Six Best Practices for Project Closure

project-closure-blog-headerSo, you’ve managed to navigate the many challenges of a major project; you’ve finally implemented that new technology platform, rolled out your target operating model, or launched that new ETF. The project is over and it’s time to move on to the next initiative in your crowded pipeline of projects, right? ...Right? Wrong.

While quickly shifting gears to focus on your next project may instinctively seem like the highest priority, it is short sighted. Failure to effectively close projects can cost your organization the opportunity to learn and grow, even cost the company dollars in future projects. After years of managing a diverse range of projects in the financial services space, I have come to recognize that some organizations are successful at driving change whereas others fall short, despite having similar organizational structures and policies. One often-overlooked differentiator is how seriously the organization approaches project closure. It is too often an abbreviated bar at the bottom of a Gantt chart or an overlooked line item on a project plan.

In my experience, the project closure phase is critical to ongoing project success, and unfortunately it is all too easy for busy organizations to overlook. Here are six advantages that implementing and enforcing a disciplined project closure best practice can bring to your organization:

  1. Ensure smooth transition to “business as usual.” This is facilitated by a transition meeting and wider communication to all stakeholders and end-users that the dedicated project team is dissolving. With this, organizations can signal that communication, issues escalation, etc. should follow a BAU protocol moving forward. This is especially important in clarifying roles/responsibilities and accountability for assessing and resolving any hurdles that may arise. Often there are open issues carried over from a project that the BAU team needs to think about and resolve over time, or perhaps be resolved with a bug fix at a later date.
  2. Opportunity for organizational knowledge transfer or to learn/grow based on things the project team did well and things that could be improved upon. ‘Lessons learned,’ could include lessons in decision making, technical execution, or the opportunity to refine estimates for like-initiatives down the road. Once documented, these findings can be transferred to other individuals as well as other areas of the business, so that hard-fought lessons are paid forward as “experiential capital” to allow an organization to evolve over time most effectively, rather than repeating past errors or inefficiencies. While it is the project or program managers’ responsibility to conduct and document this analysis, the PMO needs to provide the infrastructure for knowledge transfer to take place.
  3. Inform future business development and sales opportunities which may have presented themselves throughout the project. This helps leadership consolidate and synthesize new business opportunities across projects/programs and tie those into wider product strategy. Identifying industry trends and educating business delivery staff for all client relationships will help achieve project ROI. This best practice may include creating a case study to be used in sales collateral or updating rolling tracking data for statistical analysis and presentation. Does the client have a specific gap that your company could bridge? Are several projects identifying a thematic gap which could inform a new product opportunity?
  4. Centralizing data lineage documentation can help with an audit or in the case of a future production issue. There are many reasons why an organization may need to understand why a certain decision was made or how an application functions. This can also help to centrally store current state diagrams, training documentation, etc. which can otherwise become dispersed in various pockets of the organization or left in the minds of key knowledge carriers.
  5. Identify challenging outside party relationships to inform future business decisions, fee negotiations, or planning for upcoming projects. Let’s face it, not all vendors are easy to work with. Some can be forthcoming with information, have a well-established onboarding process, or complete tasks very quickly. Others may have clients jumping through compliance hoops, be very guarded, or negotiate slowly. That’s not to say these things should reflect negatively on those vendors, as some of these may be the reason why they were the vendor of choice. But the organization’s strategy should be informed by these factors for the next time there are fee negotiations, production of vendor scorecards, or exploration of a new outsourcing opportunity. This is also an area where seasoned consultants may be able to bring their experience to the table.
  6. Opportunity to improve employee satisfaction and retention. The end of a project or strategic milestone presents an organic occasion to celebrate ‘wins’ and recognize staff contributions. This can lead to recognition of star staff members and recognition for those who are not always in the direct line of sight of senior leadership. Appropriate forms of recognition can improve employee satisfaction, motivation, and, in turn, retention.

Will focusing on project closure reap unprecedented benefits for your organization overnight? Probably not. But, if consistently applied over time, it can make a meaningful difference in your organization’s culture of change and continued project success. This is an easy, low-cost, way to give your organization a leg up. In a fast paced tech driven world, a company’s ability to drive change and adapt—by avoiding repeating past faults and instead codifying best practices—will help it strategically surpass its competitors and remain at the forefront of industry.