8. Project Closure


During the final closure, or completion phase, the emphasis is on releasing the final deliverables to the project sponsor (and appropriate stakeholders), submitting necessary project documentation to the department(s) accountable for maintaining the solution(s), terminating supplier contracts, and releasing project resources. If the predictive/waterfall methodology was used, the documentation required to effectively support the solution will likely be shared in the closure phase. However, if an adaptive methodology was used, essential documentation may be released as the solution’s capabilities are developed.

Formally communicating the closure of the project to all stakeholders is a vital task for the project leader and project sponsor. The last remaining step is to conduct a post-implementation review, including a discussion about the lessons learned. Through this type of analysis, the wisdom of experience can be shared with future project teams, just as this team may have used lessons learned from past projects as a guide during their own planning phase.

8.1 Validating the Realization of Business Benefits

All projects are initiated as a way to create value for the organization. This value may be expressed in many different ways. For instance, perhaps the benefit is the incremental sales associated with launching a new product or service, or it may be the increased employee satisfaction associated with introducing of time-saving technology. Further, the project may result in streamlining business processes, which will ultimately result in less staff required to complete the work. There are many more possibilities.

In all cases, the organization has greatly deliberated how the business benefits will be realized. Many organizations create a business benefit realization plan, whereas other organizations include the business benefit realization approach as part of their project management plan. Either way, the following should be considered:

  • What are the benefits? In stating the benefits, the SMART principle should be used in that they should be specific, measurable, acceptable (and therefore assignable), realistic and time-bound (covered in Chapter 2).
  • How will the business benefits be tracked? This should be a consideration during solution design as it may be necessary to create the mechanisms for the collection of required information.
  • Who is accountable for tracking and communicating the business benefits?
  • Who is accountable for taking the appropriate actions to realize the business benefits? For instance, in projects involving productivity improvements, if the business benefits involve the release of staff, who will be accountable for making this happen?
  • When are the business benefits expected to be fully realized?

8.2 Closure activities

Project completion is often the most neglected phase of the project life cycle. Once the work is complete, it is easy to pack things up, throw files in a drawer, and move right into the initiation phase of the next project. Many organizations re-assign people before they have fully completed their duties on a project. This makes it even more challenging to finalize the project closure activities effectively.

The key activities in project completion are gathering project records, disseminating information to formalize acceptance of the product, service, or result, and performing project closure. The project leader must review project documents to assure they are current. This is commonly overlooked. For example, perhaps some scope change requests were implemented that altered some of the characteristics of the final product. If so, the project information should be updated to reflect this. In addition, it is important to update the resource assignments as well. Some team members will have come and gone over the course of the project. Since many project team members return to their respective functional departments upon project completion, maintaining an accurate list of resources, their roles and responsibilities, and any confidential performance information can be helpful to the functional manager when future performance evaluations are conducted.

Once the project deliverables have been completed and the appropriate documentation transferred to the appropriate functional teams maintaining the solution(s), formal acceptance is requested from the project sponsor and any designated key stakeholders.

Contract Closure

Contracts end just as projects end. Contract closure is concerned with completing and settling the terms of the contracts in place during the project. It supports the project completion process because it determines if the work described in the contracts was actually completed accurately and satisfactorily. Keep in mind that not all projects are performed under contract so not all projects require the contract closure process. Obviously, this process applies only to those phases, deliverables, or portions of the project that were performed under contract.

Contract closure updates the project records, detailing the results of the work performed by vendors on the project. Contracts may have specific terms or conditions for completion. Reviewing these terms or conditions before closing out vendor contracts prevents delays in the closure process.

One of the purposes of the contract closure process is to provide formal notice to the vendor, seller, usually in writing, that the deliverables are acceptable and satisfactory.. If rejection occurs because the product or service does not meet the expectations, the vendor must correct the problems before a formal acceptance notice is issued to them. During the planning phase, the payment system developed for each vendor should allow for the possibility that rework may be required and as such, withholding some of the contract’s value will assure the project leader that this work is completed in accordance with the agreed-upon terms.

Releasing the Project Team

Releasing project team members is not an official process. However, it should be noted that at the conclusion of the project, team members will go back to their functional managers or get assigned to a new project. Project leaders must keep their managers or other project leaders informed as they move towards project completion so there is adequate time to prepare for the return (or transfer) of the employee.

Archiving of  Documents

The documents associated with the project must be stored in a safe location where they can be retrieved for future reference. Signed contracts or other documents subject to potential tax reviews or lawsuits must be kept in accordance with the organization’s record-keeping policy. Organizations will have legal document storage and retrieval policies that apply to project documents and these policies must be followed.

Care should be taken to store documents in a form that can be recovered easily. If the documents are stored electronically, standard naming conventions should be used so documents can be sorted and grouped by name. If documents are stored in paper form, their expiration date should be determined so they can be destroyed at some point in the future.

8.3 Project Reviews and Lessons Learned

Post Implementation Reviews

Before the team is dissolved and begins to focus on their next assignment, a review is conducted to capture the lessons that can be learned from this project, often called a lessons-learned meeting. It can occur in many different formats. In order to make the most of the meeting, project leaders should begin the discussion by reviewing the project’s objectives and concluding if these objectives were successfully met. The context for a post-implementation review meeting is the success or failure of the project. If the project was a success, the discussion can centre on why the project was successful and the challenges that had to be overcome in order to achieve success. Lessons-learned meetings are often quite enjoyable when the project was successful.

If the project was unsuccessful, the conversation centres on the causes of failure. Many project leaders request external facilitation in this situation so they can fully participate in the discussions. In addition, an external facilitator can help ensure the conversations remain objective and avoid tones of blame. A common approach is to identify, all in the context of the project’s objectives, what should be continued, what should be started, and what should be stopped. This is often referred to as the start/stop/continue approach.

Quality management is a process of continual improvement that includes learning from past projects and making changes to improve the next project. This process is documented as evidence that quality management practices are in use. Some organizations have formal procedures for changing work processes and integrating the lessons learned from the project so future projects can benefit. Some organizations are less formal in the approach and expect individuals to learn from the experience, take the experience to their next project, and share what they learned with others in an informal way.


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Project Management Fundamentals Copyright © 2021 by Shelly Morris is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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