Project managers love successfully completing projects. And why wouldn’t they? Not only is it their job, it’s also incredibly satisfying. But how do you know when a project is truly finished? Sure, something may have been deployed, or a client was given access to new tools and resources to boost their own business, but that doesn’t mean the project is fully finished. A successful project manager will execute a proper project closeout to ensure every single box is checked off. If this isn’t done, something will inevitably come back to haunt them, and few things are worse than the ghosts of projects past — especially when you’re trying to focus on ensuring future success.
What exactly is a project closeout?
A project closeout refers to the formal process of finalizing all aspects of a project, specifically during its final stage. Finishing your individual tasks doesn’t necessarily mean the project is officially over.
Executing a project closeout ensures the following is completed: formal documentation, follow-ups, transferring information to appropriate stakeholders, and a final review.
This may sound like a lot of work, but it’s necessary.
Why are they important?
If anything related to your project is left open-ended, you might encounter future issues. A project closeout will prevent problems from snowballing and allow everyone to enjoy the benefits of a job well done.
It’s important to ensure everything is transitioned and closed out so you can move on to your next project without having to continue to tie up loose ends.
A project closeout will also help with the following:
- Complete objectives: Every project has its own unique objectives that need to be met. With a project closeout, each objective is reviewed and marked as complete (or incomplete). If objectives have been successfully met, great! If not, it’s important to review why. Keep notes that explain why something wasn’t finished and how it was dealt with.
- Ensure satisfaction: Once a project is complete, collect feedback from all stakeholders to measure their satisfaction. Ideally, everything went well. Realistically, it may not have. Use this opportunity to follow up on anything that needs to be addressed and ensure it’s dealt with appropriately, and in a timely manner.
- Keep track of finances: Throughout a project’s lifecycle, you were likely responsible for tracking finances (both debits and credits), staff hours, and other resources. During a project closeout, it’s important to reference these records when writing final reports and balancing actual budgets against what was projected. Your finance team will thank you for handing off completed records and reports on time.
- Build trust: Effectively ending a project and transitioning onto whatever’s next will help you build trust with internal teams as well as external clients. It proves you’re a capable project manager who can deliver work on time, achieve objectives and milestones, and meet expectations while balancing competing priorities. This will help you establish strong work relationships and build trust with your peers.
5 steps to include in a project closeout
Every project is unique, but project lifecycles are always more or less the same. The same goes for project closeout checklists. Sure, it can change depending on specific needs, but you should always do the following:
- Transfer deliverables: The first step is to pass all the deliverables to your client — or other stakeholders. Double-check everything, dot your I’s and cross your T’s, smash that “send” button, and wave goodbye to all the hard work your team pulled off.
- Officially confirm the project’s completion: You might start this step by loudly announcing “IT’S DONE!” to the entire office. But you also need to make sure your client knows everything is completed, and internally, everyone recognizes that their part is finished. Have stakeholders sign off, confirm things are finished, and get approvals where needed.
- Confirm payments and release resources: If your company is supposed to get paid for this project, it’s important to ensure that’s been done. Also, make sure you’ve paid any contractors who worked on the project alongside your internal team. Follow up with finance and double-check all credits and debits, and record information as needed.
- Conduct a final project review: A final review can also be referred to as a post-mortem or retrospective. This step may seem like a lot of work, but it’s essential; don’t try to rush your way through this one. Instead, take the time to review the project and its components, and identify everything that went well and any items that should be improved upon next time. Treat your roadblocks and challenges as lessons learned. Don’t dwell on these mistakes; use them as an opportunity to plan ahead for future projects to ensure the same issues don’t occur again.
- Record and file all necessary documents: Keeping records may seem like an annoying administrative task, but it’s another invaluable step. The key is to keep records up to date throughout the course of the project, so during your project closeout you simply need to save everything and make copies for whoever needs them.
What happens if you skip the project closeout?
Looking to take a shortcut? We’ve all been there, but you really shouldn’t try to cut corners here.
The list of future issues is endless when a project closeout is ignored. Here are the most common ones you’ll come across:
- People asking for documents they should already have, which is annoying for everyone.
- Payments can become late, incur interest, or end up booked in the wrong quarter, which will mess up your projected budgets.
- Deliverables can be sent via multiple channels, which gets confusing and can lead to items being misplaced.
- Projects will continue to drag, with team members pushing back deadlines, ignoring review components, and inevitably slowing down the ramp-up phase of whatever project is next.
- The same issues will keep occurring again and again, which will lead to (avoidable) frustrations and burnout.
No one wants to deal with issues that can easily be avoided. This is why it’s important to establish a process for project closeouts and execute it every time a project begins to wrap up.