How to Wrap Up a Project Effectively: Project Management Closure and Lessons Learned

Published on: November 5, 2023

A career in Project management can prove to be rewarding. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Project Management Specialists are expected to grow faster than the average at 6% per year. There are many facets to the role but the most important and challenging is closing a project.

Although phases like planning and execution get the most attention, project managers must be proficient at the closing phase in order to ensure client satisfaction. Projects that were executed well at all phases, then all but forgotten at the closing phase can leave a negative impression on customers, sponsors, and project team members – and leave the project manager with a poor reputation.
Project close typically includes making sure you did everything you set out to do, obtaining final approval from the project sponsor, transitioning to operations, capturing any lessons learned, and disbanding project resources.

Importance and Impact of Project Wrap-Up

The project close or wrap-up is important because it formally closes out the project, captures lessons learned, and passes the work you’ve done on to the people or team who will own it going forward.

Without a formal project wrap-up:

  • You run the risk of missing formal sign-off from the sponsor and customer. Without final approval, the customer could claim you never delivered or didn’t deliver according to contract and refuse to pay.
  • The work may not continue if you fail to formally pass it on to operations, which is then responsible for daily process and quality assurance.
  • You may miss capturing all the things that went well and could have gone better, which will help you learn and grow as a project manager and execute your next project more successfully
  • You risk ending the project before all tasks are complete as one of the most important components of project close is ensuring the team has delivered on everything they agreed to early in the project.

Although shorter in duration, project close is just as important as any other phase of the project, including implementation. Even if you’ve delivered what you said you were going to deliver, it’s imperative that you complete all of the steps in the project closing phase in order to tie your project up with a bow, ensure your stakeholders are satisfied with the end result, and get a signature on that satisfaction.

When to Begin Wrapping Up a Project

The project lifecycle refers to the phases that a project progresses through from initiation to close. It typically consists of five stages, but some project managers will divide tasks into more or fewer stages. The first stage is initiation, where the project’s feasibility and objectives are defined and the project team is assembled. Next is project planning, involving the creation of a detailed project plan, including tasks, schedules, resources, and budgets. The third stage is project execution, where the actual work is carried out, and deliverables are produced. This is followed by project monitoring and control, where progress is tracked, risks are managed, and necessary adjustments are made. Finally, the project concludes with the closing phase, which involves the verification of deliverables, obtaining final approval, and documenting lessons learned.

Sometimes it feels like your project is closed when you deliver the thing you said you were going to deliver – the building, the software, the upgrade, or the process, for example. This is a milestone and cause for celebration, but it’s not the end of the project. It’s the end of the execution or implementation phase and the start of the closing phase. This is when you begin wrapping up your project.

How to Wrap Up a Project

Wrapping up the project involves production validation, confirmation of deliverables, identifying any remaining tasks, getting final approval, completing administrative work, handing off to operations, and sending out a final report.

Complete Production Validation or Smoke Testing
Just because it passed testing doesn’t mean it works in production. If your project involved moving a new solution from a test environment to a production environment, it’s important to put it to the test there to make sure it works in both ideal and less-than-ideal conditions.

Confirm the Original Deliverables

Reference the project charter to ensure that the project objectives and requirements have been fulfilled. This ensures the project was successful and gives you an opportunity to identify and resolve any outstanding tasks, ensuring all lose ends are tied up. More importantly, it demonstrates accountability, establishing a solid foundation for stakeholder satisfaction and enhancing trust between the project team and the sponsor and customer.

Identify Open Tasks

Take a final look at the project plan to identify any remaining open tasks and engage in a discussion with the project team about the necessity of closing out those tasks before closing out the project.

You’ll find that remaining tasks, if any exist, fall into two buckets:

  • Tasks that do need to be completed before you can close out the project
  • Tasks that don’t need to be completed at all or don’t need to be completed in order to close out the project

First, address the tasks that do need to be completed. Assign those tasks to the responsible parties and ensure they’re completed to stakeholder satisfaction before closing the project.

Then, address the tasks that either no longer need to be completed or that can be passed on to operations for completion later/outside of the scope of the initial project. If they don’t need to be completed, document that decision appropriately – including who approved it – in the project plan. If they do need to be completed but are being pushed to operations for completion outside of the initiation project, document the decision and facilitate an appropriate handoff.

