target.

Go through the project with a team

If you’re a part of a PMO, you may work with a review team to analyze the project. With a team review, the analysis is often more extensive, considering project documentation and the project plan beyond deliverables meeting required standards. For more information on review team best practices, the PMI learning library offers a full article here.

Get a second opinion on the project

If you don’t have a full review team at your disposal, it’s still quite helpful to ask another person to review the project results. Keep in mind, often, they won’t have your deep project knowledge, but accept and consider even their “silly” questions—they might point out areas that lack clarity. The goal is to create a clear project review report to present to the client.

Close Out Contracts

After everything has been handed over and approval has been granted, dive into the legal project documents. Accounts payable and receivable are of paramount importance. Look at your resource and/or contractor documents—has everyone gotten paid? Are there any invoices still outstanding? The contract cannot be closed until the money reaches its final destination.

Communicate to team members and other resources that the client has accepted the project and there’s no more billable work.

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Conduct a Project Post-Mortem

A rather macabre turn of phrase, a post-mortem looks at the life of the project to identify challenges, successes, and failures. Arguably the most crucial part is the lessons learned.

Conduct a performance review

Look at the project’s final KPIs to calculate how well the project did. Additionally, while time, budget, and quality are seen as the most important areas to look at, don’t forget your people.

In your team, who worked best on what? Were there any superstar team-ups? Did resources manage their time well? How did they handle change, and how did the changes affect the project? Consider the project methodology as well—how did the people and the project do being managed in this way?

Hold a review meeting

As a best practice, hold a retrospective with the entire project team to get their reflections, likes, and dislikes. The number one thing to note: this isn’t a time to play the blame game; it’s a learning opportunity.

Present appropriate information from your performance review (KPIs, methodology, change orders) and get feedback. Take extensive notes and make sure that afterward, you make the document available for all.

For more on holding great project retrospectives, watch our webinar geared specifically to this.

Conduct a survey

While team meetings are great, asking to identify issues can be a touchy area, and not everyone may want to bring up their thoughts in a meeting. Give people the opportunity to submit anonymous feedback; creating a Microsoft Form is one of the ways to do this.

Best of all, once you have a set project feedback lessons learned document. Make it a template and use it for other projects moving forward.

Issue Final Reports

After finishing the documentation of project performance and recording feedback, you’ll want to send out a report of your findings. While it isn’t appropriate to disclose all internal findings to an external client, if the project was conducted for your organization, it’s a different story.

Tie it up in a bow by sending your findings to key stakeholders and other involved internal parties. If you have a dedicated PMO, you must always provide your final reports to the higher-ups and other project managers.

Giving your colleagues access to your findings grants them insights and the ability to make better decisions/estimations moving forward.

Archive Project Artifacts

Wrap up your files, clearly labeling items and using folders to group related documents. You want the information to be easily navigable if you or someone else wants/needs to access it.

The Project Manager should collect and collate all of the documentation that was produced in the delivery of the project, including but not limited to;

  • The Project Charter
  • The Project Scope Statement
  • The Work Breakdown Structure
  • The Project Schedule (including Gantt charts or other project scheduling documents)
  • The Project Management Plan (which includes the Risk and Quality Management Plans)
  • Project notebooks, files, and spreadsheets
  • Contracts and procurement agreements
  • Correspondence
  • Minutes from meetings
  • The Project Status Reports
  • The signed acceptance document from the Product Owner/ Project Sponsor

There are lessons to be learned from old projects, which is why you meet with your team regularly during the project and look back on the process afterward. However, if you don’t have an archive in which to pull the old records, then whatever knowledge you gain is lost because of poor organization and management.

Ensure the information is stored in a safe, stable location, never in your personal files. Look at the security of the location. Additionally, IT professionals recommend that the location has a backup.

You worked hard to have great project documentation, don’t lose it.

Your Project is now closed – congratulations!

Remember, while it may seem tiresome to jump through all these hoops while the project work itself has been concluded, looking back allows you to make better decisions moving forward.

A project may have gone off the rails in the execution, but you have near total control over this phase of its life cycle. Feel proud of what you’ve accomplished!

We’ve put together this series because we’ve made it our mission to deliver technology, tools, and training to maximize impact, productivity, and purpose. That means we succeed when you succeed.

If you need advice, encouragement, assistance, consultation, training, or anything else, please get in touch with us. We love to help solve problems.

Good luck, and may all your future projects run smoothly.