Manage Your Projects … Not Just Your Schedule (Part 4)

So you think you’re almost done with the project. The team is feeling pretty good about themselves. You’ve all come together and overcome seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles, tight timelines, and unforeseen challenges to make it all happen – you feel like heroes.

So you think you’re almost done with the project. The team is feeling pretty good about themselves. You’ve all come together and overcome seemingly insurmountable technical obstacles, tight timelines, and unforeseen challenges to make it all happen – you feel like heroes.

Not so fast my friend: DANGER lurks around the corner for your project and professional reputation. As the pressure eases off, it is human nature to throttle back and ‘coast’ through the rest of the project. Don’t allow this to happen – it is a recipe for delivering substandard work and leaving a bad impression. As any golfer, bowler, (name your sport), will tell you: you’re only as good as your last shot/roll/game/etc. Project closing is no different. Those last few tasks during execution and the way you close the project will have a significant effect on how the project success is perceived. This is one of the most dangerous pitfalls of project management, but also one of the easiest to avoid.

I suggest you begin planning for your closing phase well ahead. Yes, this means reviewing those initial plans and documents from way back at project inception to understand what commitments were made for deliverables, etc. Now it should go without saying that all artifacts of the project (requirements, designs, etc) are maintained appropriately throughout the lifecycle – if your team is cobbling these together near the end, you are already in big trouble. What we’re talking about here is creating a vision for how these and other deliverables will be presented at the end. Will there be a formal turnover meeting for instance? What format would the client/stakeholders like the information? How will the information be used in the future?

I like to start thinking about what a strong finish will look like at about the 50% point through the execution phase. I get really serious about it when we are 70-80% through execution by holding a team meeting to begin refining the deliverables for closing and planning our closing phase. I start this meeting by telling everyone the importance of finishing well. This is a serious pep talk that emphasizes that the ultimate judgment of all the hard work and gains made thus far hinge to a large degree on the remaining few tasks and closing phase.

There is also the matter of lessons learned. Everyone gives good lip service to the importance of holding a lessons learned meeting (often called post mortem), but in my experience, only a fraction projects include this step. Information gathered can be tremendous valuable for future projects, but only if the results are documented in a way that they can be easily utilized down the road (an electronic archival library for instance).

Here are 6 ways to guarantee a successful project closing:
1. Begin refining your deliverables well in advance of the actual project completion date
– Inventory what is due
– Assign team members responsibility for specific closing and turnover deliverables
– Track work on these just like any other project task
– Determine the documentation format the stakeholders require

2. Plan for the closing/turnover meeting
– Determine the key stakeholders – be careful not to miss anyone
– Build an agenda and review the appropriate sections with key stakeholders. There should be no surprises at the closing meeting
– Determine location & time – make sure there is enough to cover everything

3. Find out how the lessons learned will be used in the future and how the stakeholders want them documented (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, SharePoint list, etc)

4. Conduct a lessons learned meeting and document the results in the appropriate location(s)

5. Conduct the project closing meeting – make sure you have an agenda and everyone understands why they were invited and what they will get from the meeting (preferable to have dialogue with key stakeholders on this in advance of the meeting)

6. Make sure key resources are available to answer questions past the formal end to the project – especially true if you are working with an external client. I always include key team members contact info here. The last thing you want is a good close, only to have stakeholders frustrated because they can’t locate something or have a simple question and no one to answer it.

Follow these steps and you and your project team will get the hero status credit so well deserved.

One of my colleagues relayed this story about a strong project close and its effect:

“I was the program/project manager of a larger, multi-year infrastructure refresh and application rollout a few years back. The client was a major enterprise that had varied experience with past and current technology vendors. We didn’t want to be in the ‘bad vendor’ category, so we asked a lot of questions throughout the latter part of execution regarding what they wanted to get out of our turnover meeting. They told us that with all the money they had spent on all these vendors, they never seemed to get complete documentation when projects were done and the vendor was gone. We were determined to be different.

We had, of course, been maintaining documentation of all sorts during the project, but beginning a couple of months before scheduled completion, I pulled together the team for the pep talk. We focused on two major points 1) don’t get complacent and do exceptional work on the remaining items in execution, and 2) let’s make sure our documentation is perfect for the turnover meeting.

I asked one of our project managers to head up the documentation effort. He worked with all the various technical leads and even the field technicians to get their notes and make sure we had documented every possible detail that all the client stakeholders might need (from networking settings to help desk tips and tricks).

About half way through the two hour turnover meeting, I called my PM into the room to bring the documentation. They wheeled in two carts full of 3” bound notebooks (keep in mind the client was a paper company). The 20+ people around the table broke into spontaneous applause. As we went through the various sections of the documents, all the key stakeholders found their areas well covered. They said they had never seen a project so well documented. That project closing helped cement our status as a ‘go-to’ partner for that client for years to come…

Originally posted at EPM Live

3 thoughts on “Manage Your Projects … Not Just Your Schedule (Part 4)

  1. Hi Dux,
    Congrats on the great Sharepoint conference you and the crew put together last month! Mike T. told me a lot about it. And thank you for PM tips and suggestions. Excellent!

    Take care and I hope to meet you some day. I believe you, Mike and I would have a very interesting conversation if we ever got in the same part of the country!

    Be well, Dan Keenan

  2. Dux, thanks for the great class last week! I’m currently developing a roll out plan for SharePoint and I’d like to discuss “easy wins” with management. One sticking point though:

    While there seems to be a lot of info about moving tasks FROM Project Server 2007 to SharePoint, we’d like to also be able to let staff enter “unavailable” times on their Outook calendars and move this information TO MS Project via SharePoint. Any suggestions?


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