project closeout

Project Closeouts: How to End on a High Note

Here’s a funny little fact about human psychology:

What we remember from any experience is dictated largely by the most extreme parts of the experience — and by how we feel at the end.

That means that the final days of a project can have an outsized effect on how your team, your leaders, and your clients feel about the project’s success. 

Project teams and stakeholders often move onto the next thing even before the project is fully completed. There may be stray tasks or deliverables left undone… the handoff to the operations team might be rushed or incomplete… clients and stakeholders might not receive the communication they need… and the project team may be left with residual stress and unresolved conflict that is carried forward to the next project.

The result is that the overall perception of the project may be negative — even if earlier stages of the project were carried out flawlessly.

That’s why it’s crucial to create and follow procedures that allow for successful project closeout.

This project closeout takes place on two fronts: with your processes and with your people.

Wrap Up Your Projects with Better Closing Procedures

Unfinished business can jeopardize your current project even as it saps energy and attention from upcoming priorities. 

To avoid projects that linger — or key items that get abandoned — your standard project procedures should include processes for wrapping up outstanding items, updating documentation, and systems for extracting lessons and improving future performance. 

Be sure that:

  • Project deliverables are complete and meet expectations
  • All documentation is properly archived
  • Document repositories are closed
  • All team members are informed and released
  • Transition and operation teams have adequate support
  • Clients and vendors are properly offboarded
  • Stakeholders have received all action plans and recommendations 
  • Feedback and lessons learned are collected from the team

Taking time to resolve outstanding issues helps provide your team with a clean slate for the next project. And it leaves clients, end-users, and leaders with a more positive impression of the project’s outcomes. 

Give Your Team the Closure They Need

Projects tend to take more energy than we expect. The unknowns and constraints in our environment can lead to stressful situations. And there may be team conflict or unconstructive dynamics at play that sap people’s energy

Finishing on a high note allows the team to close out the project in a constructive, affirming way.  You’ll want to hold time and space for the team to debrief, learn from the experience, release any emotional baggage associated with the project, and move on.

And don’t forget to celebrate!

Even on a virtual team, you can set up short celebratory events. For example, you could host a “happy hour” Zoom call (or breakfast or lunch, if you wish) during which the team can reflect on the project and celebrate wins.

Include some fun activities, so the group energy stays high.

For example, you might ask attendees to wear a goofy hat, a team t-shirt, or some other fun costume. You could even hold a contest, with prizes to the best outfit or silliest hat.

Or you could use a tool like Mentimeter to poll the team. Ask each person to submit one word that describes the team, and create a word cloud onscreen from the results.

And get creative with the questions you ask! Have the group brainstorm a “banned words list” — terms that were so overused during the project that everyone is tired of them. Poll the group about how they’ll decompress now that the project has ended. Or ask team members to share highlights from the project or appreciations for their teammates.

Even a short celebration or project debrief can boost energy and provide a sense of closure and positivity about the project experience. 

Closing out the project emotionally with your team is just as important as completing the practical tasks on your project closeout checklist. Giving your team time and space to process their experience and celebrate their successes helps get them ready to succeed with the next project headed their way. 

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