Wednesday, 30 October 2019 08:00

Project Closure - Ignore it at your own risk

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A Project closure phase is considered to be complete when:

1) the Client gets value from the service they paid for, 2) the Project Manager gets acknowledged for the hard work they put in for the project and, 3) the Project Sponsor (Organization) gets the payment from the client on time. But all these listed completion criteria seldom get completed on time and still the project will be marked as closed. Do you also see the similar situation? Is this a correct way to complete a project? Should we rectify this behavior or not?

Let us reflect on all these questions in this article. We will look at the perspective of our three main stakeholders: Client, Project Manager, Project Sponsor. Let’s also try to understand the importance and impact of the project closure phase in order to justify the significance of this “last” but not the “least” project phase in the project lifecycle.

The primary objective of the project closure phase is to ensure that all loose ends are tied up and that the project manager’s work is approved. Project Closing is the combination of the following when applied to a project:1) Assurance that all the work has been completed, 2) Assurance that all agreed upon project management processes have been executed, and 3) Formal recognition of the completion of a project—everyone agrees that it is completed.

Project closure has a huge impact on an organization’s overall profitability and success—as the saying goes, projects are remembered not by how they start but how they finish. No matter how well the final stage looks, the project is not complete until all steps of the closeout have been completed and everyone goes home satisfied.

But, in many cases, the project closure does not happen properly OR in the worst scenario, it never happens. Some of the scenarios (specific to the three important stakeholders) that leads to this situation are:

  1. Client - Sometimes project just drag because the client is too busy to give the feedback or to release the payments for the work done. Sometimes it goes into arbitration because of the differences in implemented vs agreed scope.
  2. Project Manager - moves to another project. They still remain as a primary contact point for the previous project and are expected to resolve any future correspondence (requests) from the former clients, even when they have no team member to complete the request.
  3. Project Sponsor - primarily focuses on getting the payments from clients, concentrates more on financials then on project essentials. They will mark the project “closed” as soon as the payments are received

Failure to conduct Project Closure could potentially:

  • put the organization at a considerable amount of risk,
  • prevent the organization from realizing the anticipated benefits from the deliverables of the project,
  • result in significant losses to the organization
  • undermine the project manager and project management team's credibility.

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Let us consider the impact of incomplete project closure activity on the three important stakeholders:

  1. Client – They never got the information that the project is completed. The project is no more active, means all the active correspondence (weekly/periodical) meeting also stops. They will have doubts about the capabilities of the organization. There might be some unfinished items in the project, on which the customer’s team have to rework. This means more spending in time and cost efforts to get the desired business outcomes from the project. Eventually, they will not see any value add in working with the organization. They will not sign any new contracts with that organization.
  2. Project Manager – As the project did not go through a formal project closure phase, there might be some pending items that customer wanted from the team, and the PM is well aware of them. They will feel as if they left something unfinished. Their hard work seems to go in vain because the project was ended abruptly. As a PMP, they did not follow the right practice and process. This might lead to setting bad practices for the future too. As a project manager, they are responsible for the integrity of the project management process and the product. This conflicting situation will lead to their demotivation and distrust with the organization.
  3. Project Sponsor – the requisite payment might not be released or delayed by the client. The clients might generate negative feedback in the market which will negatively impact the organization’s reputation. The project did not bring customer success so there will not be any repeat business from that client. All the work done to engage with the client and build a relationship gets destroyed.

Projects are started in the first place to be completed and to provide the desired benefits to its stakeholders. None of the three stakeholders will ever want the project to fail or be marked incomplete. So, onus also lies on these three stakeholders to end the project on a positive note and to reap its desired benefits for the long term. The right approach at the project closure stage can also ward off problems and ensure that every stakeholder ends up happy with the experience and final results. The three stakeholders can help it in the following way:

  1. Client - should provide necessary guidance to the team as and when required. They should not wait till the end, for their feedback with the intention to stall the project. This support and timely feedback will help in building the trust with the organization and will also get better price negotiation for the client for any future project.
  2. Project Manager – need to be more proactive and alert to the project closure risk. They need to constantly watch this risk and take proper risk control measures. Successful project closure is their responsibility and they should ensure that it gets done. If there is a difference in opinions with other stakeholders then those should be addressed, it should not be taken as an opportunity to move to a new project so as to keep the "skeletons in the closet".
  3. Project Sponsor – should look at the long-term gains from a project rather than just focusing on the account receivables. Project closure is also a time to acknowledge the project manager and the team's efforts. By ignoring it, they diminish and demotivate the team. A happy customer and a motivated team have much more shelf life than any currency in the world.

Project closure is an educating experience where you get to learn a lot of lessons than what you did during the execution of the project. Try and resist the temptation to jump onto a new project as soon as one project is over without completing the formal closure process. An efficient project closure creates value for all project stakeholders.

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Anju Aggarwal

Most of us can do many tasks, but if you want those tasks to be done right, you hire a professional. That’s what I am, a professional manager of Projects. People identify this with PM or project manager, but I call it as project mentor. I mentor projects and teams towards successful completion of their projects resulting in greater customer satisfaction and increased organization’s profitability. I also train and develop project managers in the successful application of PM practices so they can multiply their knowledge and success.

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