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A “How to” on Project Closing: Ensuring Project Success

By: Dr. Michael Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM

You’ve devoted months, perhaps years, to a project. It’s been a journey of highs and lows. Now, you’re on the verge of wrapping it up. But there’s a gnawing fear: What if, after all this effort, the project fails at the very end?

It’s an understandable and common concern. Many projects risk failure during the closure phase due to overlooked details, miscommunication, teams disbanding too early, or simply the rush to finish. Remember that the closure phase is critical to a project’s lifecycle, like initiation or execution. It seals the project’s fate, determining whether it’s remembered as a success or a failure.

Imagine steering your project to a successful close, with every stakeholder satisfied and every team member proud of the collective achievement. Picture a closure where risks are minimized, lessons are documented and learned, and the project’s benefits are fully realized.

Ensure your project’s successful closure. Equip yourself with proven strategies and techniques to prevent end-phase pitfalls and ensure a smooth, successful project completion. Victory is yours for the taking!

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Key Takeaways

Process Compliance and Documentation: Documentation management is essential, from collection to archiving for project closure. It ensures all project activities are complete and signed off and deliverables meet the set exit criteria. A thorough analysis of financial information also aids in developing a closing statement, which assists in mitigating future issues.

Stakeholder and Communication ManagementStakeholder communication should include closing discussions that involve detailed debriefs and feedback sessions to measure satisfaction and gather insights into what went well and where improvements can be made. A clear communication plan and successful knowledge transfer ensure all parties are informed.

Risk Management and Quality Assurance: A complete review of risks and issues is necessary to resolve any outstanding items. Further, the project manager must confirm that all contractual and supplier engagements have been satisfactorily concluded, which reduces future risks and ensures a quality handover.

Operational Readiness and Resource Optimization: Resource optimization involves strategically releasing and reassigning project resources. This approach prevents resource waste and prepares the receiving team for a smooth transition.

Organizational Learning and Improvement: Capturing lessons learned and leveraging post-project reviews help promote a learning and continuous improvement culture. This approach allows organizations to adopt advanced closure techniques, develop categorized project documentation, and support the need to invest in professional development positions. Ultimately, it will help the organization more effectively manage future projects.

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What is Project Closure?

Project closure refers to finalizing all activities for a project or a specific phase. It ensures that the project’s objectives have been met and all related tasks have been completed and approved by the customer/client. Project closure entails confirming that all documents and deliverables are up-to-date, resolving any outstanding issues, ensuring all costs have been charged to the project, closing project accounts, reassigning personnel, and more. This closing phase is crucial not only for signifying the official end of an entire project lifecycle but also for assessing the project’s overall performance, understanding what went well, and what could have been done differently, and capturing lessons learned for future reference.

In short:

Project Closing is the process in project management that involves finalizing all activities and formally completing the project. It includes handing over the deliverables, obtaining customer acceptance, and releasing available resources.

Reasons You Need to Know Project Closure

Understanding the intricacies of closing a project is key to promoting a project’s long-term success and value realization. The reasons are as follows:

  • Accountability: Ensures all project tasks, large and small, are completed successfully and reflects the responsibility, accountability, and professionalism of the management team, the project manager, and the whole project resources management team.
  • Value Realization: Only through a structured closure process can the project’s immediate and future benefits be accurately gauged against the initial objectives.
  • Resource Optimization: Releasing and reallocating resources ensures maximum utility and reduces overheads in an organization.
  • Stakeholder Satisfaction: Formalizing the completion of the project ensures all stakeholders are aligned and satisfied with the deliverables and outcomes, with the primary focus being the customer/client.
  • Future Reference: Archiving project details, especially lessons learned, provides a knowledge repository for future projects. And if used correctly, it should help reduce potential pitfalls and increase efficiency in future projects.

"Top view of a collaborative team meeting at a wooden table with documents, digital devices, and a calculator, emphasizing teamwork and strategy."

