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Project closure: 10 steps to finish in style

PostsProject management
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

May 08, 2024

People love to talk about first impressions, but last impressions matter too. The band that gives a thrilling encore? The gymnast who gives a flawless salute? The waiter who hands you candy with your bill? These people all know the importance of ending in style. And the same should go for project managers. 

Let’s take a closer look at an often overlooked but seriously important part of the project management lifecycle: project closure. 

What is project closure?

Project closure is the final stage of a project and the last item in the project management lifecycle.

  • Initiating 
  • Planning 
  • Executing 
  • Monitoring and controlling 
  • Closure. 

It involves getting the deliverables accepted and signed off, telling all relevant parties the project’s done and dusted, tying up loose ends, and debriefing with the team. Ultimately, it’s about making sure you’ve truly finished the job to the required standards, stakeholders are happy, and your team has an opportunity to learn from the experience.

What does the project closure phase actually do?

  • Validate: You completed the project within scope, resolved all issues, and got the approvals necessary to close the project.
  • Measure and learn: You reported along the way, so you can trace any issues back to the source while learning what went well and what didn’t.  
  • Update: Everyone knows the project is signed off and is now in the hands of the client, or a new owner.

How do you know when a project is done?

Figuring out when a project is truly complete can be trickier than it seems, especially when multiple teams and stakeholders have their fingers in the pie. 

  • You’ve met your objectives, as defined at project kickoff
  • Stakeholders have signed off all key deliverables. This shows the work isn’t just finished, but meets their expectations and requirements. 
  • You’ve reached the end of your project timeline and/or budget. Ideally, you’ve used the funds within the agreed timeline. Any deviations should be approved and documented during the execution phase. 
  • You’ve completed all tasks. Review your task list on your project management software to confirm no pending items are left off. 
  • Your products/services have successfully gone through rigorous testing and quality assurance processes, and passed all the necessary evaluations. 

Why is proper project closure important?

We all breathe a sigh of relief once a project’s done. But without properly closing the job, things have a habit of rearing their head again.

Loose ends, such as missing documentation, work submitted without proper sign-off, and mistakes brushed under the rug, can lead to disgruntled clients and staff, repeated failures, and even liability claims. 

I’m short on time. What happens if I don’t properly close a project?

Skipping through project closure can cause issues that ripple out and affect your team down the line. 

  • Loose ends: Unfinished tasks and unresolved issues can lead to confusion, extra work, and the need for unexpected resource allocation.
  • Missed learning opportunities: One of the biggest benefits is learning what went well and what didn’t. If you skip this step, you miss out on valuable insights that could improve the efficiency of future projects.
  • Resource mismanagement: If resources aren’t formally released, they may remain idle or underutilized, which will have a knock-on effect with efficiency in other parts of the organization. 
  • Weakened stakeholder relationships: Not getting proper sign-offs could lead to unhappy stakeholders who feel their needs have not been fully met or acknowledged. This could harm your chances of future collaborative projects. 
  • Documentation gaps: Incomplete documentation can lead to a lack of accountability and confusion about decision-making processes, especially when it comes to reviewing the project later or auditing it. 
  • Impact on team morale: Teams need a sense of completion to achieve closure on their efforts. Without this, team morale takes a hit as people feel their efforts have gone unnoticed. 

Is it really worth it? 

The short answer: yes. Here’s why project closure is worth your time. 

  • Confirming everything’s complete: Clarity is important for a sense of closure. This final phase ensures all deliverables have been signed off in writing, which helps you avoid disputes about whether the project has achieved its goals later on. 
  • Learning lessons: Every project, whether it’s a roaring success or facing hurdles, offers valuable lessons. Proper closure includes reflecting on these lessons. This isn’t just about acknowledging what didn’t work but also recognizing and planning how to replicate successes in future projects.
  • Releasing resources: When you formally close a project, you free up your team, as well as any equipment or budget that was tied up. This means these resources can be quickly redeployed to other projects or tasks, helping your organization stay agile and efficient.
  • Building relationships: By making sure a project is neatly wrapped up and all parties are happy, you reinforce trust and credibility with your clients. This professional approach can lead to repeat business and a solid reputation. We talk about the importance of first impressions, but last impressions are important too.
  • Setting the stage for future projects: A well-documented closure process provides a blueprint for future projects, saving you time the next time round, as well as showing you what to avoid.

