Project closure unfolds in many ways—through project post mortems, lessons learned, retrospectives, wrap-up, and project de-briefings.
Project closure is not simple (but you already know this).
Therefore, in this project closure guide, I’m packing in a bunch of useful resources to help you simplify, streamline, and master your project closing process.
A complete project closure process with lots of steps, broken into 3 phases:
How to do it:
Project closure takes time—you shouldn’t attempt to compress these phases into a day.
I suggest that you bookmark this page so you can come back to it as you move through the phases of closing your project.
There’s also a project closure checklist you can download which not only goes through the main phases but also breaks down each phase into a list of subtasks for you to check off as you close your project:
Project Closure Checklist
In our DPM Membership, there’s a project closure checklist that follows all of the steps in the project closure process I layout in this article. Click here to learn how to become a member and get access to the checklist, plus 50+ other templates, lists, and samples, ebooks, workshops, and more.
And somewhere in the next few weeks of closing your project, listen to the 30-minute podcast episode going over what to do (and not do) during the closing phase of project management.
What Is Project Closure?
The project closure phase is the last phase in the project lifecycle, and it officially puts an end to a project. The entire project management closure process requires meetings and communication with your team and stakeholders, a handful of project documents, and analysis skills.
When the project closure phase is completed properly, your project documents will be finalized, your clients and stakeholders will have any final reports that they require, and your team will have had the chance to reflect upon and adjust their processes.
When Should I Begin The Project Closure Process?
Before you reach project closing, here’s what you’ve already done:
- Your team has done QA and performed testing on the deliverables
- You’ve delivered the project, and the client has reviewed and approved it
- The thing you’ve delivered is live
Important: the project is not closed when the “thing” is launched. It doesn’t happen when the developers disperse, nor when the designer’s high-five. The project’s not closed, not even when there’s confetti floating down from the ceiling.
IMPORTANT NOTE: It’s necessary at the beginning of the project to account for these project closure steps at the end if you must bill all of your time to the project.
If you don’t have the budget for the type of project wrap up I cover in this article, it’s always helpful if there’s a billing bucket for overhead per client so you can still show that you’re doing work for them while not adding hours to the project budget.
If you don’t have the option to bill to overhead, admin, or any other non-billable bucket, try to ensure that you have time built-in at the beginning of the project to cover project closure. If you get to the end of the project and there’s no way to account for the hours needed to follow all of the closure steps, do your best to prioritize what will be most helpful to you, the team, and your company.
In some cases, when there was no budget for a retrospective, I have pitched to management the need for internal review for the purpose of validating existing processes, and that usually wins me enough time to do a short retro and present findings directly to the management team.
When you have worked long and hard on a project and it’s finally completed, it’s hard to find time to really close it down properly.
However, it is definitely in your best interest to have a project closure procedure in place so that you cover every base and safely archive it in that Great Closed Projects Folder in the sky.
Or the cloud, whichever. ;)
Loose Ends and Formalities
1. Start smoke testing
Goal: Make sure the project is stable.
a. Refresh and check the live product to ensure stability.
The first thing to do when a project goes live is to make sure that it is properly live. You’ll be amazed how often a seemingly straightforward deployment from staging to production goes wrong.
Once you have checked the live product…keep checking. Set up a check every few hours post-launch to make sure everything is still running smoothly. Even if it deployed properly, the first 24-48 hours can unleash a torrent of unexpected issues and you don’t want to be blindsided.
- Set up an hourly live product check
- Check the analytics for warning signs
- Monitor product traffic
- Check the server health
b. Create a checklist of things likely to be affected during the deployment.
Create a checklist of details that are likely to be affected during the transition from stage version and live version. It’s often small configuration snags that cause the problems between staging and live. Focus features that are (1) critical to product function, (2) the selling point of the product, or (3) most commonly needed by users.
- List key features
- List vulnerable features
- List any features you’ve had problems with in the past
c. Have the team retest major features and functionality.
