Having Trouble Closing the Project?

Closeout isn’t any easy time for project managers. You’d think they would be feeling relief. Rather, it’s closer to anxiety. You know the scenario …. you and your team have faced your fair share of issues on the project – no project is without issues and rough spots. But for the most part, things have progressed rather well. Even user acceptance testing went off without too much of a hitch.

Now you’re almost ready for implementation, and post-deployment activities and things are becoming harder to control. Why? This should be the easy part, right? I call this the ‘Steve Blass Syndrome’ of project management (after the 1960’s and 1970’s Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher who was very good and then suddenly couldn’t get the ball over the plate – ok, so maybe I’m the only one who remembers him….). So why would things suddenly become difficult so close to the end of successful project?

Here are a few reasons why this is often the case…

Project Team Challenges

  • Loss of team functionality as some members complete their tasks
  • Project team members become heavily involved in startup activities on new projects
  • Loss of interest in tasks such as documentation and administrative work
  • Fear of no future work – team members and consultants may drag their feet

Technical Challenges

  • Start-up problems with new products or new designs
  • Thorough identification and agreement on all remaining deliverables
  • Loss of control of the charges to the project as things are winding down – people start doing ‘whatever it takes’ to get through the final push often damaging the project budget
  • Hand-off issues in transition to tech support

Customer Challenges

  • Agreement on what outstanding commitments still exist
  • Absence of a clear hand-off strategy
  • Change of responsible personnel at critical transition points
  • Unavailability of key personnel
  • Difficulty agreeing on sign off on remaining punch-list issues

That final push should be easy but it isn’t. This list probably isn’t all-inclusive – in fact I know it’s not and I welcome your thoughts and input on this. From my experience on projects, the final push has become the most difficult when a few remaining issues exist. What looked like a day’s work to resolve minor outstanding technical issues can sometimes become weeks full of effort trying to go to an agreed upon stopping point. This is often due to the customer feeling like they’ll be left out in the cold if they agree to sign off and allow implementation with anything left on the table in terms of issues.

Likewise, there can be billing issues that remain outstanding and keep a project from coming to a swift and happy implementation and shutdown. Vendors are apprehensive about deploying the final solution if there is a hint that they might not get paid very soon for final efforts.

Summary / call for input

There are a number of reasons and it’s sad that it can have such a momentum-sucking affect on the project and both teams, but it’s a reality. The only solution is to keep moving forward, work closely and cohesively with your team and customer, and listen to concerns. Keep personnel motivated and focused on finishing off THIS project so you can release them for their new projects. Keep the customer and their team engaged so that all final sign offs and handoffs can be successfully accomplished.

What about you project professionals reading this – what challenges have you faced closing out the project? Is it usually an issue or do things go off without a hitch? Please share and discuss.