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Closing a Project

Updated: May 22

Introduction

Whew… You didn't think we'd get here, did you? Well, we did.


Congratulations on reaching the final leg of your project's journey—the Closure phase.


If you've been following our guides, you've just navigated through the gate that transitions from the hectic world of execution to the structured process of closing down your IT project.


The closure phase is not just a formality but takes the learnings and sets the stage for future initiatives.


As a new project manager, you might find the closure phase refreshingly orderly compared to the dynamic nature of project execution. It really should be a slam-dunk now the hectic part is over.


It's about tying up loose ends, reflecting on what has been learned, and ensuring that the project's outputs are fully integrated into the business-as-usual (BAU) environment.


Doing this well enhances your reputation as a starter-finisher and prepares you better for your next project challenge.


Let's look at the activities that make up the project closure phase.

 

The Main Activities of Project Closure

Key Steps

Activities

Outputs

Conducting a Lessons Learned Review

  • Collate lessons learned from the project team

  • Prioritise the lessons

  • Decide how to implement lessons in future projects

  • Engage the team in reflective discussions

  • Documented lessons learned

  • Improved processes and practices for future projects

Handover of Project Documentation

  • Hand over comprehensive documentation to BAU teams

  • Organised and accessible project documentation

Compiling the Final Project Report

  • Create an executive summary

  • Detail project objectives and achievements

  • Outline the project timeline and milestones

  • Provide a budget overview

  • Discuss challenges and resolutions

  • Highlight successes and achievements

  • Summarise lessons learned

  • Final project report

Conducting a Post-Project Review

  • Validate project outcomes

  • Gather feedback from stakeholders

  • Discuss what went well and what could be improved

  • Ensure alignment on the project's impact and final outcomes

  • Post-project review document

Closure Event or Meeting

  • Organise a formal closure event or meeting

  • Closure event

 

Conducting a Lessons Learned Review

One of the most pivotal activities at the closure of any project is the lessons learned review. What have we learned?


This isn't just documenting what didn't work (which is the tempting thing to do); it's equally important to capture what went well.


The aim is to offer valuable insights that can be used to streamline future projects, fostering a culture of continuous improvement within you, your team and the broader organisation.


It also promotes a transparent culture where teams feel valued and understood, knowing their experiences contribute to the bigger picture.


Steps to Effectively Gather and Document Insights


Collate the lessons learned.

Some of the lessons will come straight to mind. Others might be harder to remember if your project duration has been quite long (in which case, it is probably best to collate lessons learned after each stage gate).


Check the logs (risks, issues, etc.) for resolutions, which will help jog your memory.

Put it out to the wider team; create a template for them to complete and submit their thoughts before any review meeting you might hold.


Prioritise the lessons.

Not all lessons are created equally. Just ask Liz Truss, the UK Prime Minister who lasted just 44 days in office.


You can't and shouldn't try to carry everything forward with you. Maybe pick up the top 10 learnings and use those.


Decide how you will carry the lessons forward.

So, you've got a great list of lessons learned. You put them into a spreadsheet, pat yourself on the back, and consider it 'job done', but what are you really doing? Just creating shelfware that nobody cares about or will ever use again?


Ask yourself, how will tomorrow be different because of these learnings? How will you change future projects? Is it just for you, as a project manager, or is it for the improvement of the organisation?


Look for ways in which to improve processes;


  • Introduce new steps into a procurement process

  • Adjust future project gate criteria

  • Update the project management training and materials


Whatever it is, ensure each learning has a tangible outcome that makes a difference going forward.


Engaging the Team in Reflective Discussions

Make these sessions interactive and inclusive.


Perhaps introduce a rotating chair for the meeting, allowing different team members to lead the discussion at different points. This approach diversifies the perspective and enhances engagement, as team members feel directly involved.


Through these reviews, you'll build a repository of best practices and cautionary tales that will serve as a roadmap for project management within your organisation.


Handover of Project Documentation

As the curtains draw on your project, handing over comprehensive documentation to the Business As Usual (BAU) teams is crucial.


This ensures the seamless integration of project outputs into regular operations and provides a reference point for any future maintenance or development work.