Now that you have a list of top priority features, it’s time to start retesting them. Sure, you’ve tested them all before but the landscape changes drastically post-launch. You now have active users, live servers, and myriad other changes to contend with. Technology is never foolproof, small things that no one can explain can go wrong. Those things are what retesting catches.
- Divide key features amongst the team
- Test each feature
- Report the results
- Address any issues
d. Monitor social media channels for issues.
If the end product is high profile, make sure someone is monitoring social channels for issues. End users will frequently post complaints or comments on social and you want to catch these as soon as possible.
You will need to take a “PR” approach here and address the social/reputational issues as just as important as any technical issues.
- Monitor the product’s Facebook and Twitter feeds
- Set up a Google Alert for the product
- Respond promptly to all issues
e. Make sure you’ve set up Pingdom
You want to be alerted as soon as there is any sign of trouble. Pingdom will monitor the performance and availability of service on an ongoing basis. You need to continue to smoke test well after the project has gone live and as part of that, do any regression testing to ensure that your project’s deployment hasn’t adversely impacted anything else.
- Set-up a Pingdom account
- Link your product
- Monitor status
2. Check for missed items and things you left hanging
Goal: Tie up all loose ends.
a. As you work, set up a notification for “missed” items.
Knowing your priorities is vital for keeping things on schedule. Sometimes that means skipping over less vital tasks until you have time for them later. You never want these items to go completely forgotten, though. It’s helpful to archive these delayed “to-dos” in a way that helps you remember them later, at a more convenient time (in the biz, we call this a “parking lot”).
- Establish an alert system for delayed tasks
- Set-up notifications for postponed items
- Check on items during downtimes
- Go over all items after launch
b. Comb over your plan/timeline for forgotten items.
Go over every inch of your plan/timeline and look for any item you forgot about. Sometimes, when the heat is really on during a project and you are just trying to get to the finish line you can accidentally skip things. Mistakes happen, even for the most organized PM.
- Gather timeline and plan documents
- Catalogue forgotten items
- Discuss items with your team
c. Address any forgotten items with your client.
You’ve combed over the timeline, the task lists, the plans—and found a few things that were missed. At this point, transparency is absolutely key. Be honest with your team and your client about what was missed. And remember not to panic, if it were critical it likely would have come up in QA or UAT.
- Present any missed items to the client
- Receive feedback on next steps
- Outline which items to tackle first
d. Decide whether additions are in scope or out of scope.
In scope, items should be incorporated when the right time comes—sometime before launch or within a plan to update after launch that the client has signed off on. Out of scope items make a lovely email to the client as you close out the project and will score points with your business development team since they can be sold in as updates.
- Sort leftover items as In Scope or Out
- Develop a plan to address each In Scope item
- Email client Out of Scope items
- Review OoS items for updates
3. Technical update on documents, contracts, and payment
Goal: Make sure the project is closed properly from an administrative perspective.
a. Check everyone has their files in the right place.
Check that everyone has put their files on the server and that the files and folders are in order. You should have a clear organizational pattern established long before the project gets started.
- Develop organization/filing best practices
- Distribute organizational expectations to the team
- Do a surprise check (or 2) to ensure that orders are followed
b. Ensure final versions are clearly labeled.
Create archives for old files and ensure final versions are clearly labeled. You should be doing this as you go but now, during project closure, it’s time to dive in and make sure everything is as it should be.
- Determine final versions of file/product/item
- Determine the standard labeling system
- Label all final versions accordingly
c. Check that code is commented on and checked in.
Keeping the team Wiki up-to-date is for the benefit of your future self. It’s amazing how much you’ll appreciate this in 6 months when you’ll save yourself hours of trawling through the server when a client asks you for a random PSD file that your designer has totally forgotten about.
- Ensure the team Wiki is up-to-date
- Ask your team to have code commented/checked in
- Review Wiki for obvious knowledge gaps
d. Collect organizational process assets.