The 10 steps to closing a project 

Here’s a detailed breakdown of each step involved in closing a project the right way.

1. Confirm project completion

Start by reviewing all project deliverables against the original project scope and objectives. Make sure every single task listed in the project plan is complete, handed over, and that both the team and the stakeholders are happy with the quality. Finally, check for any discrepancies or unfinished tasks and address these right away. 

This step often involves a detailed walkthrough of the final product or service with the project team and stakeholders to ensure everything is complete as per the agreed standards and expectations.

2. Secure formal stakeholder approval

Now we need to get approvals in writing so there’s no backtracking or disagreement later on. 

You’ll need to prepare a project closure report. This typically summarizes the project outcomes, including how it met the agreed specifications and goals. Stakeholders review this document and sign it off, which is crucial for formally declaring the job complete. It’s a small but important stage that keeps everyone on the same page, while future proofing you against potential disputes later on. 

3. Run a detailed review

A comprehensive project review (aka the project post-mortem) is a must. 

Start by evaluating the project’s performance in terms of budget, scheduling accuracy, and overall quality. Analyze whether the project met the customer’s needs effectively. Organize a formal meeting or conduct surveys within the project management team to delve into these aspects. Questions to consider include:

  • Did the project stay within budget?
  • How effectively did team members manage their time?
  • Were there any quality issues or compromises made?
  • How well did the project fulfill the customer’s requirements?

This review should also cover team dynamics, communication effectiveness, adherence to the project plan, stakeholder satisfaction, and other useful metrics. Collect feedback on what processes worked well and what challenges cropped up. This feedback will help paint a picture of the project’s performance while helping you spot areas for future improvement. 

4. Finalize all project documentation

Projects generate huge amounts of paperwork. While it’s tempting to just file it all away in a ‘complete’ folder, it’s important to actually organize it for future reference. Make sure every doc is complete and up to date. This includes project plans, design documents, performance reports, financial records, legal contracts, and all correspondence. 

Keeping your docs organized and accessible means that if you need to run audits, plan future projects, or produce paperwork in the case of a claim or dispute, it’s all signed off and easy to find. 

5. Release project resources

Identify all resources — human, physical, and technological — that were allocated to the project. Systematically release these resources, making sure personnel are reassigned to new roles or projects and physical resources are returned to inventory or disposed of according to company policy.

This means resources are there for others to use, and individuals are back at work on something else once they’re freed up. 

6. Update project inventory and systems

Reflect on the project’s closure in your project management systems. Update any digital records, inventory lists, and project tracking systems to show that the project is done and dusted. It’s important for keeping records up to date, as well as analyzing project performance.

7. Celebrate and recognize team efforts

Recognizing hard work is important for morale, so organize a celebration, reward, or even just a little note to express acknowledgment of a job well done. 

Celebrations can be formal or informal, just so long as you make team members feel appreciated for their efforts. 

8. Give and gather detailed feedback

Offer constructive feedback to each team member and make it two-way. Discuss strengths and areas for improvement in a way that’s focused on their personal growth, and gather thoughts on your own management style and methods so you can fine-tune your approach. 

9. Close out financials

Conduct a final financial review to make sure all your books are balanced, invoices processed, and remaining financial obligations settled. These steps help you avoid any financial loose ends that could affect the project’s perceived success, while also making life easier for your accounts team. 

10. Archive all project materials

Archive all project materials in an accessible yet protected space (your project management tool is a good option). Proper archiving also protects intellectual property and keeps a clear and traceable project history, just in case. 

Finish projects in style with project management tools

Closing a project is your chance to tie everything together and leave a lasting, positive impression. By using project management tools, you can streamline the closing process, ensuring every task is accounted for and nothing slips through the cracks.
Tools like these aren’t just about tracking progress and automating workflows (although these two things are a big help) — they’re vital for giving the transparency and structure needed to close out projects smoothly, ensuring you’re ready for whatever comes next. Ready to take Backlog for a spin?



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