Step-by-Step Instructions to Close a Project Efficiently

Closing a project is more than simply marking it as “done” – it’s a strategic process ensuring the best value realization. It includes:

  1. Document CompilationGather and organize all procurement documents, ensuring they are indexed and filed in an appropriate organizational filing system or digital repository.
  2. Risk and Issue Log Review: Review and close all outstanding risks and issues to ensure no pending concerns remain.
  3. Exit Criteria Validation: Confirm that project deliverables meet the predefined exit criteria and customer/client expectations.
  4. Deliverable & Knowledge Handover: Hand over the final release resources, product, service, or result to the designated team or department for ongoing operations or maintenance. This also includes items such as technical documentation, “as-built” plans, and related project information to relevant departmental management or customer/client.
  5. Customer/Client Debrief & Feedback: Arrange meetings with customer/client to assess their satisfaction, validate deliverable acceptance, get approval signatures, and collect feedback.
  6. Contract and Supplier Closure: Confirm that all obligations have been met, and then formally close all agreements with external vendors or contracts.
  7. Resource Release: Release project resources, including non-essential human resources, materials, and equipment, ensuring everything is accounted for and reassigned as needed.
  8. Wrap-Up Analysis: Utilize data analysis techniques, such as variance and trend analysis, to evaluate project performance against initial projections. This should be against the forecasted schedule, cost, scope, and quality parameters.
  9. Lessons Learned Compilation: Document and archive lessons learned, best practices, and opportunities for improvement.
  10. Financial Closure: Complete all financial matters, including payments, budget reviews, and cost reconciliations.
  11. Final Report Drafting: Summarize project performance, outcomes, and future recommendations.
  12. Stakeholder Communication: Communicate formally with all stakeholders, summarizing the project’s closure, successes, and overall outcomes.
  13. Archiving Project Documents: Ensure all project documents, including lessons learned and final reports, are correctly archived.
  14. Celebrate and Acknowledge: Recognize the team’s efforts and success, formally mark the project’s closure, and release remaining team members.

A more detailed breakdown of each step is as follows:

1. Document Compilation

Document collection is conducted across the project lifecycle and finalized during the closing phase. It is the cornerstone of the project closing process to archive all documentation for the following:

  1. Gather All Relevant Documents: This includes procurement documentation, contract change documentation, payment records, inspection results, etc. Remember, these documents may be spread across different departments or stakeholders, so ensure you have a comprehensive list to collect and track.
  2. Organize by Category: Once gathered, categorize documents based on the types, such as financial records, technical documentation, stakeholder communications, etc. This categorization will help with filing and retrieval.
  3. Index and File: Create an index or table of contents for your filings. This should include the document name, category, and location. After indexing, physically or digitally, file the documents securely and ensure there is a backup copy.

2. Risk and Issue Log Review

Review and resolve all risks and issues.

  1. Identify Outstanding Items: Identify all unresolved risks and issues logged during the project. Doing so ensures no critical items are overlooked.
  2. Assess and Resolve: For each item, assess its current status and take necessary actions to resolve it. This might involve team discussions, stakeholder consultations, or specific mitigation actions.
  3. Document Outcomes: Update the log with the resolution status. Do not underestimate documentation. It may be a point of reference in the event of a customer/client dispute.
  4. Reflect on Risk Management: Evaluate the effectiveness of the risk management process and document insights for improving future projects.

3. Exit Criteria Validation

Validating Exit Criteria ensures that the project has met its objectives and deliverables align with stakeholder expectations. The project manager and team does this by:

  1. Review Project Objectives: Revisit the project’s original goals and objectives. This provides a benchmark for other projects to measure against.
  2. Check Deliverables Against Criteria: Examine each deliverable meticulously to ensure it meets the exit criteria. Depending on the nature of the deliverable, this could involve quality checks, functionality tests, or customer/client reviews.
  3. Engage Stakeholders: Engage relevant stakeholders and project management teams and ask them to assess and provide feedback on project deliverables. Their insights are necessary to ensure the project outcomes meet the plan’s intended purpose and value.
  4. Document Results: Log the results of your validation. Note any deviations, their reasons, and any rectification actions taken.

4. Deliverable and Knowledge Handover

Ensure the deliverables have been transferred to customer/client and all relevant stakeholders have access to necessary project information. In doing so:

  1. Catalog the Data: Organize “as-built” plans, technical documentation, and other pertinent project documents and information.
  2. Prepare the Handover Documentation: This includes all necessary manuals, guides, and details pertinent to the operation and maintenance of the deliverable.
  3. Identify the Receiving Team: Engage with the organization, department, or team that will take over, ensuring they’re briefed on all deliverable aspects.
  4. Conduct Transition Meetings: Organize sessions for the project and receiving teams to discuss any nuances, clarifications, or special instructions regarding the deliverable.
  5. Secure Confirmation: Obtain formal acknowledgment from the receiving team, ensuring they’ve understood and accepted all deliverables.

5. Customer/Client Debrief & Feedback

Engage with the customer/client to gather feedback and validate the acceptance of deliverables. 