This step will have you checking assets like product validations, acceptance criteria, contract closure, team performance appraisals, and so on. It can be a bit of a doozy so make sure to tag in your team where needed.
- Collect product validations
- Collect acceptance criteria
- Collect contract closure
- Collect team performance appraisals
- Collect all other process assets
e. Go through your assumption log.
As a project manager, you have most likely developed an assumption log across the project lifecycle. An assumption, as you savvy PMs most likely know, is something assumed to be true during the project planning stages. As you go, you will track the validity of each one.
- Read through your assumption log
- Pull out any interesting information
- Generate a statement re: what was learned
f. Go through estimates to see if you were correct.
The goal is always to come close to what you predicted before the start of the project time- and cost-wise.
Now, at the end of the project, it’s time to find out the reality of the situation. Don’t panic, it’s quite common for estimates to not be 100% accurate. In this stage, you can start to ask: “Why”?
- Check estimates for budget/cost
- Check estimates for time/hours worked
- Check estimates for a finish date
- Check any other appropriate estimates
g. Go through the changelog to make sure nothing slipped through the cracks.
Every project goes through a series of expected or unexpected changes. AS things change, it’s normal to keep track of them all—when they happened, why they happened, what was the result. This, your changelog, is a useful document that you will want to go back through come the project’s end.
- Go over your changelog
- Check for missed items
- Report to team
h. Go through your issues log to make sure all were dealt with.
Issues will arise throughout the project management process, that’s inevitable. As they pop up, you and your team are responsible for tracking them. Most teams use an issue log for this purpose, though the exact organization of said log is entirely up to you. Project closure is a good time to check this log.
- Pull together issue log(s)
- Check each issue item
- Address any missed items with your team
i. Check your risks report to make sure there are no unresolved risks.
Like changes and issues, risks are also something that arises and is logged as you progress through the lifecycle of a project. And, like the above two items, project closure is a time to go over risk reports and make sure nothing was forgotten about or skipped over.
- Pull together risk report(s)
- Check each documented risk
- Address any leftover risks with your team
j. Scope document check.
Your scope documents are going to outline the size and limitations of the project. You want to make sure that all requirements were met. The project closure stage is the perfect time to address scope documents and assess whether you have been successful.
- Gather your scope documents
- Assess the predicted scope VS actual scope
- Discuss the results with your team
k. Do your deliverables check.
Project management hinges on deliverables. What tangible or intangible goods or services are your clients expecting? What tangible or intangible goods or services were delivered? Hopefully, the answers to these 2 questions align. Now is the time to prove it.
- Check that deliverables are handed off
- Check that deliverables have been signed by stakeholders.
- Check for all deliverable approvals
l. Make sure all other project documents are signed.
If there are any outstanding contracts and agreements with vendors, contractors, and so on, now is the time to reach out to concerned parties and get every signature and date stamp you need.
- Gather all project documents
- Check documents for missing signatures
- Reach out for needed signatures
m. Ensure the proper process for all contract closure has been completed.
The project has come to a close…and with that, all contracts must be closed out as well. All the supplies, subcontractors, donors, and others that you have worked with will thank you for your thoroughness. Additionally, you can ensure that everyone reviewed and accepted all contracted deliverables.
- Check that Supplier contracts are closed out
- Check that Subcontractors contracts are closed out
- Check that Donors contracts are closed out
- Check that any other contracts are closed out
n. Ensure proper etiquette for all financial closure
Financial documents and assets will need to be taken care of now that the project is in its final stages. Move assets, reassign personnel—anything required for the financial closure of the project.
- Check fulfillment of payment received
- Check the status of receivables/advances
- Liquidate/transfer receivables to another project number/accounting code
- Check all payables have been paid
o. Check the status of all administrative closure for completion.
Administration clean-up. You have assets that need to move, be reassigned, completed, archived. This is a big clean-up task that will happen at the end of any project. Here, you’ll address personnel, equipment, documents, and archives—ensure everything is sorted post-project.
