Project planning is complex, high-effort work. You must define the initiative’s scope, risks, and resources all while setting clear and manageable team expectations. And no matter the effort you put in, execution is rarely perfect.

But there’s a lot to learn from the hiccups. Every roadblock and adjustment can inform your next project — if you conduct an effective project closure.

What’s the goal of the closing process?

A project closing procedure helps teams tie up loose ends and review what went well and what didn’t. Project managers leverage this information to update stakeholders and create more accurate and strategic future project plans.

Projects end for various reasons, like running out of resources, deciding to shift gears, or simply successfully completing the work. In nearly every case, managers will conduct a project closure to:

  • Validate outcomes and document whether they meet the requirements defined in the project scope document
  • Get client and stakeholder sign-offs stating that they’ve accepted the project deliverables or outcome
  • Finalize the project transition to another department or the client, including any necessary training and maintenance plans
  • Review the development process with the team and prepare to incorporate feedback into the next plan
  • Put a concrete end to this project and provide a clean kick-off for the next

Not only does it preserve the integrity of your team’s hard work, but the closing phase of the project management process helps smooth the way for stakeholder goodwill and customer satisfaction. Everyone involved understands how the project went, why adjustments were made, and what to do next.

The 5 project management phases

Project closure is the final stage of the five-phase project management model, as defined by the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) manual, Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge:

  1. Project initiation: Initiate the project through broad definition and securing stakeholder buy-in.
  2. Project planning: Establish detailed goals and build a project roadmap.
  3. Project execution: Kick off project execution based on information outlined in previous steps.
  4. Project performance: Using KPIs, evaluate project efficiency and effectiveness.
  5. Project closure: Finalize work, debrief team and other stakeholders, and define next steps.

Why is project closure important?

When considering long-term improvement, a project is only as successful as the takeaways gleaned. Conducting a proper project closure ensures you thoroughly understand where your team excelled and where they could improve to make the next initiative that much better.

A formal project closure also helps you and your team:

  • Wrap up: You’ll ensure you’ve met all project requirements and that the client, contractors, suppliers, and teammates have everything they need to move on.
  • Take stock: As part of the closing process, it’s best practice to look back and evaluate team performance. This step establishes a culture of continuous improvement and gives you the information needed to help employees reach their full potential.
  • Move on: Project wind down doesn’t only define technical work stoppage. It also provides the client and team with closure. The process reassures participants that their work is valuable. And it launches project transition, transferring responsibility from you to the client.
  • Create documentation: Projects generate a lot of paperwork, and you can use the closing phase to establish a library of archived project documentation. This resource is valuable, permitting quick information retrieval in case of an audit, cataloging solutions to common challenges, and centralizing templates from successful projects.

What happens if you don’t end a project correctly?

Aside from losing out on the above benefits, you might also deal with the following consequences if you’re unable to effectively close out a project:

  • Delays: Payments to contractors and suppliers may be late, leading to frustration.
  • Uncertainty: Team members and clients may be confused about next steps, resulting in the assumption that you’re still responsible for the project.
  • Abandonment: Without a plan for maintenance and support, your client or employer could orphan the project.
  • Inaction: Not soliciting team feedback could lead to missed improvement opportunities.

What are project closure activities?

You can initiate several activities as part of your project closure practice, depending on the needs of your team, clients, and sponsors. Each item should benefit all involved, so seek feedback to determine the most valuable steps for participants.

Generally, project management wind-downs address the following items:

  • Wrapping up loose ends: Ensure no outstanding details require attention, the project meets requirements, and the stakeholders and clients have accepted the deliverables. Also note any work your team couldn’t complete and double-check contracts and invoices to confirm timely payment.
  • Organizing next steps: Clarify what happens next regarding deliverables and any client and team member actions. Make sure you’ve scheduled training and maintenance and delegate responsibilities to the next team.
  • Conducting retrospective meetings: Commit to ongoing growth by holding post-mortem meetings with all stakeholders to receive feedback on what worked well, what didn’t, and areas of improvement. You might also hold one-on-one performance reviews to identify opportunities for professional development.
  • Reviewing learnings: Review the project’s outcomes to identify lessons learned and commit to incorporating them into your practice. You might also assess the accuracy of your projections to improve future scenario planning.
  • Celebrating: Your team worked hard, and their efforts deserve appreciation. Send out kudos and verbally express how valuable each team member’s contribution was to the project.

The 7-step project closure checklist

Project closures are extensive and complex, but you can use the following checklist to ensure you’ve covered all the bases.

1. Transfer ownership

Turning over deliverables is the first step in finalizing a project. Let your employer or the client know that your team met all expectations and that the deliverable is ready for them to manage.

Task list:

  • Assess deliverables to ensure they meet expectations and generate desired outcomes
  • Review incomplete, omitted, or out-of-scope requirements with the client or your employer and share options for completion
  • Address any issues arising from handoff
  • Establish maintenance and training plans

2. Close all project accounts

Review documentation affiliated with the project and ensure the information is current, including logs, lists, and reports. Close out contracts and make sure vendors receive payment on time.

Task list:

  • Ensure all contracts and invoices are signed, paid, and finalized
  • Release team members for redeployment to new projects
  • Address logistical details, such as returning equipment and other resources

3. Acquire feedback from project participants

Hold a retrospective with team members to discuss project execution and outcomes. Solicit feedback regarding:

  • Contributions to the project’s success
  • Project elements that worked as planned
  • Any issues
  • Additional resources or support needed
  • Workflow improvements

You could also assess your project management process, considering whether your estimated budget covered actual project costs and if your team met established milestones and deadlines.

Task list:

  • Survey participants about lessons learned, including yourself
  • Conduct a retrospective to discuss survey results
  • Prioritize recommendations and adjust your practice
  • Formally document findings

4. Receive feedback from the client

Measure satisfaction by gaining client/end-user feedback. You might distribute a simple survey to assess whether:

  • The project team understood expectations and requirements
  • Project execution was effective
  • The communication strategy was adequate
  • The overall project outcome was a success

Task list:

  • Survey clients
  • Document responses
  • Add the survey and results to the project file

5. Prepare the project closure report

Create a project closure report for upper management that summarizes project execution and final outcomes. This document helps them evaluate this initiative’s efficacy and impact and ensures they have the information necessary to update other stakeholders.

Task list:

  • Generate internal report outlining project outcomes
  • Submit report to senior management for review

6. Formally close the project

Senior management and stakeholders should review your closure report to verify that your team met project criteria and requirements. Then, they’ll provide their official sanction. Once received, consider the project approved and inform your team their work is complete.

Task list:

  • Follow up to ensure management finalizes sign-off
  • Announce formal project closure
  • Celebrate with your team

7. Remove and archive the project

Finally, organize and index all project documentation. Create an archive using your project management software and file all documents, contracts, and agreements in the appropriate location.

Task list:

  • Establish a repository for archived documents
  • Index and file all documentation
  • Close remaining project accounts

Set your project up for success

Keep track of all your management activities — including project closure — with Roadmunk by Tempo. This tool makes audience-friendly project roadmaps that document every project lifecycle phase. Then, monitor your team’s progress and task time with Jira-enabled Timesheets.

With Tempo, everything you need to finalize your project is at your fingertips.