At an organisational portfolio level, this is probably one of the most important pieces of activity in a project / programme lifecycle; yet in many organisations, very little is done to support this activity by the senior leadership.
Traditionally, text book project management states this is a process in a lifecycle to review what has been delivered, did the project meet the sponsor’s expectations, what is left to be done, and who owns the actions to continue the work the project has produced.
‘Information is not Knowledge’ – Albert Einstein
Close Down a Project or Programme is much more than a final review (post implementation review or PIR) or paper filling exercise. Project Managers, Programme Managers and PMO’s gather so much information during a project and programmes life, yet it is extremely rare that this information is analysed, discussed and a conclusion is made, ultimately creating knowledge for the organisation on what went well, and what has been learned so the organisation can do it better next time.
Wouldn’t it be great if we learned from our mistakes?
‘Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them’ – Bruce Lee
The close down of a project should be kept to the utmost truth, and not used as an opportunity to spin a bad project into a success story. This exercise should not be used to blame the project manager; that is what personal performance reviews and appraisals are for. Most cases of project failure are as much the fault of the sponsor and key stakeholders, but the close down review should be kept professional and focus on the facts rather than the personalities involved; then the organisation can take the information, understand what went well and what could have been done different, resulting in improving the knowledge for the organsiation.
What next? File away the report and never to be seen again?……… NO!!!!
Once again, too many organisations file away the final Project Close Down report (or Post Implementation Review – P.I.R.), and the project managers and sponsors move on, then the knowledge that the organisation has paid for has been wasted, never to be seen again.
If an organisation or project department could place a financial value to knowledge, it would take the matter more seriously. For example, what if every project close down report was worth £10,000 (US $15,000), and an organisation completed 10 projects per year…. how many Directors eyes would light up at the thought of losing £100,000 (US$150,000)?
Sometimes a PMO has to agree up an estimated value of what the close down report is worth; this will help drive the right behaviour throughout the business.
More importantly, this report should be kept in a database (or spreadsheet), and the PMO can pull down past projects which are similar to the ones being started, hand this report to the Project Manager and Sponsor of the new project, then ensure lessons are learned and the knowledge is not just retained and reused by the organisation, and developed within the next project.
Some of the types of information which could be captured in a Project Close Down are:
- Risks and Issues Log / Lessons Learned Log / Decisions Log
- Original estimates – time, costs, resources, effort, product descriptions / requirements, benefits, risks, stakeholders
- Effect (e.g. positive / negative financial impact)
- Causes / trigger
- Whether there were any early warning indicators
- Whether it was previously identified as a risk (threat or opportunity)
- What went well?
As a PMO looks across most projects, the PMO can do their piece of ‘continuous improvement’ by reviewing all close down reports periodically at a ‘Project Improvement Forum’ or PIF.
A PIF can be attended by Project Managers, or anyone working on Projects, and the time should be used as a ‘time out’ for all project professionals, where the PMO can set up a workshop and agenda based on trends from close down reports (past and present), annonymise the information and lessons learned, then use the opportunity to collectively come up with solutions and improvements to increase the chances of success for current and future projects within that organisation. Try holding a PIF for 2 hours every quarter….. I have, and the Project Managers really enjoyed it as an escape from the stress of their current project, they benefited from group coaching they received from other project managers, and the doughnuts that the PMO turned up with ensured 100% attendance.
The added bonus of the PIF’s….. engagement and relationship between the PMO and the Project Managers increased so much, that Project Managers would often come to the PMO on a regular basis for informal advice, creating a pull culture for the PMO rather than a push. The Project Managers would also appreciate the challenges faced by the PMO and help make life a little easier for them.
None of this is easy, but implementing a Close Down Meeting, giving the document a financial value, organising the information into a database (or spreadsheet), re-using this knowledge on current and future projects, and finally setting up a PIF, will increase the success of projects within an organisation.
Projects are expensive, and the organisation should have a strategy to ensure these expensive investments have the lessons learned and knowledge gathered to reduce future investments or improve the successful delivery of them with the PMO at the centre of the improvements.