Breaking Up and Getting Closure: 5 Reasons Projects Stay Open (and How to Close Them)

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The hardest phase of a project is often its most underappreciated. Proper project closeout could mean the difference between success and failure.

Why should you endeavor to officially close out a project you’ve undertaken? For one thing, it provides closure to your client and project teams. Everyone can agree and acknowledge that the work is done and judge how successfully the scope has been met, possibly deriving crucial lessons to take into future projects. If there are any lingering tasks, establishing a formal end to the project will force them to be completed. It also allows you to officially clear your plate for new and more pressing projects.

But what happens when projects fall to the wayside and aren’t closed? Below are 5 reasons projects stay open and tips to remedy these situations.

 

1. The perception that the “real work” has already been completed.

A common line of thinking in project work is that since all of the strictly technical or business-related work is complete, the project is safe to be closed. On the contrary, the PMI’s Project Management Process Groups defines “Closing” as the final Process Group. A project is not technically “complete” until all aspects of the current project (including this “Closing” phase) are also subsequently complete.

In any project, a defined scope will have been created. If the all the work in that scope has not been marked completed then the project is not yet finished. That doesn’t mean there can’t be reasons for a project to end before the pre-defined scope has been completed, such as if the project no longer meets the goals of the client or sponsor or if something more important or pressing comes up…

 

2. Another project has come up that requires (more) attention.

We can all relate to the struggle of being taken off a project in favor of a new and more pressing one. It’s important to remember that when it comes to closing out projects, even doing a little bit towards closing out the effort can go a long way. Understanding what is necessary to close out an engagement and working with the time and resources you do have can make all of the difference. The following are the four main points required to close out a project:

 

3. More work needs to be added to the scope.

While more work to be done on a project can be seen as a good thing, showing that the life of the project can continue, it’s also important to remember what a project really is, per PMBOK…

“…a project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.”

And…

“…a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.”

 

Making sure that your project remains temporary and unique in its goal is key to maintaining momentum and clarity for your project. Depending on the kind of work to be added to your project, be aware of whether the scope of that work is something that can be added via change order or whether it’s worth looking at the new work as a separate project. Having a good understanding of the project and its goals can steer you in the right direction as more work is requested.

 

4. You’ve already moved on from the project without doing a closeout.

There is an old proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

Because every project has a timeline with a set beginning and end, the best time to get this real, final closure is as soon as you reasonably and effectively can. It may seem daunting to close out a project because the last work done on it is so far past but there is no magical window of opportunity to close out a project.

Finally, don’t be afraid to revisit an older project just because it feels like it’s past it’s “prime.” Putting the project into perspective is important for any number of reasons, but first and foremost it can help to reassess an aged project in the context of the client’s and team’s current needs. This helps to guide the decision toward closing the project out, reopening it, or deciding on another direction to take the project.

 

5. General heel dragging, disinterest, loss of motivation.

Like in any good relationship, nothing can get done without all sides putting in effort. It’s the responsibility of the Project Manager to remind everyone that closure is a necessary part. Do this by reigniting the “passion” of the project.

Whether it’s the client stakeholder, project team, or even you who isn’t on the same page as everyone else, nothing can move forward. The following are just some ways to rekindle that “fire”:

In all five of these examples, the common thread here is that getting project closure is important and valuable whether that is appreciated immediately or not. Closure can look like many things depending on the situation. It might just be properly archived documentation; It might mean a handshake and smile to a client, or it might just look like an email saying “This is now closed.” Ensuring that all projects are properly closed is the duty of every project manager. Recognizing the signs of a project struggling to close is important for all team members.

  • Great topic, Mr. Cortes. I completely agree – this should also be shared with senior managers in consulting organizations, not just principals. The concepts here would be good for internal middle managers in many organizations as well.