- Check that personnel have been released/reassigned
- Check that equipment has been sold or transferred, if needed
- Check that all documents/reports are complete
- Check that all archives/files are up-to-date
p. Update project documents and update records to reflect the final results.
Everything is “finished”…now it’s time to change all of your files and documents to reflect this. Record any final results, including the state of the fully-live product and any final results attached to the launch.
- Catalog documents/records that might need attention
- Update all records according to final results
q. Gather legal proof that these documents have concluded.
Your documents state that everything has been finalized and that all parties are satisfied with the results. But that doesn’t mean much if you don’t have evidence to back it up, should an issue or doubt arise later on.
- Catalog your final results and confirmed deliverables
- Collect proof for each result/deliverable
- Ensure the client signs off on each item
r. Ensure all outstanding payments are sent in a timely manner.
Outstanding payments can really come back to bite you. No one likes getting calls from a creditor or angry vendor because an invoice slipped between the cracks. Project closure is a good time to sit down and sift through all invoices, commissions, fees, bonuses, and make sure that everything is paid.
- Check your accounting system for outstanding invoices
- Calculate any outstanding commissions
- Calculate any outstanding bonuses
- File all invoices to accounting for payment
- Ask for proof of payment, as needed
s. Archive all information for future use.
You learned so much over the course of a project’s lifecycle and you sure don’t want that valuable information to be forgotten or go to waste just because the project is complete. In this stage, you will be dealing with collecting project/phase records, managing the transfer of knowledge, and identifying lessons learned.
- Collect all project/phase records
- Design a system for knowledge transfer
- Identify lessons learned
- Share lessons with your team
Learning, Feedback, and Review
4. Write a note to your team with team wrap-up plan
Goal: Succinctly explain to your team the closure plan.
a. Mention something specifically for each team member.
Sure, you can copy-and-paste a generic “hurrah, we’ve made it” email into Gmail and hit send. But your team is going to feel that it’s inauthentic…and they’re right. Instead, focus on something each member of the team did really well and commend them for it. Make the closure email specific and thoughtful.
- Pick out something each team member did well
- Draft these specifics into the closure email
b. Explain what needs to happen next, if anything.
Did you notice any errors, missing items, or needed follow-ups during your project clean up? You will want to write these into the closure email and explain the “next steps” for how each is going to be addressed.
- Outline anything missed
- Outline the next steps for your team
c. Tell your team about any closing events.
In this section of the message of an email, you will have a chance to do a bit of a retrospective and outline any lessons that can be taken away from the project. Don’t forget to sprinkle in a bit of no-strings-attached celebration—after all, you all made it!
- Draft a project retrospective/post mortem
- Draft lessons learned
- Draft celebratory text
- Compile all into final closure message
5. Close the project with your client
Goal: Fill your client in on anything outstanding and all things finished.
a. Let them know about any lingering issues.
In the above flurry of steps, you may have encountered issues or items that needed to be further addressed, dismissed, or otherwise dealt with. As the project wraps up, you are going to need to convey this information to your client. Fill them in on issues, pass on log-in information, make sure they are set.
- Pass on any useful URLs/links to client
- Pass on any login information to the client
- Update client on anything they should expect at project’s end
- Send the client the final invoice, if not already done
b. Sell in maintenance, phase 2, or other enhancements.
If any item or feature was deemed “out of scope”, there’s still a chance to sell it in after the fact. You can pitch updates to your client that can address any of the things that were left on the cutting room floor. However, not all companies are open to this so only move ahead with this after reading the room.
- Itemize maintenance or enhancement
- Present maintenance or enhancement to client
- Pitch phase 2, if needed
c. Organize a customer wrap-up meeting.
No matter how many emails or notes you send, a face-to-face (or conference call) meeting is the best way to close everything off. Your client will appreciate being able to chat and ask questions in real-time as you go over the project closure.