  1. Set an Agenda: Clearly outline the topics you’ll cover in the meeting. This should include discussions about how the deliverable acceptance went, customer/client satisfaction, team feedback, and areas of improvement.
  2. Engage Actively: Encourage the customer/client to share their thoughts, concerns, and feedback.
  3. Document Feedback: Ensure that all positive and negative feedback is documented. This not only aids in building trust with the customer/client but also helps in refining future projects.
  4. Review Outcomes: Summarize the discussions and reiterate any action points or follow-ups required post-meeting.

6. Contract and Supplier Closure

Formally conclude all contracts and supplier relationships:

  1. Review Contractual Obligations: Validate that all terms of the contracts have been met. This includes deliverables, payments, and any other contractual requirements.
  2. Conduct Final Meetings: Meet with suppliers and contractors to formally conclude the working relationship. This is an opportunity to gather feedback and discuss any final matters.
  3. Document Closure: Keep records of the contract closure, including final payments, completion of deliverables, and official termination of the contract.
  4. Feedback and Evaluation: Assess the performance of the suppliers or contractors, then document for future procurement activities.

7. Resource Release

Releasing resources:

  1. Inventory of Resources: Identify and account for all project resources (e.g., non-essential personnel, equipment, and materials).
  2. Plan for Reassignment: Establish a plan for reassigning resources to new projects or back to the organization.
  3. Formal Release Process: Implement a formal process for resource release, ensuring all necessary paperwork and procedures are finalized.
  4. Feedback to/from Team Members: Conduct a 360-degree feedback session with team members.

8. Wrap-Up Analysis

Wrap-Up Analysis provides a comprehensive view of how the project fared against initial projections:

  1. Choose the Right Tools: Depending on the nature of your project, you might need different analytical tools. Standard tools include regression analysis for identifying interrelationships between project variables and variance analysis to compare projected outcomes against actual results.
  2. Collect Data: Before analyzing, ensure you have all the necessary data. This might include project files, timelines, budgeting records, performance metrics, and other key performance indicators.
  3. Conduct Analysis: Use your analytical tools to conduct a deep dive.
  4. Document and Share Findings: Document your findings, noting any significant deviations from projections and potential reasons. Share this analysis as appropriate.

9. Lessons Learned Compilation

Leveraging your analysis, reflecting on a project’s journey, and capturing relevant insights, such as best practices and opportunities for improvement:

  1. Organize Brainstorming Sessions: Gather your team and discuss what went well and what didn’t.
  2. Document Insights: Capture all insights, whether they are found to be internal, external, or on the periphery of the project.
  3. Classify the Lessons: To make them more digestible, categorize the lessons into themes such as communication, resource management, or risk assessment.
  4. Share and Archive: Disseminate the lessons to all relevant parties and archive them in a centralized repository.

10. Financial Closure

Ensuring all financial aspects of the project are settled:

  1. Finalize Budgets: Review and reconcile the final project budget, ensuring all expenditures are accounted for within the allocated budget.
  2. Close Accounts: Ensure all project accounts are closed and any remaining funds are handled according to the organization’s financial policies.
  3. Document Financial Outcomes: Prepare the final financial report detailing all financial aspects of the project, including budget variances and their reasons.
  4. Audit Compliance: If applicable, ensure the project’s financial management complies with audit requirements.

11. Final Report Drafting

The final report should include the entire project lifecycle, as detailed by the Project Management Institute. This report should be provided to project stakeholders and include the results and future recommendations. 

  1. Gather All Data: Ensure you have all necessary data, including timelines, budgeting records, performance metrics, and stakeholder feedback.
  2. Structure the Report: The report should include an executive summary and sections on the project scope, objectives, outcomes, variances, and recommendations, among others, as required.
  3. Highlight Key Achievements: Emphasize milestones reached, objectives met, and any other noteworthy achievements.
  4. Provide Recommendations: Detail future recommendations based on the project’s outcomes and lessons learned.
  5. Review and Finalize: Before sharing the document, have key team members review the report for accuracy and completeness and then finalize it for distribution.

12. Stakeholder Communication

Effective communication at project closure, which also reinforces transparency:

  1. Summarize Project Outcomes: It should be a clear and concise summary of the project’s outcomes, including successes and challenges.
  2. Disseminate Information: Share the information with all relevant stakeholders, the customer/client, etc. Doing so helps ensure everyone is informed about the project’s conclusion.
  3. Invite Feedback: Encourage stakeholders to provide feedback on the project process and outcomes.