Archiving Documents for Future Reference

Store all project documentation in a central, secure location accessible to those who need it. Digital archives are preferable, providing easy access and searchability. Ensure there are clear guidelines on who can access this information and how it should be used, safeguarding sensitive data and intellectual property.


By meticulously organising and handing over project documents, you ensure a smooth transition to BAU operations and safeguard the organisation against future uncertainties. This thorough approach to documentation supports ongoing operations and facilitates easier future updates or iterations of the project.


Compiling the Final Project Report

The final project report comprehensively summarises everything that transpired over the project's lifecycle. The highs, the lows, the laughter and the tears.


It is a historical document that offers insights into the project's execution, successes, and challenges.


This report is valuable for stakeholders to understand the project outcomes, for the project team to reflect on their work, and for future projects to build upon.


That said, I'd only create one if you work as part of a PMO (Project Management Office) or Project Team that can do something with it.


Again, if you are writing a document for the sake of it, and it serves no actual purpose, then ask yourself if it's worth spending your time on it.


If you decide it has value, then great. Here's what you might include.


Key Components of a Final Project Report


  • Executive Summary: A high-level overview of the project is provided, highlighting key outcomes and whether the initial objectives were met.


  • Project Objectives: Reiterate the project's objectives and scope, detailing the degree to which these were achieved.


  • Timeline and Milestones: Outline the project timeline and whether the key milestones were met on schedule.


  • Budget Overview: Detail the financials, including the initial budget, final expenditure, and explanation of any variances.


  • Challenges and Resolutions: Discuss significant challenges faced, how they were resolved, and the impact on the project.


  • Successes and Achievements: Highlight the project's successes, particularly those that added extra value to stakeholders.


  •  Lessons Learned: Summarise the key lessons learned (as previously detailed in the lessons learned review) and recommendations for future projects.


Conducting a Post-Project Review

Wrapping up a project with a post-project review is about diving deep into what the project managed to achieve and what it didn't.


This candid look back helps everyone involved—whether they nailed their tasks or faced challenges—learn from the experience.


  • Validate Outcomes: Make sure that what was delivered matches what was promised. This isn't just about checking off completed tasks—it's about ensuring these outcomes provide real value.


  • Gather Feedback: This is your chance to hear directly from those on the ground about what worked and what flopped. This feedback is gold dust for sharpening your project management skills.


  • Celebrate the Wins: Don't just focus on what went wrong. Highlight the successes, big or small, and discuss how these positive outcomes can be replicated in future projects.


  • Identify Improvement Areas: More importantly, determine where things could have been better. Was it the timing, resources, or scope management that threw off the project trajectory? Pin down these areas with your team.


  • Align Perceptions: Everyone must be on the same page regarding the project's impact. Misalignments here can lead to skewed perspectives on the project's success.


  • Set the Stage for Future Projects: This review can be a launching pad for future strategies. What insights can you carry forward? What strategies need rethinking?

Closure Event or Meeting

Rounding off a project with a closure event or a formal meeting is like the final chord of a symphony—it marks a definitive end and celebrates the effort of the entire ensemble. While we needn't dwell heavily on the minutiae, it's essential to acknowledge this as a pivotal moment for the team and stakeholders. 


  • Marking the End: Just as it's important to kick off a project with clear objectives, it's equally vital to mark its conclusion. A closure event does just this, signifying that the project has officially wrapped up.


  • Celebrating Successes: After the grind, it's time to shine a light on the achievements. Whether toasting to the project's success or simply gathering everyone for a well-deserved thank you, recognition goes a long way in boosting morale.


Conclusion

And there you have it—the final act in the drama is project management.


Wrapping up a project with a structured closure is about giving the project, your team, and yourself the closure you deserve.


This isn't just the end. It's an invaluable space between projects where you can pause, reflect, and gear up for the next challenge.


Remember, every project you complete, successful or otherwise, is a stepping stone to becoming a more effective and insightful project manager.


The lessons you gather, the documentation you archive, and the celebrations you host contribute significantly to personal growth and organisational knowledge.


So, take these closure activities seriously, but also enjoy them.


You've earned it. Use this time to prepare for the next big thing—with more experience, a refined approach, and a team ready to confidently tackle whatever comes next.

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