- Schedule a meeting with the client
- Draft a summary presentation
- Attend the meeting with the team
d. Send an email asking for feedback
Asking for feedback should always be a part of your process but there are different ways to go about this. For most, simply asking a few casual questions in an email is more than enough. If you can gather client feedback before finalizing your internal retrospective, you can share the information with your team.
- Construct a feedback form or email
- Request feedback from the client
- Follow up on feedback if not received
- Go over the feedback with your team
6. Hold a retrospective, lessons learned meeting, post-mortem and/or send a survey to your team
Goal: Learn from successes and failures—as individuals, as a team, and as a business.
a. Hold a retrospective/post mortem gathering with your whole team.
Yes, hold a retrospective every time. Even if it was uncomplicated and went smoothly. A retrospective is not meant to only showcase how to fix things that went wrong, although that tends to be the focus (especially on a tough project). It’s also meant to show what went right, and how to replicate that over other projects.
- Schedule a retrospective
- Ask the team for any agenda items
- Send around the planned agenda
- Host the meeting
- Take note of perceived successes and failures
b. Present, to your team, an “anonymous” survey.
The “anonymous survey” (I use quotes here because though I do like to at least have them give me their names, I respect confidentiality) is a great way to get really honest feedback that people who aren’t good at confrontation. Use simple questions with multiple-choice for best results, though always leave room for freeflow notes.
- Design survey questions, keeping them simple
- Collect anonymous responses
- Curate responses plus your own additions into a deck
- Share deck with the project team
- Edit deck with project team comments
- Share deck executive team
c. Go through lessons learned with your team and archive them for future use.
You won’t want to put this much time in a retrospective/feedback cycle and then just toss out or forget the results. All of this data is going to make you a better project team in the future. That’s why I recommend putting together a “final” report of lessons learned, making sure your team has read them and then archiving them.
- Create a Lessons Learned register
- Host a LL meeting with your team
- Gather keyLL
- Compile LL into a document
- Share and store LL document for future use
Final Look and Moving Forward
7. Put together a final project report to audit the project successes/failures.
Goal: Summarize what worked and what didn’t with your project.
a. Host a close-out reporting meeting
In this close-out meeting, you will have a chance to analyze what went well, what didn’t go so well, and what can be improved for next time. You have all of your final reporting, now is the time to go over it. It’s important to do this sooner rather than later, while all the minute details are still fresh in your mind.
- Schedule close-out reporting meeting
- Compare estimates VS results
- Discuss failures
- Discuss solutions
b. Analyze how well the project is delivering against its goals.
Instead of trying to make botched quick fixes, be a bit more strategic. It’s time to start thinking about the next steps and where we take the project from here. We need to work out how is the project performing against the KPIs – to what extent is it getting results? Talk with clients to get conversion data, and use analytics and maybe even more user testing, to identify any issues and explore opportunities to optimize the project.
- Outline important goals
- Measure expected VS reality for goals
8. Create a roadmap for moving forward based on what you have learned.
Goal: Taking the data you have collected and turned it into a plan.
a. Compile all the data you have collected and turn it into a roadmap.
When you’re clear on any issues and opportunities, create a roadmap to carefully define the sequence of implementing them. Plan it out taking into consideration the client’s budget and the importance rather than the perceived urgency of the changes. Start with the quick wins and plan out the bigger opportunities and enhancements.
- Compile all the data you have collected
- Transform data into an actionable roadmap
- Ask the team for roadmap feedback
- Send a roadmap for approval
b. Implement the roadmap once it has been approved.
Start implementing each of the enhancements as a new project. It’s important that the analysis, roadmap, and optimization cycle continues on the project even after the initial roadmap is completed. It’s often at this stage that the priority shifts from function to content in terms of optimization. Explore the project’s ongoing content strategy.
