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Old Projects Never Die; They Just Fade Away

You thought that this day would never come – the scope of your project has been delivered and you are ready to close out the project. Your team breathes a sigh of relief and looks forward to some well earned time off. Unfortunately, the project closeout phase can sometimes cause more grief than all the other project phases combined.

Here are some tips on how to drain your project swamp before your team becomes mired in closeout quicksand.

  1. Avoid closeout criteria confusion. Before you and your customer sign off (formally or informally depending on your project management governance practices) on your project plan, make sure that there is a clear definition of acceptance conditions that should be met for the project to be closed out. Then, re-check those conditions and make sure that you and your customer have the same understanding of them. By working through interpretation gaps about deliverable acceptance practices and other such conditions up front, you reduce the likelihood of these gaps causing prolonged delays and rework during project closeout.
  2. Establish (and maintain) good financial relationships. In many organizations, projects cannot be considered closed unless full financial closeout occurs. However, as financial cycles for reporting may not necessarily mesh with your project’s timelines for closure, this could cause a project to be held in an “open” state beyond expected timeframes. This is where a good relationship with your procurement and finance staff as well as your vendors can go a long way towards accelerating timelines – being able to get copied on invoices or to receive summary financial reconciliation reports in a timely fashion is key.
  3. Break the walls down. Remember that your project is just a delivery mechanism for achieving business value. To achieve that business value, an operational team will need to execute and support the new or changed business processes delivered by your project. Be sure to prepare for this transition thoroughly. This includes knowledge transfer, transitioning open project issues that are material in the operational world, organizing and archiving project documentation appropriately to facilitate access by the operational team. And be sure to involve key operational stakeholders in the closeout review meeting to ensure that their needs are met and that they are willing and able to grab the relay baton and run with it.
  4. Give a hoot, don’t pollute. Projects generate a vast amount of soft and hardcopy documentation over their lifetime. Not all of this information is required once a project has been completed. Take the time to weed through document repositories, project war rooms, file servers and other information stores to archive unneeded files and to properly organize official documents for easy future access.
  5. Evaluate your team. Even in functional organizations where project managers have very little power of any kind, there is value in providing written feedback to team members on their performance. It may not get used by their functional managers as an input into performance evaluations but the team members can add it to their own personal portfolios. It also demonstrates that you respect their work and the effort they have made.
  6. Harvest the lessons (to be learned). Although this should have been done throughout the lifetime of your project (see my earlier blog article –, project closeout is your team’s last chance to document useful tips for future projects. In addition, it is an opportunity to scrub or refine lessons that had been documented earlier in the project’s lifecycle.
  7. Celebrate. Whether or not you have a formal budget approved for a project closeout event, it is important to take the time to celebrate your project with the team, stakeholders and customer. A good way to prepare for this celebration is to take photos or video clips of significant events over the lifetime of your project. Analogous to the videos that are shown at weddings (or perhaps a better comparison would be at funerals!), this gives everyone the opportunity to reminisce about the good, the bad, and the ugly that they experienced. Further to this, I would recommend burning copies of this video to DVD and presenting the attendees of the celebration with a gift-wrapped copy of the DVD.

When it comes to project closeout, do not follow Dylan Thomas’s advice “Do not go gently into that good night…”

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Kiron D. Bondale, PMP is the Manager, Client Services for Solution Q Inc. which produces and implements project portfolio management solutions. Kiron has managed multiple mid-to-large-sized IT projects, and has worked for over twelve years in both internal and professional services project management capacities. He has setup and managed Project Management Offices (PMO) and has provided project portfolio management consulting services to clients across multiple industries. Kiron is actively involved with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and served as a volunteer director on the Board of the PMI Lakeshore Chapter from 2003 to 2009. Kiron has published articles on project management in a number of industry publications and has presented PPM/PM topics in multiple conferences and webinars. For more of Kiron’s thoughts on change management, please visit his blog at

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