Get Approval

Now that you feel confident that 1) your solution is working in production, 2) you’ve delivered according to the original agreement, and 3) all the tasks are completed, it’s time to seek customer and sponsor sign off on the project. Getting signed approval validates that the project meets agreed-upon objectives, serves as formal acknowledgement that the project has been completed successfully, and provides a basis for final closure.

Complete Administrative Work

There is always administrative work in the project close section, like reassigning project resources, archiving the digital file, finalizing your project documentation, and closing out your project budget. Administrative tasks vary depending on the project, but almost always exist. It’s a good idea to keep a list of general closing administrative tasks that exist in your organization so you can review at the end of each project and determine which are applicable for each individual project.

Handoff to Operations

Once the project’s objectives and deliverables have been met, the responsibility for managing and sustaining the project’s outcome shifts from the project team to the operations team. The transition involves a variety of activities to ensure a smooth handover, including:

  • Handing off deliverables – The project team transfers the final deliverables to the operations team. This includes providing all necessary information, instructions, and resources required for ongoing maintenance, support, and utilization.
  • Knowledge transfer – The project team hosts training sessions to share important project-related knowledge, expertise, and best practices with the operations team. This ensures the team understands the project’s intricacies, operational requirements, and any specific procedures or considerations associated with managing the work going forward.
  • Operational readiness – The operations team ensures they have the necessary resources, infrastructure, systems, and personnel in place to assume responsibility for the project outcomes. Sometimes this involves hiring new personnel, setting up support mechanisms, establishing maintenance processes, or integrating new work into an existing framework.
  • Post-transition support – The project team provides post-handover support to the operations team during the initial stages of the transition. This support often includes additional training, guidance, troubleshooting assistance, and addressing any questions or concerns that arise as the operations team assumes ownership of the work.

Hold a Lessons Learned Meeting

Conducting lessons learned in project management is helpful because it provides an opportunity to reflect on the project’s successes, challenges, and experiences. By gathering insights and observations from project team members and stakeholders, it gives you an opportunity to identify and document valuable lessons and best practices that can be applied for future reference. Lessons learned sessions promote organizational learning and continuous improvement by capturing knowledge, identifying areas for enhancement, and providing actionable recommendations. They help prevent the repetition of mistakes, improve project performance, enhance decision-making, and foster a culture of learning and innovation within the organization.

During your lessons learned session, be sure to review:

  • What went well during the project that you would do again in future projects
  • What didn’t go well in the project that you would hope to avoid in future projects
  • What you learned in this project that you could apply to future projects

Most importantly, review the lessons learned before you launch your next steps or project and share them with other project managers in your organization.

Send a Final Report

Finally, draft your final project closure report. Your final report should include an executive summary, the project deliverables, budget and milestones, the project outcomes, lessons learned, closure checklist, a conclusion, and any supporting documentation. Send the final report to the project sponsor, customer, and stakeholders. Sending a final report demonstrates accountability, transparency, and professionalism, providing stakeholders with a comprehensive understanding of the project’s outcomes and allowing for informed decision-making. It promotes effective communication, closure, and facilitates the transition to subsequent phases or a future project.

Explore Project Management and Business at Park

Project managers can work in a variety of industries and sectors; they’re employed in organizations of all sizes, ranging from small startups to large corporations, as well as in government agencies and non-profit organizations. Project managers can be found in industries like information technology, construction, engineering, healthcare, finance, manufacturing, consulting, and many others. They might work in dedicated project management offices (PMOs) or be part of specific departments or teams within an organization. Additionally, PMs can work as independent consultants, offering their expertise to multiple clients or organizations on a project-by-project basis. Perhaps most attractive about project management? Many of them work remotely today.

Most project management roles require a Bachelor’s Degree, but those with graduate degrees will increase their opportunities for advancement into ‘people leadership’ roles in their organizations, overseeing other project managers.

Explore the exciting and diverse world of project management with Park University’s comprehensive programs. Both seasoned professionals and those looking to begin a career in project management can benefit from formal training and hands-on experience at Park University. Put your leadership, communication, and organization skills to work and apply online at Park University today!

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