The forgotten phase
by Paula K. Martin and Karen Tate, PMP, Contributing Editors
WHETHER YOU USE a four- or five-phase project management model, the last phase is always closeout, the phase that most project teams forget.
After the final deliverable is delivered to the customer, most project teams think that they're done—that the project is over. But they're wrong. They still need to complete the last phase of the project management process: closeout.
Very few project teams take the time to complete closeout, thus condemning themselves to making the same mistakes over and over, because it's during closeout that we capture our lessons learned and transmit what we have learned to others.
The closeout phase can be broken down into three broad categories of activities: evaluation, lessons learned, and sponsor review. After the final deliverable has been accepted by the customer, it's time to have the customer evaluate the project. Is the customer satisfied with the final deliverable? Did it meet his needs? His expectations? How would he rate the project process? Was he kept informed? Did he have the level of input or participation he desired? What would he have you do differently next time?
You'll also want to get similar feedback from the sponsor and any other key stakeholders. Have them complete a simple evaluation form, or sit down with them and interview them. What went well? What would they change? You'll want your team members to complete a similar evaluation of the project. In addition, you'll want them to assess the team process—How well did the team members work together? Did the team achieve the performing stage of team development and if not, why not? Were the team meetings productive? How could they be improved? And so forth.
Next, you need to complete the final status report, which should include the customer's rating of the final deliverable, final status of deadlines, budgets, and changes to the plan. Now you're ready to have the lessons-learned meeting with the project team.
One way to develop the lessons learned with the team is to do an affinity diagram. Ask each person to write on Post-it Notes her ideas of what went well and what she would do differently next time. Then place the Notes on two pieces of banner paper—one for each topic. After all the Notes are on the wall, ask the team to group the Notes within each topic. This should be done silently. After all the Notes have been organized, ask the team to write a lessons-learned statement that captures each grouping. This provides a semi-anonymous way to capture everyone's ideas and process these into the group's lessons learned. Go through the final status report and evaluate each section. “How did we do in this area? What could we have done better?” Add any new lessons learned to the list. This process will help team members internalize the lessons learned and capture the group's consensus for inclusion in the closeout report.
Next, discuss how the team's lessons learned might be turned into recommendations for improving the overall project management system in the organization. Include these recommendations in the closeout report. This report should include an executive summary, the final status report, lessons learned, and recommendations for improvement. Set up a sponsor review meeting to go over the closeout report before it's issued.
After you issue the report, you're still not done. “What's left?” Celebration. Take a minute to pat yourself on the back for the good work you've done. And don't forget to recognize individual team member's contributions as well as those of the whole team.
CLOSEOUT IS A CRITICAL PART of the project management process. It's how we learn to do better next time. Skip it at your own and your organization's risk. ■
Paula Martin and Karen Tate, co-founders of project management training and consulting firm, MartinTate, specialize in team-based project management. They are also the authors of the Project Management Memory Jogger (available through the PMI Bookstore). Paula can be reached at +888-806-3974 and Karen at +513-984-8150. Send comments on this column to email@example.com.
February 2000 PM Network