Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Three Key Factors in the Project Closeout Phase

Project closeout is the final phase of the project and is the time where we can ultimately judge the success of all the planning, initiation, and execution of the project plan. Actions taken in this final stage determine the completeness of the project against its objectives, and the ultimate success of the project manager. I want to focus on three key factors of the closeout phase that all projects need to address: the importance of managing the closeout phase of a project, managing stakeholder expectations and achieving acceptance, and the impact of closeout on the project manager.

Managing Project Closeout Phases

There are lessons to be learned through the project closeout phase. Projects can be mined for best practices and lessons of its own that can be shared and leveraged across the organization.

It is important to plan and staff accordingly for the closure activities. Often people are often rolled off projects as soon as possible after completion of their deliverables. This can be prior to the closure activities being completed, leaving a smaller core team to clean up or the work is left incomplete. Often, the tendency is for the team to do what is necessary to achieve completion, without a sense of leaving the work in a state for long term support or enhancement. The customer’s final perception of the final product or deliverable is what sticks in their mind, and if the project team shortchanges this effort the organization will lose credibility, the repeat business, or the referrals.

Conducting a post-project review and capturing best practices to share with the community is a key part of the closeout phase. The intellectual capital is a competitive advantage but it is lost if this step is not completed. The organization should utilize a shared document repository and uploading tools and examples from the project are tremendously useful to new project teams. It is the ideal time to go about collecting the actual project performance data. This can serve as a basis for estimating the amount of work in future, similar projects.

Project closeout is an important time for celebration and recognition. The project team has spent a great deal of time and effort on the project, and often so has the various stakeholders. People need the time to celebrate and relish in the success. As well, if the project did not go smoothly, it is important to capture the lessons learned and give the team a chance to let go of the past so they can move on to future work.

Managing Stakeholder Expectations and Achieving Acceptance

In some ways the success of managing the stakeholder’s expectations, communication, and ultimately achieving acceptance of the project has more to do with the initial and planning stages of the project. Having a clear scope statement defined and agreed to prior to the start of the project is crucial to the success of the project. However, disputes usually surface at the end of the engagement as the final deliverables are being produced and delivered. The best way to reduce the impact of project disputes is to avoid them.

In the event that issues arise during the closeout phase of the project, it is important to have a dispute mechanism and escalation process. The communication plan is the starting point for developing a regular habit of discussing with the client the current state of the project and the issues and risks that are anticipated.

The lesson learned is that an organization should spend more time with the stakeholders, understanding their business, building a relationship, and developing the work products together, and the focus on the contract is secondary. By being on the same side of the table as the stakeholder, having a strong relationship in and outside of work, and showing them that you can be trusted and fair, goes a long way to help disputes be managed without damaging the relationship.

Impact of Closeout on the Project Manager

Project closeout is an important time to focus on the team, with celebration, recognition, feedback and compensation discussions occurring as part of this phase. But as a project manager, it is important to take care of yourself as well. Project management has some built in stresses, and at the closeout phase project managers are dealing with the same issues around closure, moving on, acceptance and recognition as the rest of the team.