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Training for Project Closure

Closing out a calendar year brings to mind the challenges of closing out projects. But unlike a calendar year, the close of a project only happens with intention. All too often, it doesn’t happen at all.

The benefits of conducting some kind of formal project closure are many, including a sense of accomplishment among project participants which improves productivity, organizational recognition of the value of the investment, and contributions to the corporate memory that serve as a resource for future projects. Project closure is not just a good idea, it’s of value to the organization.

My top tips for closing projects came from personal experience training for my first triathlon. My biggest concern going into the race was how I was going to hold up toward the end. Running is the last of the three events, and the one about which I was least confident. I wondered if I would be able to finish that last mile or if I would simply be so exhausted that I would not make it across the finish line.

As it turns out, I was so invigorated by the experience and so excited about completing the race that the closer I got, the easier it actually became as I moved toward the finish line. 

If only it were that way with projects. Often it’s the opposite with projects; our momentum peters out toward the end. In fact, unlike December 31 which is suddenly staring you in the face, it often feels like project finish lines move further from us the closer to them we get. Starting projects seems relatively easy. It’s bringing them to a close that can be frustratingly elusive.

Lessons learned from triathlon training can help bring projects to closure:

First, make sure you know what the project finish line looks like.

What kept me going in training and in the race was imagining myself crossing that finish line. The finish on a project, of course, isn’t an actual line in the sand, but it should be clear to all stakeholders what “done” looks like. Part of the reason we sometimes have a hard time getting to the end on projects is that we don’t recognize it when we see it. Define it clearly; define it early. And use it to visualize the end – just like a real finish line.

Second, measure progress regularly.

Training for a race is easy in that you can hop on a treadmill and gauge how far and how fast you are running. As your endurance increases, your confidence and momentum toward the goal of completing the race increases.

It’s not exactly that way on a project, but taking stock regularly along the way to know how you are doing relative to the objectives helps keep the “mo” on projects. Figure out how to measure progress and let everyone know where things are at. It’s usually not enough to just announce “done” at the end. Nothing is more encouraging than hearing “we’re getting there” along the way.

Third, find a mentor.

Plenty of days during training I could have found something more desirable to do than swim, bike, or run. Like laundry. But I have a friend who had done this before and who always provided the right amount of support and encouragement when I was feeling uninspired. Sharing my success with him was a treat.

Mentorship in project management can be every bit as powerful. Someone who has been there and done that and who will be a sounding board as you work through obstacles to keep your eye on the prize can be a project manager’s greatest asset.

December 31 comes whether we are ready or not. Project closure only comes with planning and effort, yet it’s as fundamental to project management as running is to a triathlon. Visualizing the finish line, regularly measuring progress, and working with a mentor can help you get to the end of your project – and close it.

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