Closing a project should be treated as an integral part of the project plan. The closing process does not begin at the end of the project, but during the planning phase. Each step should be as carefully planned and executed as any other portion of the project. The closure phase will vary depending on the size and complexity of the project, but it should include five basic items:

  1.     Ensure the final project deliverables meet the specifications outlined in the project plan
  2.     Receive customer approval of final project deliverables
  3.     Ensure the proper closure of all project related contractual obligations
  4.     Perform final lessons learned
  5.     Archive project plan for future reference

1. Ensure Final Project Deliverables Meet Project Specifications

First, it is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that the final project deliverables meet the specifications outlined in the project plan. Some might say that the project closure phase is a little too late in the project for such a task, and they would be right, if they are assuming that no previous detailed inspections have been performed. This first step emphasizes the need for consistent and detailed inspections throughout the life of the project to ensure that you are producing what is described in the project plan.

Too often, a reactive approach is taken, only performing inspections after the customer has lodged a complaint. Instead, the project manager should proactively perform scheduled and carefully planned inspections throughout all phases of the project to ensure that the project plan is being followed. The time to begin planning this step of the project closure plan is during the initial project planning meetings when the inspection schedule is being produced. In this manner, this step of the project closure phase can be accomplished with very little effort.

2. Receive Customer Approval

The second goal of the project closure phase is to receive the customer’s approval of the final project deliverables. To accomplish this step, begin during the planning phase of the project. During the planning phase, the project manager should have made certain that the customer understood the project team’s interpretation of the project specifications. If there are questions as to what the exact specifications are, it is incumbent upon the project manager to remove those questions. Doing this as early as possible during the project helps to ensure that no major conflicts arise.  

One of the most common sources of problems regarding the customer’s approval is not so often the work performed, but more often the extra cost incurred by the customer due to change orders they requested. Therefore, having a detailed and open change order system can greatly relieve the problems that usually arise during this phase of closing a project. If customers clearly understand not only the work to be performed, but also the entire cost of the work described in the change order, then some common problems can be eliminated.

3. Close All Open Contracts

Third, the project manager must ensure that all contractual obligations related to the project have been met and closed.  In larger projects, a part of the project team will be responsible for contract management. This team will have been responsible for both entering into and managing the contracts. As part of managing the contracts, the team member ensures that all parties have fulfilled their contractual obligations. If you are able to have such a team, which, in some cases, may be a single team member, they should be able to provide you with a report relating to all contracts.

Detailed reports will show the status of all contracts related to the project. If contracts are still open, then steps must be taken to close them. Sometimes contracts have not been closed due to a dispute that has arisen, which could possibly take some time to resolve, but, in the meantime, the project deliverables are complete and the project needs to be closed. In this case, the project manager should follow the protocol designed by the company. Typically, this would include closing the rest of the project, but continuing to track the status of the contract dispute with relevant data being inputted back into the project plan. In this manner, those who reference the project plan in the future are assured of knowing the current status of the contract dispute, so they might make an informed decision when planning future projects.

4. Perform Final Lessons Learned

This is one of the most important steps, not only to make certain that the project is closed successfully, but also to help ensure future project success. There are two major questions to ask when preparing to perform “lessons learned,” which would ideally be asked when you are beginning to outline the closure phase during your project planning phase. First, who needs to be interviewed? Second, what information do I need to obtain? Obviously, there are more questions that could be asked, but these are the two most basic questions.

The answer to the first question is interview all the stakeholders that are available. The format of the interview will vary depending upon the availability of the stakeholder and the amount of time and energy that you can spend on this task. In a perfect world, the project manager would have the time to sit down with most people and get their feedback on the project, but, unfortunately that is not the world in which we work. Therefore, the project manager will need to be both creative and flexible to gather the most helpful feedback.

I recommend beginning with a list of project stakeholders and prioritizing those who you believe it would be most beneficial to actually sit down with. Determine what aspect of the project they might be able to provide feedback regarding, but do not limit them to only that portion of the project. You might be surprised with the insights they have gathered during the project.

For those you have time to interview personally, send a questionnaire asking them to provide feedback