13. Archiving Project Documents

Proper documentation archiving:

  1. Identify Archivable Documents: Determine which documents, including contracts, financial records, reports, and correspondence, must be archived as per governmental and organizational regulations and policies.
  2. Prepare for Archiving: Ensure all documents are complete and signed off.
  3. Archive Securely: Store documents in a secure and accessible location, physically or digitally, based on organizational policies.
  4. Record Archiving Details: Record where and how project documents are archived for easy retrieval.

14. Celebrate and Acknowledge

One of the most important aspects of the project is to recognize all the hard work of those involved in the project. 

  1. Plan a Recognition Event: This could be a more formal presentation, ceremony, casual gathering, or even a virtual celebration, which should be tailored to team dynamics and team member’s preferences and constraints.
  2. Acknowledge Individual Contributions: Ensure the standout team members’ efforts are recognized. Provide a personalized message for those awarded. A handwritten note thanking each team member for their contributions is also warranted. 
  3. Reflect on the Journey: During the event, take a moment to reflect on the milestones, challenges, and triumphs the team encountered and overcame.
  4. Look to the Future: While celebrating the project’s closure, it’s also an opportune moment to discuss prospects and opportunities with a future project and future project teams.

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Key Considerations for Successfully Closing a Project

While the process and procedures during this project phase are necessary, an underlying layer of soft skills and nuances makes the difference between mere completion and successful project closure important.

For instance, Communication is foundational for a successful project closure process. Whether with stakeholders, team members, or other departments, clear and transparent communication ensures everyone is on the same page and minimizes misunderstandings. It’s about conveying information, active listening, and providing feedback when appropriate.

Adaptability also plays a pivotal role. Despite the best planning, unforeseen challenges might emerge. Adapting, pivoting, and finding alternative solutions without losing sight of core objectives ensures that the project stays on course. Keep in mind Mike Tyson’s quote, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

While the processes of the project closing process are important, never lose sight of the human element. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize project team members’ value and support their emotional and workplace needs.

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Elevate Your Project Closure Skills

After completing the fundamental steps of closing a project, considering advanced techniques and methodologies will help you move beyond the current into the future. This means refining your approach and incorporating advanced tools and strategies into your project management repertoire.

Start by incorporating advanced technological tools. With the surge of AI and machine learning, predictive analytics can provide valuable insights, forecasting potential roadblocks or challenges well ahead of time. These insights are pivotal in promoting innovation and understanding for future projects.

Another avenue is continuous professional development. Consider attending workshops, earning an advanced degree or certification, or engaging in mentorship programs. These avenues provide deeper knowledge and understanding of project management processes and closure techniques and help expand your professional network, which also affords diverse perspectives from seasoned project managers.

Embracing a culture of continuous improvement within your team. Encourage a mindset where each project’s closure is viewed as a learning opportunity. By routinely conducting in-depth post-project reviews and implementing feedback loops, you set the stage for perpetual growth and refinement.

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Final Thoughts on Project Closure Techniques

As we conclude this article on project closure techniques, it’s necessary to emphasize that each project deserves a structured and thoughtful conclusion regardless of its scale or domain. Closing a project properly is not about merely ticking off tasks but about understanding, reflecting, and setting the stage for future endeavors.

My experience with project closure spans a couple of decades and many projects, from small-scale endeavors to large undertakings with global reach. Along the way, I’ve seen how vital something seemingly simple like a project closure report is—not just for the immediate project but also for an organization’s long-term knowledge and understanding.

When someone invests time and effort in the project closure phase, it pays dividends, aids with a more seamless transition, provides valuable lessons learned, and is foundational to stakeholder trust and transparency.

References

Aziz, E. E. (2015). Project closing: the small process group with big impact. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2015—EMEA, London, England. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Kerzner, H. (2017). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling – Twelfth Edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Project Management Institute, Inc. (2017). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Sixth Edition. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

Project Management Institute. (2021). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Seventh Edition and The Standard for Project Management (7th ed.). Project Management Institute. ISBN 978-1628256642

Project Management Institute. (2023). Process Groups: A Practice Guide. Project Management Institute.

About the author: Dr. Michael J. Shick, MSPM, PMP, CSM, founder of ROSEMET, is a combat-wounded warrior and retired senior military officer turned esteemed academic and project management expert. Holding a doctorate from Creighton University and serving as an Assistant Professor at Western Carolina University, Dr. Shick’s dedication goes beyond credentials, as he commits to empowering individuals and organizations toward project excellence. With an extensive military, academic, and project leadership background, he epitomizes resilience, expertise, and a steadfast devotion to fostering growth and success in others.