Strong project closure is one of the easiest ways for a project manager to further their career. Although it is the phase of project management that is most often shortened (or skipped altogether) due to budget availability, it is also one of the most visible project phases to senior managers and executives. Virtually all projects need some sort of closure phase to finalize the project and prepare its data for future reference.
The Project Management Body of Knowledge
Closing the project is the fifth (and last) process group within the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). As such, it contains the knowledge areas that are involved with finishing the project. There are only two processes in the group:
- Close project or phase, within the Project Integration knowledge area
- Close procurements, within the Project Procurement knowledge area
Project Closure Checklist
Every project is different and there is no checklist that applies universally. However, this list should cover the vast majority of projects with the exception of niche, industry specific things:
- Formal Closure: The contract between the performing organization and the owner organization must be finalized and a completion certificate issued.
- Project Closure Report: A report summarizing the project directed toward the project sponsor, management and executives.
- Procurements: Most sub-contracts will require a completion certificate to give assurances that work under the contract has been completed. Sub-contractors need to know they will not be returning to complete unfinished business, or if they do, to have the conditions laid out under which this would happen.
- Final Details: Most projects must organize the project data in a format that can be referenced in the future. As-built plans, project document archives, and the like must be produced as part of the project budget. This ensures future projects are not burdened with excessive costs associated with searching for previous project information.
- Liabilities: Warranties, insurance coverage, and bonds must be put in place as needed depending on the project. The final product must be inspected to ensure it meets the requirements of the various legal agencies.
- Release of Resources: All project resources must be formally released to their respective organizations. This includes the people, equipment, tools, and any other item that is no longer required. If the resources need to be sold, this can be an important project budget consideration.
- Lessons Learned: A formal lessons learned database is almost essential to a strong project management foundation for any organization. A good lessons learned summary should be no more than 1 page long (because it should be quick to glean the information). It should contain a description of problems and how they were rectified, cost information for resources that were purchased, actual resource usage and/or efficiency, and any other information the project manager feels necessary to pass on to future projects.
Project Closure Report
It is important to create a Project Closure Report upon completion of the project. This report should contain:
- The scope statement, including the original and final scope and a discussion of how and why it has changed.
- Original and final budget information, including a discussion of how and why it has changed.
- Original and final schedule information, including a discussion of how and why it has changed. The project milestones should have actual completion dates documented.
- Lessons learned that are relevant to future projects.
All of these items should be scaled to the project size. For example, a $4,000 environmental study might contain the final budget number and actual completion date, together with quick write-up of how the project went and any issues encountered or lessons learned. Thus, if someone wanted to see how the project went years down the road, the important information is there.
The project management plan, developed during the project planning phase and updated throughout the project with changes, should be finalized. If it was diligently updated throughout the project, this will be nothing more than a note indicating it is final. If there are places for final cost and schedule items, they need to be filled in too.
Lessons learned should be documented separately. They should be filled out on a standard Lessons Learned form, which should go into a binder or a folder on the corporate server. I like to include the final project cost and actual milestone dates, as they provide important context when you go back to look at the project from the point of view of a new project. Any changes in scope or issues encountered provide important context.
All’s Well That Ends Well
As you can see, providing this information to close the project is one of the most important things a project manager can do. It might have the highest reward per time spent compared to any other project management activity because it so visible to senior management and clients.