What Is Project Closure?
Project closure is the critical last phase in the project management lifecycle. During project closure, the team reviews the deliverables, then compares and tests its quality to the intended project outcome. Then they share the deliverables with the project’s client.
For more information about how project management works, read this guide about the five phases of project management.
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What Are the Different Types of Project Closure?
A project manager will close a project for many reasons. Those include completing a project on time and finishing it early. Projects can also get cancelled, continue perpetually, or fail completely.
Why Is Project Closure Important?
Effective project closure helps define a team’s and an organization’s culture. Approaching project closure as fundamental to building success leads to better-quality work and makes clients happy.
Learning is a critical outcome of project closure. The process sets the stage for more successful and satisfying projects in the future. If you don’t properly close a project, you may still have deliverables that the client is able to use, but you won’t be able to dive into what did and didn’t work during the project. It’s essential to review what you’ve done and what you’ve learned. Determine how that learning could benefit the team, so you don’t limit the growth of each individual team member or the organization as a whole.
Project closure is important because the process allows you to:
- Tie Up Loose Ends: You’ve already delivered project outcomes to the client, but be sure to report all outcomes internally. Make sure all contracts are signed, paid, and finalized, and clean up your files. Ensure you’ve reviewed your progress and determined if you delivered the project on time and on budget. You’ll also want to attend to logistics details, as well as relinquished physical space, digital equipment, and resources to responsible departments. These technical aspects of project closure allow you to close the project cleanly and facilitate an easy transition from the project teamwork to the more typical rhythms of your organization’s operations.
- Take Stock of Lessons Learned: Take the time to have an open discussion about lessons you learned throughout the project’s lifecycle. Be intentional. Make a list, a timeline, or a visual that helps to spark ideas and refresh team members’ memory of the project from initiation to the transfer to project deliverables to the client. This process should include a review of the project budget and actual expenses. Find tips on how to run a meeting on lessons learned.
- Move On with a Clear Sense of Accomplishment: When done well, project closure signals to each team member that the project was meaningful and, simply, the job is complete. Project closure provides a technical stoppage to any loose ends and enables you to inventory the lessons learned. These steps also provide an emotional closure for each team member, including the project manager. Find the meaning, focus on individual and team learning processes, and move on to the next great thing in store for each of you. Celebrate your team, too.
- Archive the Project’s Learning for the Benefit of the Team and Organization: The final step in project closure is to finalize the project closure report and archive it so that it’s accessible to all relevant parties. It’s important to notify team members on where to find the report for formal presentation to upper management.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to come back as a team in the future. If that’s the case, your effective project closure helps set the stage for team success the next time you assemble.
What Happens if a Project Isn’t Closed Properly
When you don’t properly close a project, you lose the potential to learn from the current project’s process and outcomes. The next time you start a project, you’re more likely to encounter the same issues and potentially less motivated teams.
When you don’t close a project correctly, lessons aren’t learned and team contributions are not acknowledged and celebrated. Whether the project is for an in-house audience or an outside organization, it’s also possible that your client will be less satisfied with the results. This is true regardless of how well it may meet project specifications and how timely your deliverables reach the hands of your client.
No matter your time constraints or the pressure you may be under to move on to the next great thing (or your desire to return to your more typical work day), closing a project well builds potential for future success in your immediate work and, potentially, for your and team members’ careers.
What Are the Three Phases of Closing the Project?
The three phases of project closure are technical, learning, and people. During the technical phase, clean up loose ends. For the learning phase, evaluate what did and didn’t work, as well as how to improve. In the people phase, appreciate team members.
Project Closure Process
Take these steps during each phase of closing a project. By following this quick and easy guide to project closure steps and related activities, you’re building a stronger future for yourself, your team, and your organization.
The technical phase, while a bit on a bureaucratic side, creates a true sense of finality (and success) among the team and for the organization. A great project lifecycle enables you to do the following:
- Tie Up Loose Ends: Make sure everything is in order (e.g., all vendors and workers are properly paid) and paperwork is complete.
- Show Appreciation for Supporting Departments: Give a hearty thanks to everyone who helped with the project. Report back on the successful closure of the project. For example, send a note saying you appreciated the space and resources allocated for this work and you’ve left it in good shape for the next team.
- Hold a Project Outcomes Meeting: Gather upper-level managers and supervisors and thank them for giving the project the green light. Use this time to report on the deliverables and summarize lessons learned, emphasizing the foundation laid for future successes for the organization as a result.
- Create a Repository of Digital Project Resources: Make these materials available for future reference. If questions come up about this project or if a future project manager seeks to learn from your processes and successes, these documents will help.