- Discuss the roadmap with your client
- Integrate the clients feedback into the roadmap
- Loop in the account manager
Goal: Let your team know they are valued and congratulate them on their hard work.
a. Consider a personalized acknowledgment to your teammates (gift or note)
When I worked in an office, I’d be sure to do something special for each of my teammates, and they always appreciated it. So, even though I’m remote, I still send a little something to my teammates when we’re done with a project. At the very least, send a thank you note (card) but you can also try smallish gifts or a round of Happy Hour drinks.
- Pick out small gifts/cards for the team
10. Update your credentials
Goal: Have your professional records reflect this most recent completed project.
a. Update your personal credentials
Some people update their professional credentials (resume, LinkedIn, etc.) on an as-needed basis. About to pitch yourself for a project or apply for a job? Quick, scrabble to update the ol’ resume! It’s actually way easier to update your resume at the end of the project closure cycle when all the details are still firm in your mind.
- Update your resume notes
- Update your LinkedIn
- Update any other personal career-oriented profile you have
b. Update your company portfolio
Alongside your “personal” profiles, your company probably has its own set of sources and sites that you will want to update with this most recently completed project. You might update your website, for example, but you might also pull out key stats/visualizations of the project and add it to a physical portfolio, as well.
- Update your company website
- Update your company portfolio
- Update any other company sources/sites
Don’t Do This During Project Closure
So you’ve completed smoke testing, your checklist is complete, the admin is buttoned up and you’re happy the project is complete?
The SoW should clearly define when a project is complete and all in-scope deliverables are delivered.
When the immediate bug fixes are complete, it’s important that we don’t start adding in last-minute feature requests.
Some of the biggest mistakes are made trying to make quick fixes to a project in the days just after it has gone live when clients start panicking and changing their minds about things! Invariably, this kind of botch job leaves the site user experience or design severely compromised. Knee-jerk changes are never thought out properly!
Other Project Closure Procedures To Consider
In some teams, project closure requires some accounting updates, or possibly documentation requirements that apply in some verticals.
There could be any number of things that the PM is required to do at the end of a project that you might not think to do. You should already have a good sense of what is required, but if you’re not sure what is expected of you, make sure you ask about things like any specific accounting updates or documentation requirements.
Why Is Project Closure—And Closing Projects Well—Important?
It’s so tempting to just move to the next thing after a project launches. The extra time and energy to do even more work seem daunting, but it’s really in your best interest as a project manager to close it officially.
You will show your team (and your boss) that you are competent and professional.
You’ll probably glean at least 2 things, usually more, that you can take with you to your next project to make it more successful.
You minimize the chance of problems resurfacing from this project down the road and slowing you down.
You create the opportunity for your team to tweak their process and structure before moving onto the next project.
You’ll end up with a final project report that helps you make updates to your portfolios, processes, and assets.
If you *don’t* close a project properly, you can be setting yourself and your company up for some tough situations.
Ever had a client come to you well after a project is over complaining that items were not completed?
Have you ever realized after launch that some critical component of the product was missed?
Do you see your team carrying the same recurring issues onto new projects?
As a PM, you know that any of these problems could derail any new projects you’ve started working on. Do yourself, your company, and your team a favor and follow these steps to close your project.
All Done? Take A Deep Breath
Take a really deep breath, and if you can, a nice break from work for a bit to congratulate yourself on a job well done, and to clear your mind for your next launch.
This advice isn’t just for complex projects, where it’s pretty obvious that you should take a breather, but even for more run-of-the-mill projects.
Clearing your head, putting a mental “period” at the end of the project sentence, can be really cathartic.
If you can get outside, that’s ideal – look up at the sky, get a lungful of fresh air, allow yourself to go through the last little bits of loose ends from your retrospective and the look on your team’s faces when you gave them a tiny cupcake in brand colors, and breathe out. Reset for the next big wrap-up. And give yourself a high five if no one is looking (as that is super awkward to see)
Wrapping up a project properly is impressive to everyone involved in the project, and it will make you a better PM. The first few times you go through all the steps, it can be daunting, but it will get to be second nature.
Now, get out there, and close some projects!