4 Steps to consider during a project closeout

by Paul Kesler

“The important thing is never to stop questioning.” Albert Einstein

Project closeout

If you just finished a project, then it is time for a little project meditation. You don’t have to contort your legs into a Buddha pose. That is optional. Take a moment to lean back in your chair, possibly put your feet up and take a few deep breaths. Now, focus. Bring to mind all of the projects that you have led or been a project team member. How much time did you spend closing out the project in a formal process? I don’t mean, ‘Hey guys, good job, we are done!’ Rather, what specific, methodic steps did you take to ensure all loose ends were adequately addressed and information or data was stored for future use? If you are like most project managers, by the time your project is entering ‘finish mode’ you have probably already moved on or been assigned to the next pressing project. That leaves little time to focus on the all-important details of project closeout. All too often businesses make the same mistake over and over again by skipping this critical phase of a project.

Let’s be honest. You are busy. I am busy. We are all busy, but, don’t let being busy keep you from following through on each step of the project process. Why? Because it will help you grow and be a better project manager. If done correctly, we learn from prior projects some way or another. Whether it is an analysis tool, data collection method or communication process, the general themes, and ways of working can be transferable from one project to another. Many times I have found that just asking a colleague about their prior experiences leading projects leads to fruitful conversations and recollections of how and why something with a project worked or did not work. That is part of the project closeout: asking one another – or yourself – what can we glean from this project? What lessons can be learned? What should we have done differently? Use the closeout as an occasion to celebrate not just the project completion, but the start of new and better project approaches for your next project.

So next time you begin a new project, I challenge you to first do some peer-to-peer research to better position yourself and the project team to accomplish your new challenge.

Real-world steps when closing out a project

For those that have forgotten about how to close out a project after taking your last credentialing exam, below are some simple steps that I have found effective in my day job.   

  1. Project goals and measures of success – What was the underlying business problem that the project was designed and scoped to address? Was it a new product, a new process, or perhaps a migration?  What specific feedback or sign-off did you receive from the key stakeholders or project sponsors? What metrics did you originally identify as being of particular interest to the sponsors or project team? Did you meet all or just some of the success metrics? Also, don’t forget how the project team interacted and engaged one another during the project? What conflicts arose and how did you deal with them? If completing a project using Agile methods, did the MVP meet expectations?
  2. Key accomplishments – Most likely you will want to debrief with the key stakeholders or project sponsors for feedback in this area. Was the project completed to the satisfaction of your client? Did the deliverables meet expectations? Was the project completed on time, on budget, and within the documented scope? Don’t forget about quality here too.
  3. Lessons learned – I have found that this question is best answered by the entire project team. What were the learning highlights from each area? How did the project outcome impact the organization either globally or locally? How did you overcome barriers, what mitigations did you use? If completing a project using Agile methods, what information was discovered during your retrospective?
  4. Sustainability plan This is all about how to move from a project to a day-to-day operational state.  What hand-offs need to occur? Who needs to be involved? How do you ensure the benefits to the organization are ongoing? What post-implementation actions need to be taken?

Daily practices: Steps for better results

  1. Make every effort to formally close out a project to ensure that you capture valuable information for yourself and others. You never know when a similar project or situation will arise.
  2. Ask questions! Get feedback from as many people as you can to get the most complete information; from clients, customers, executives, and individual contributors.
  3. Store your project close-out information on your company’s centralized document management repository, PMO, or with project team members.
  4. Consider organizing a special event with your project team to share successes and opportunities for improvement, and highlight key members who went above and beyond.’ Send ‘thank you notes to team members. Giving credit when and where credit is due can create positive goodwill.

By incorporating this formal methodology into your project management toolbox, I believe you will realize a multitude of benefits within your teams. And, you will get to experience a little Zen in the process!


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