We want all projects to be both challenging and manageable, but sometimes not everything goes as planned. Occasionally you encounter a glitch along the way. No matter what happens during a project’s lifecycle, learning is always present. The learning phase of project closure is time dedicated to team reflection on what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and what you’ve learned now that the project is complete.
There are multiple ways to focus project closure on learning and growth, both for the organization as a whole and for individual team members. Doing so will likely lead to greater satisfaction and meaning associated with doing project work.
The learning phase of project closure enables you to:
- Dedicate Time for Team Reflection: Consider what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and what you’ve learned now that the project is complete.
- Document Lessons Learned: The learning phase brings lessons learned to the forefront and documents them for the benefit of your team today and for future reference when you or a colleague initiates a new project.
- Respond to Questions about the Current Project: Now is the time to document organizational and project memory that’s accessible to all relevant parties. One way to ensure you’ve addressed all issues is to respond to questions about the current project, then making that information accessible to all relevant parties.
- Facilitate Discussion and Reflection in a Team Setting: The learning phase, just like the other phases, mostly involves holding team discussions about the project. Learning that takes place as a result of a team project helps to feed organizational success. Just as important, the project can inform individual team members’ professional development and sense of mission. Now is the time to ask:
- Has the team member learned something specific about their interests and talents and, therefore, their career goals?
- Have you as project manager identified a special contribution of a team member that you’d like to highlight during a one-on-one meeting rather than in a team setting?
Take the time to commemorate what you’ve accomplished as a team. You’ve come to know the team well and have a good sense of the team’s personality. Make the most of the camaraderie you’ve developed to celebrate in a way that’s right for your team within your organization.
Remember, the team made the project deliverables possible, and recognizing those efforts and the need for emotional closure will leave everyone feeling good and ready to move on, whatever comes next. Depending on the context, it may be appropriate to invite the upper-level supervisor who gave the green light for the project to participate, too.
Each project closure phase helps to create an organizational culture of appreciation, gratitude, and accomplishment. Take the time to do this right, in ways meaningful to your specific circumstances, and you’ve set the stage not just to move on but also to take a step forward.
What Are Project Closure Activities?
Project closure activities are things you do to seal the professional tone of your work. These also include celebrating accomplishments and identifying ways to build toward the future.
Project closure activities are based on the three phases and include these options:
- Facilitate team meetings both to tie up loose ends and review lessons learned. You’ve been working as a team to produce high-quality deliverables. Now, you’ve come back as a team to close out your work in a clear, productive manner.
- Schedule one-on-one team member meetings to identify individual learning and professional development.
- Review contracts and human talent-related duties to ensure all vendor contracts are fulfilled and all people are paid.
- Hold team meetings to review the project’s learning arc and overall learning outcomes of benefit to the team and to future project teams.
- Conduct a project manager meeting with the upper-level supervisor to bring the project to a formal close from an organizational perspective. This meeting may also be a good time to share specific contributions and skill sets identified among team members.
- Delegate responsibilities for tying up loose ends and provide clear instructions about how to report back.
- Host a celebratory gathering to acknowledge and show gratitude to team members for their accomplishments. Be sure to have fun in a manner that is appropriate for your team and in alignment with the organization’s culture. Now is the time to acknowledge contributions of each team member and those of supporting departments or supervisors.
- Prepare the project closure report that incorporates text from each phase of the project, from initiation to closure, with an emphasis on process, deliverables, lessons learned, and overall outcomes. While the project manager prepares this report, it’s important to include team feedback.
This document serves as a critical reference for the immediate project supervisor who gave the green light; for the current project manager if any questions about the project arise; for team members and for future project managers to review before initiating a new project. Archive this document in an accessible location for the benefit of the organization.
You can download a variety of project closeout templates to help with these activities.
What Are Project Closure Deliverables?
Project closure deliverables are items identified as the outputs of the project. Deliverables may take many forms, depending on the project at hand, including the following:
- Competitor market share analysis, including opportunities for growth
- New, streamlined team or resource management processes
- Processes for matching and maximizing talent and organizational needs
- Software for tracking new leads and existing client contacts
- System for analyzing values-driven investments relative to costs
What Is a Project Closure Checklist?
A project closure checklist is a tool to help project managers verify that the project fulfilled its outcomes before they close the project. They can document any challenges, lessons learned, and any outstanding deliverables.
Project Closure Checklist Template
Download Project Closure Checklist Template
This project closure checklist template can help project managers track the status of all deliverables. The template includes a separate section to log testing results, certificates, and warranties. They can also list all final deliverables and add notes.
