The closeout phase of project management, although often overlooked, is critical to a successful project. In this phase, the project manager determines whether the objectives of the project were met, documents the project in a final report, and hands the deliverables over to be integrated into the organization’s operations.
Were the Objectives Met?
To determine whether objectives were met, the project manager must review several documents, including the Project Schedule, Project Budget, Work Breakdown Structure, Statement of Work, and charter. This analysis is used to comb through what work was slated to be done and ensure that it was, in fact, completed. In addition to document analysis, the project manager should meet with executive sponsors to ensure there is agreement that the deliverables that are the product of the project meet the needs of the organization.
During this analysis phase, the project manager may create a “punch list,” which is a list of final tasks to finish on the project in order for it to be considered complete. The term “punch list” is most often used in construction but can be a useful visual for project team members to see that the end is near. Additionally, if some activities or suggestions for changes to the project were made and put into a parking lot for future consideration, this is the time to revisit that parking lot with the executive sponsor and determine whether any of those items should be added on to this or a future project.
While analyzing the project documents, the project manager should also be interviewing project partners to inform the determination of whether objectives were met, but also to contribute to the final report on the project. Involved team members should be asked:
- What worked well? What didn’t?
- Did we do what we set out to do?
- What can we do better?
- Was the Project Schedule and budget reasonable?
- Did the method of project management work for the project?
- What feedback do you have about individual contributors (including the project manager) on the project?
This information on lessons learned will be invaluable to a state or territory in evaluating not only the project, but also the underlying systems involved in project management within the organization.
The other category of documentation that is required for closeout is the documentation that will be used to operationalize the project’s deliverables. For example, if the project’s deliverable was a new application for child care licensors to use when conducting monitoring visits for regulated child care programs, the documentation may include the user manuals for the application as well as a training curriculum for licensors and the technical specifications for the application. The documentation will vary by project, but erring on the side of including as much documentation as possible will help states or territories avoid a situation in which they are trying to reconstruct work 6 months after a project is completed and all staff have left the organization.
The handoff phase of the project can look different for each project, depending on the structure of project management within the state or territory and the type of project. Three common methods of handoff are:
- Handoff to yourself: When project management and the work of the project is done by staff who typically work in the program (program staff), the handoff is a matter of closing out the “building” phase of the project and moving into operations. For example, this may involve changing the charge codes so that staff time, services, or goods are charged now to the operations line of the program or training staff on the operations team in how to use the deliverable that was developed on the project.
- Handoff to program staff outside the project management team: When project management is handled by a project management office or a contracted entity, the handoff from the project management team to the program staff is especially important. While program staff may have served as SMEs and been heavily involved in the project, in this type of handoff, documentation and testing by actual users of the deliverable are crucial prior to calling the project officially done. In this approach, there is a higher risk of issues arising when staff from the project are no longer available to consult with program staff. For this reason, many contracts for project management include some amount of consultation in the months or even years following the project to mitigate the risk of these issues.
- Project is terminated: This can happen at any point during the project due to a change in administrations, legislation, or funding. It can also occur if executive sponsors or state or territory executives determine the project is not going as expected or the deliverable is no longer needed. Whatever the reason, documentation of the lessons learned becomes especially important so that any problems that were encountered can be avoided in the future.