There are four techniques that I have found useful when managing the Project Closeout. This first technique, which I call Closeout Approach, is an organizing principle for guiding the administrative closeout activities. The second technique is a Stakeholder Acceptance meeting. The third technique is the development of a Punch List to drive project closure and prevent scope creep. The final technique is the conduct of a Lessons Learned assessment on the project.
The Closeout Approach considers the method that the project deliverables are being hand off to stakeholders and changes the administrative activity accordingly. In all cases, any supplier contracts must be closed with the procurement department. However, the internal closeout process of ohter activities will vary.
Project Inclusion - This form of closeout is the simplest from an administrative standpoint. The project team, who has developed the project deliverables, now become the primary users/ maintainers of the deliverables. The team essentially hands off the project deliverables to itself. In this case, the project management team needs to close any administrative accounts or files that are associated with development and reopen them for operational deployment of the deliverables. The transition is virtually seamless and administrative in nature.
Project Extinction - This form of closeout is also straight forward. The project activities are immediately terminated. Resources are either redeployed in the organization or they are released. This condition may be created because of problems within the project, or it may be because of conditions that are completely outside of the control of the project team. For instance, I worked with a team closing a project in this fashion because an unexpected ruling by a government regulatory body eliminated the need for the project deliverables.
Project Integration - This form of closeout is the most difficult. The project deliverables are completed and the project team believes that they meet the project objective. However, the project team must ensure that the portion of the organization that is to make use of the deliverables is prepared to embrace them and apply them appropriately to achieve the business benefit. At times there is significant resistance to accepting the deliverables. When a project team is facing this type of closeout they need to ensure that appropriate change management activities are being conducted at the same time they are performing the administrative closeout activities. When the change management is likely to be a significant issue for the project, I include a transition phase to the project that has pilot runs, beta tests, or other transition activities to enhance acceptance by stakeholders.
Stakeholder Acceptance Meeting
A Stakeholder Acceptance meeting is exactly what the name implies. The project team meets with project stakeholders to review the deliverables of the project and ensure that the deliverables are acceptable to the stakeholders. I strongly recommend that this meeting be held by Program Managers with all sub-project teams on Complex programs. I have also found this useful when doing projects under contract to ensure that there is a clear endpoint to the project and that the final invoice can be submitted. The format of this meeting often is based upon the Project Charter. The deliverable for each item of the Charter is presented and explained to the stakeholders.
Project Punch List
The Punch List is a technique borrowed from construction projects. When conducting Stakeholder Meetings, gaps are often identified between what the stakeholders wanted from the deliverables and what is being supplied by the project team. The Punch List is used to manage the closure of those gaps. As a deliverables is presented - whether in a Stakeholder Meeting, pilot run, or Beta test - any gaps or deviations are listed and placed upon the Punch List. The project team then identifes the cost and schedule impact of completing the Punch List items and they come to an agreement with the stakeholders concerning which items they must complete and the end point of those new tasks. Both the stakeholders and the project team manage the effort to the Punch List. Stakeholders cannot continue to add items and the Project Team must complete all the items on the list. This technique will quickly drive the project to closure.
The Lessons Learned process is usually tailored to the organization. If the organization has a PMO the Lessons Learned process is nomrally a formal part of project closeout. When there is no PMO, often any Lessons Learned activities are done informally if at all. When I conduct Lessons Learned sessions, I follow a four step process.
Evaluate the Business Case - The first question I ask is whether the project created the business benefit that was used to justify approving the project. This question is less about how well the project team did and is much more focused on senior management and the project selection and approval process. The lessons learned at this point improve the ability of the organization to select projects and to establish realistic project charters.
Evaluate the Project Plan - This question addresses how well the project manager and project management team planned the project. It concerns topics like: a) identification of required activities, b) cost and schedule estimates, c) risk factors, and d) team integration and communication.
Evaluate the Project Management Methodology - This question addresses whether the organization's procedures and systems were beneficial for the project or not. It includes asking questions like: a) Are procedures current and relevant? b) Are checklists and templates current and relevant? c) Are the mandated reviews and control points appropriate? and d) Is the PMIS useful?
Evaluate Team and Personal Performance - The team then considers how well they executed the plan and followed the methodology. This is normally a self-assessment by the team and can be aided with techniques such as 360 reviews. With respect to formal personal performance appraisals, I recommend that this be done for the core team members on all large projects. The method for conducting the performance appraisal must be accomplished in accordance with local Human Resource practices.