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Learning to Close Projects Effectively…This is it!! The last in a six-week series about project management processes. Surely, you have learned something valuable if you have been reading these posts. And now, we’re at the end. I’ve gotten to the end of a project many times, and it is so tempting to just declare victory on the project, throw a party, and skip the boring closing steps. Please don’t do that. It’s important to close projects effectively. Here are six steps, along with why it is important.

Connect with your customer face-to-face so that you are sure of where things stand.

This seems obvious, and yet it is sometimes hard to do. If things have gone well, everyone seems ready to move on and forget the value from a retrospective. If things have not gone well, it may be difficult to face the customer. But you need to know what they are thinking and a face-to-face is the best way to do that. Body language speaks volume. Written reports and emails are great, but they can mask some details, both good and bad. Look for the good. Especially when people are focused on the bad.

I’m not saying that you should ignore the bad. I’m just saying that it is easy to get fixated on the negative. For example, did you finish the building renovation over budget and late? If so, it’s important to understand why. Did you uncover a major building structural flaw that had to be fixed? Great!! You discovered a structural flaw before it caused a major problem. You finished the renovation and have a lovely space in which to entertain and work. Try to avoid fixating on one side of the equation and see the entire picture.

Close out your procurement contracts so that don’t wind up in legal trouble.

Procurement contracts are legal documents, and thus, they are important. And I sense some confusion around this step in smaller companies. Let me offer some clarification. First of all, if you work in a larger company, you will likely have a procurement department and your role will simply be to advise them that the contract is finished. They should take it from there.

There are two kinds of contracts that you might have on your project – and the term procurement contract can be tossed around rather indiscriminately. The first kind of contract is the contract with your client, under which YOUR services were procured. Presumably, this contract has been satisfied by the project work, but it’s important to ensure that the client is fully satisfied, that the terms of the contract have been satisfied, that money has changed hands, that all documentation has been completed, and that the client knows that the contract has been satisfied. This is all done in writing.

The other kind of contract is a contract that you have entered into to procure goods or services in order to complete the project. These contracts can close out at any time during the project. During the project closing process, you should have some kind of audit process to ensure that these contracts were completely and appropriately closed, in the same fashion that I just described.

Do performance appraisals so that your team members get what they need.

Every person is different. If you have done your job well, you know why the key members on your team have been working on the project. Was it for money, career advancement, acquisition of new job skills, or fun?

Even if this was a non-profit project run by volunteers, where you won’t be doing performance appraisals, it’s a good time to document which volunteers were especially effective.

Be very careful about documenting anything negative without specific guidance from HR experts. This is not about killing careers. It’s about advancing careers and helping people get some benefit, other than a paycheck, from all of that work.

Track lessons learned so that you don’t keep repeating mistakes.

I’m not one to advocate waiting until the end of a project to begin tracking lessons learned because memories are short. But the end of the project is a great time to review those lessons and ensure that the bigger lessons that were learned have been communicated to others in the organization.

Produce a final accounting and project review so that management knows the important details.

In many cases, projects span fiscal years. And so, it’s especially important to produce a final accounting for the entire project. Also, put together some kind of project review. It’s a way of synthesizing and documenting for senior management (and posterity) what you learned in your final team reviews of lessons learned, your meeting with the customer, your contract reviews, and your team appraisals. Here again, try to present a balanced picture of the project.

Celebrate project success so that you will have access to stellar people in the future.

Most of us love celebrations. It’s interesting to me that some groups miss this opportunity. Invite senior leadership. It may be a great opportunity for people in the organization to mingle. It may even be the first time someone on your team has met the CEO. And while we’re at it, you don’t have to wait until the end to get together.

People don’t forget working on projects that are fun. And they want to work on more of them. This doesn’t have to be a costly blow out. It can be a potluck dinner at someone’s house.

Close your projects effectively to ensure that team members are developed, repeated mistakes are minimized, and everyone has a clear picture of how things went. Sign up for my newsletter if you want some more tips.