Project Closure Best Practices
Successful project closure ties every aspect together: what you’ve done, how you’ve done it, and why it’s important. Don’t be shy about tapping into your best technical expertise and human-centered, celebratory self to this critical phase of every project.
Here’s a handy list of project closure best practices:
- Focus on Interactivity: Great leaders share the spotlight, so now’s your chance to create that inclusive, interactive project space that brings out the best in each team member. Take the time to show how much each person mattered to the project’s success. Whether you’re focused on technical, learning, or human-centered phases of closing a project, involving each team member affirms their roles and ensures the project is meaningful from start to finish.
- Be Open: Project closure requires professionalism, but that doesn’t mean rigidity or checking boxes. Make sure the team feels safe sharing and participating in each phase of project closure. Each team member brings their own skills, experience, and perspective to the project, so be sure to set the stage for an open conversation that encourages everyone to contribute in ways they feel comfortable. Especially during the learning phase, when you review what’s worked well and what team members think could be better next time, it’s important to restate the purpose of sharing ideas and reflections on the project’s process and final outcomes. In other words, it’s not personal. The goal is to affirm and build toward the future.
- Create Space for Best Team Member Performance: The best project closure takes place over a period of time. You may have a week to tie up everything or only a few days. Do your best to create emotional space between each project closure phase. This step can help ensure each team member is fully present and able to contribute fresh ideas and reflections that are neither rushed nor muddled. If your team works best in the morning, schedule project closure phases on staggered mornings over the course of a week.
- Realize Inclusivity Is Essential: If some team members work remotely, be sure they are fully acknowledged, engaged, and contributing as actively as team members who may be in the same physical space. Furthermore, over the course of the project, you’ve probably figured out that each team member’s style is different. Create space for everyone, as equitably as possible, by noticing how some team members may not be aware that they tend to dominate discussions or compete for attention, while others may tend to defer.
- Communicate in a Purposeful and Clearly Defined Manner: Set the stage for project closure and each of its phases through clear communication. During your last meeting before project closure begins, inform the team what project closure is, why it’s important, and how you’ll accomplish project closure as a team over each phase. Provide a review of project closure goals and your process for accomplishing them in writing. At each step of the project, you’ve brought the team together and created team buy-in because you’ve communicated well and with respect. Project closure requires the same careful attention to the team to ensure the best possible outcomes for them, you, and the organization.
- Assign Closing Tasks to Team Members: You’re the project manager, but that doesn’t mean you have to or should be doing all of the project closure work. Teams are collaborative by nature. Keep the strong collaborative nature of the project going throughout each phase of project closure: Assign roles, ask for volunteers to keep track of project closure outcomes, and de-center yourself by asking other team members to facilitate project closure discussions. There are many different ways to empower your team until the very end.
- Build a Foundation for Organizational Success: Some projects have great teams that get along well and accomplish each task quickly and easily. Other teams may struggle to work together or to achieve project goals for technical reasons outside of their control. Other projects may have both qualities at different points in the process. No matter the situation, remind the team why you’re there, what you’ve learned, and how project closure helps to anticipate — and possibly avoid — project issues in the future. The process can help ensure organizational success and client satisfaction both today and in the future.
- Embrace the Opportunity to Acknowledge and Promote Talent: A supportive project manager is a respected leader in their own right who has the ear of each team member’s supervisor. Share with supervisors what you’ve learned about the team member and how they have contributed to the project’s outcomes. The supervisor may have recommended that person to the project because they were already aware of their skills. Proactive supervisors will appreciate the feedback and find ways to maximize their talent. By doing so, you’ve created even more positive outcomes for staff, business units, and the organization as a whole. You’ve also built in a morale boost that creates more enthusiasm for future project participation with high-quality outcomes.
- Don’t Focus on the Project Manager: Project closure is a time for the team to shine — not a time for the project manager to hog the spotlight. Share the good and the not so good, always with an eye for building better for the future. The project manager should be in control, but the best project manager does so effortlessly, seamlessly, and openly — and always with a focus on what you’ve learned, how you’ve learned it, and why it’s important.
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Empower your people to go above and beyond with a flexible platform designed to match the needs of your team — and adapt as those needs change.
The Smartsheet platform makes it easy to plan, capture, manage, and report on work from anywhere, helping your team be more effective and get more done. Report on key metrics and get real-time visibility into work as it happens with roll-up reports, dashboards, and automated workflows built to keep your team connected and informed.
When teams have clarity into the work getting done, there’s no telling how much more they can accomplish in the same amount of time. Try Smartsheet for free, today.