Working on the end of the project at the beginning is not the first thing on our minds. At least not mine – I have to make a deliberate effort because all euphoria and excitement is focused on getting the project going well for the customer and getting out of the gate on a positive note. But the good project manager keeps the closeout in mind, as well, even from the outset of the project.
Avoid letting things fall through the cracks
So, you fly through the project with enthusiasm and you are meeting deliverables, working with the customer on testing preparation and user acceptance testing, having them review documentation and provide input and you start to see the home stretch of the project and then BAM! The worst – and possibly best – thing happens. Your grand efforts are recognized and a shiny, new, highly visible, mission-critical project gets dropped in your lap. Suddenly, much of your attention gets redirected to a new effort and you may even find that many of your project team members are being pulled in different directions as well – assigned to your new project or other new initiatives that are starting to demand much of their time as well. What started out as a grand and successful project with a great deal of momentum is now heading down the home stretch running out of steam as project team members – and possibly even the customer – are becoming less engaged and are focusing on other efforts….sort of coasting to the finish line. The main problem with this scenario is that a project that was very successful may end up failing if important things start to fall through the cracks.
How do we keep this from happening? When we’re overloaded with new work, what do we need to focus on to make sure our current project stays on track and ends on a successful note? Customer satisfaction is critical to success….how do we help ensure we don’t lose that satisfaction as the project winds down? Since I’ve found myself in this situation before, I’ve created a practical checklist of five key elements to follow to help make sure all the bases are covered prior to project deployment. Let’s examine these five things in detail…
Review the financials
Start by reviewing the project financials. Is everything still on budget? And just as important, are invoices being paid by the project client? Most projects either bill time and materials, by deliverable, or monthly. Look through all project invoices. Has everything that should be paid up till now actually been paid? Unpaid invoices may just be an oversight but they also may be a sign of customer dissatisfaction. Check with the customer on any unpaid invoices and see if there is an issue that needs resolved with them.
Was customer testing successful? Were there any remaining issues or action items that needed to be handled…and were they successfully closed out? Did you get an official signoff of customer approval following UAT? It’s imperative that you have that prior to deployment as no software solution should head to deployment without official customer testing acceptance. Get that formal approval in the project folder as soon as possible if you don’t already have it.
Check the schedule milestones
Conduct a detailed review of the project schedule with your team and then follow that up with a review with the project customer. Make sure everyone agrees that all deliverables were delivered and all milestones completed successfully. And if you’re missing any official approval signoffs for any deliverables, now is the time to go back to the customer and get them…it’s very important documentation that you absolutely want to have on every project.
Finalize all training
Most customer solutions require some level of training to be conducted for the customer’s end user community. The training tasks were likely tasks you had built into the project schedule from the beginning. Does the customer feel adequately trained and ready to use the end solution? Make sure of that or create a change order for additional training if necessary. You want the customer’s end users to be successful in taking over the new solution.
Document lessons learned
Lessons learned sessions are skipped by so many project managers when even just a one hour phone call could end up being of great benefit long term. Don’t pass over this opportunity to learn from the project you’re completing…it can be invaluable. Schedule it…do it…you won’t be sorry.
You’ve dotted all the I’s and crossed all the T’s and you’re ready to call it quits. One more thing you must do – for the sake of the project, your company, and your peace of mind. Get a final approval/acceptance signoff from the project client. That way, if anything comes back later that the project wasn’t really finished – in the customer’s opinion – you’re covered.
How about you – what things are important to you as you closeout the project with the customer? What other things would you cover on your mental or official project closeout checklist?