Shutting It Down: How to Be a Productive Project Closer

by Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE

“A project is complete when it starts working for you, rather than you working for it.” — Scott Allen, American computer programmer and author.

In business, there are two types of “closers,” both of which boost the organization’s performance in different ways. The more common type of closer is a salesperson or marketer who’s adept at closing deals with potential clients, bringing new projects on board. Let’s call them deal closers. Without deal closers, we’d all be without work.

The second type of closer is less obvious, but in their way is also imperative to effective, profitable business performance. The project closer, usually (but not always) the project manager, makes sure a project ends neatly, with no confusions or loose ends. He or she gets everyone to the final page together, confirms the conclusion with all parties, and in general wraps up a project and puts it to bed.

Project closure includes more than just the exhilaration of knowing you’ve completed a project, rolling it out, and then celebrating a job well done. The process starts before the first bit of code or white paper is written, before any designer fires up their CAD program. Here’s how to productively tuck in a project and forget about it—until it’s time to wake it up and shepherd it through the next version.

  • Begin at the beginning. Start preparing for closure during the project’s planning stage. Include it in the project timeline—not as an afterthought—but as a fully realized part of the project with its own outlines, tasks, and checklists. This helps your team make an appropriate bid on the project, since project closure takes a significant amount of billable time. Proper preparation requires careful thought and a willingness to roll with the punches as the project plan changes. Advance documentation is invaluable for the project closure planning process, which brings us to the next point.
  • Get it in writing. Your organization probably already has documentation detailing the project closure process point by point, like a recipe. If so, take advantage of it to increase both your efficiency and effectiveness. If not, or if existing documentation doesn’t fit the project, start developing your closure documentation—not just to guide your project, but to guide similar projects in the future. You may need to adjust as the project evolves.
  • Track it. Your goal while wearing the project closer hat is to make sure the project finishes up properly, meeting all deadlines and goals. So, always be aware of where the project is along its overall timeline and keep your colleagues informed as to their closing duties as they come up.
  • Set up a checklist. Lay out all the final tasks required to close the project, and as you wrap it up, go over the checklist carefully. Items to put on your checklist might include:
  • Have we completed all the features?
  • Are all features documented properly, including any recent technical updates?
  • Are there any loose ends to tie up?
  • Has QA and testing been completed for all deliverables?
  • Has the contract been fulfilled, and the associated paperwork updated?
  • Has the client reviewed and approved the product?
  • Have we been paid?
  • Officially close the project with your client and make sure you receive their acknowledgement of closure.
  • Inform your team and other interested parties that the project is closed, providing them with any necessary documentation.
  • Hold a post-mortem. This is an excellent opportunity to learn from both successes and mistakes, so hold a retrospective meeting to look back at the project from beginning to end. What were the lessons learned? Have your coworkers bring up any issues and brainstorm on how to handle them if they arise again.

Your goal as project closer is to ensure everyone crosses all the T’s and dots all the I’s, so you can wind down the project successfully. The points I’ve included here can serve as a springboard for your planning process and help guide you through finalization. Be sure to add anything your organization requires, but don’t go too far; any bells and whistles will add to the project cost and use more valuable time.

In the End…

I’ve seen plenty of project closure plans in my day, and some of them are little gems of bureaucratic complexity that would make even the bravest heart quiver. They get the job done—eventually—but not as productively as possible. As project closer, you’ll want to do your utmost to avoid the bureaucratic hustle with a plan so effective and productive that the closing itself adds value.


© 2020 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

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