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Every project needs to end and that’s what project completion is all about in the last phase of the project life cycle. The whole point of the project is to deliver what you promised. By delivering everything you said you would, you make sure that all stakeholders are satisfied and all acceptance criteria have been met. Once that happens, your project can end.
Project completion is often the most neglected phase of the project life cycle. Once the project is over, it’s easy to pack things up, throw some files in a drawer, and start moving right into the initiation phase of the next project. Hold on. You’re not done yet.
The key activities in project completion are gathering project records; disseminating information to formalize acceptance of the product, service, or project; and performing project closure. As the project manager, you will need to review project documents to make certain they are up-to-date. For example, perhaps some scope change requests were implemented that changed some of the characteristics of the final product. The project information you are collecting during this phase should reflect the characteristics and specifications of the final product. Don’t forget to update your resource assignments as well. Some team members will have come and gone over the course of the project. You need to double-check that all the resources and their roles and responsibilities are noted.
Once the project outcomes are documented, you’ll request formal acceptance from the stakeholders or customer. They’re interested in knowing if the product or service of the project meets the objectives the project set out to accomplish. If your documentation is up-to-date, you’ll have the project results at hand to share with them.
Contracts come to a close just as projects come to a close. Contract closure is concerned with completing and settling the terms of the contracts let for the project. It supports the project completion process because the contract closure process determines if the work described in the contracts was 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 final results of the work on the project. Contracts may have specific terms or conditions for completion. You should be aware of these terms or conditions so that project completion isn’t held up because you missed an important detail. If you are administering the contract yourself, be sure to ask your procurement department if there are any special conditions that you should be aware of so that your project team doesn’t inadvertently delay contract project closure.
One of the purposes of the contract closure process is to provide formal notice to the seller, usually in written form, that the deliverables are acceptable and satisfactory or have been rejected. If the product or service does not meet the expectations, the vendor will need to correct the problems before you issue a formal acceptance notice. Before the contract is closed, any minor items that need to be repaired or completed are placed on a punch list, which is a list of all the items found by the client or team or manager that still remain to be done. Hopefully, quality audits have been performed during the course of the project, and the vendor was given the opportunity to make corrections earlier in the process than the closing phase. It’s not a good idea to wait until the very end of the project and then spring all the problems and issues on the vendor at once. It’s much more efficient to discuss problems with your vendor as the project progresses because it provides the opportunity for correction when the problems occur.
The project team will then work on all of the items on the punch list, building a small schedule to complete the remaining work. If the number of items on the punch list is too large or the amount of work is significant, the project team continues to work on the project. Once the punch list becomes smaller, the project manager begins closing down the project, maintaining only enough staff and equipment to support the team that is working on the punch list.
If the product or service does meet the project’s expectations and is acceptable, formal written notice to the seller is required, indicating that the contract is complete. This is the formal acceptance and closure of the contract. It’s your responsibility as the project manager to document the formal acceptance of the contract. Many times the provisions for formalizing acceptance and closing the contract are spelled out in the contract itself.
If you have a procurement department handling the contract administration, they will expect you to inform them when the contract is complete and will in turn follow the formal procedures to let the seller know the contract is complete. However, you will still note the contract completion in your copy of the project records.
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, you will release your project team members, and they will go back to their functional managers or get assigned to a new project. You will want to keep their managers, or other project managers, informed as you get closer to project completion, so that they have time to adequately plan for the return of their employees. Let them know a few months ahead of time what the schedule looks like and how soon they can plan on using their employees on new projects. This gives the other managers the ability to start planning activities and scheduling activity dates.
The final payment is usually more than a simple percentage of the work that remains to be completed. Completing the project might involve fixing the most difficult problems that are disproportionately expensive to solve, so the final payment should be large enough to motivate the vendor to give the project a high priority so that the project can be completed on time.
If the supplier has met all the contractual obligations, including fixing problems and making repairs as noted on a punch list, the project team signs off on the contract and submits it to the accounting department for final payment. The supplier is notified that the last payment is final and completes the contractual agreement with the project.
Before the team is dissolved and begins to focus on the next project, a review is conducted to capture the lessons that can be learned from this project, often called a lessons-learned meeting or document. The team explores what went well and captures the processes to understand why they went well. The team asks if the process is transferable to other projects. The team also explores what did not go well and what people learned from the experience. The process is not to find blame, but to learn.
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 processes for changing work processes and integrating the lessons learned from the project so other projects can benefit. Some organizations are less formal in the approach and expect individuals to learn from the experience and take the experience to their next project and share what they learned with others in an informal way. Whatever type of approach is used, the following elements should be evaluated and the results summarized in reports for external and internal use.
Trust and Alignment Effectiveness
The project leadership reviews the effect of trust—or lack of trust—on the project and the effectiveness of alignment meetings at building trust. The team determines which problems might have been foreseen and mitigated and which ones could not have been reasonably predicted. What were the cues that were missed by the team that indicated a problem was emerging? What could the team have done to better predict and prevent trust issues?
Schedule and Budget Management
The original schedule of activities and the network diagram are compared to the actual schedule of events. Events that caused changes to the schedule are reviewed to see how the use of contingency reserves and float mitigated the disruption caused by those events. The original estimates of contingency time are reviewed to determine if they were adequate and if the estimates of duration and float were accurate. These activities are necessary for the project team to develop expertise in estimating schedule elements in future projects—they are not used to place blame.
A review of budget estimates for the cost of work scheduled is compared to the actual costs. If the estimates are frequently different from the actual costs, the choice of estimating method is reviewed.
After the project is finished, the estimates of risk can be reviewed and compared to the events that actually took place. Did events occur that were unforeseen? What cues existed that may have allowed the team to predict these events? Was the project contingency sufficient to cover unforeseen risks? Even if nothing went wrong on this project, it is not proof that risk mitigation was a waste of money, but it is useful to compare the cost of avoiding risk versus the cost of unexpected events to understand how much it cost to avoid risk.
The performance of suppliers and vendors is reviewed to determine if they should still be included in the list of qualified suppliers or vendors. The choice of contract for each is reviewed to determine if the decision to share risk was justified and if the choice of incentives worked.
Relationships with the client are reviewed and decisions about including the client in project decisions and alignment meetings are discussed. The client is given the opportunity to express satisfaction and identify areas in which project communication and other factors could be improved. Often a senior manager from the organization interviews the client to develop feedback on the project team performance.
A general report that provides an overview of the project is created to provide stakeholders with a summary of the project. The report includes the original goals and objectives and statements that show how the project met those goals and objectives. Performance on the schedule and budget are summarized and an assessment of client satisfaction is provided. A version of this report can be provided to the client as a stakeholder and as another means for deriving feedback.
The report to senior management contains all the information provided to the stakeholders in a short executive summary. The report identifies practices and processes that could be improved or lessons that were learned that could be useful on future projects.
Archiving of Document
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 that might be used in tax reviews or lawsuits must be stored. Organizations will have legal document storage and retrieval policies that apply to project documents and must be followed. Some project documents can be stored electronically.
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, the expiration date of the documents should be determined so they can be destroyed at some point in the future. The following are documents that are typically archived:
- Charter documents
- Scope statement
- Original budget
- Change documents
- DPCI ratings
- Manager’s summary—lessons learned
- Final DPCI rating
This chapter was adapted and remixed by Adrienne Watt from the following sources:
- Introductory text and text under “Contract Closure” was adapted from “Project Completion” in Project Management for Skills for All Careers by Project Management Open Resources and TAP-a-PM. Licensed under a CC BY 3.0 licence.
- Text under “Final Payments”, “Post-Project Evaluations”, “Trust and Alignment Effectiveness”, “Schedule and Budget Management”, “Risk Mitigation”, “Risk Mitigation” and “Customer Satisfaction” adapted from “Project Closure” in Project Management for Instructional Designers by Amado, M., Ashton, K., Ashton, S., Bostwick, J., Clements, G., Drysdale, J., Francis, J., Harrison, B., Nan, V., Nisse, A., Randall, D., Rino, J., Robinson, J., Snyder, A., Wiley, D., & Anonymous. Licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA (Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike) licence.