The activities in this phase are basically administrative for the project manager. She has to ensure the project requirements have all been met and that the customer agrees that the product is acceptable. This phase is often the most difficult phase of a project. The pressure is on to finish the work and meet the budget, schedule, and performance goals set at the beginning of the project. But because of the nature of business, the functional managers supporting your project need those resources for beginning other projects. The project manager often finds himself trying to keep enough of the team together to complete the work that is left. Without completing these termination activities, the project could continue unfinished for months or even years.
There are two audits that are absolutely required before closing the project. They are the technical audit and the financial audit.
The technical audit is performed to determine whether the requirements of the project have been completely met. The project manager and team accomplish this audit by reviewing the scope and specification documents and comparing the requirements against the WBS. If all the requirements are met and the final project deliverables are completed, then the technical audit can be successfully closed.
The financial audit is precisely what one would expect it to be—an evaluation of the finances to ensure that all vendors are paid and that all invoices to the customer are prepared and submitted. The financial audit also compares the actual costs against the planned cost of the project to determine how closely the initial estimates were. This part of the audit becomes extremely important in one of the other termination activities—evaluating and documenting the lessons learned.
Once the audits are completed, the very important step of obtaining customer acceptance can be accomplished.
Project managers, and organizations in general, often make the serious mistake of not ensuring that the original contract or internal memorandum of understanding, if not covered by contract, contains a completion criterion for the project. Completion criteria are established so that the customer can state clearly what the provider must do to satisfy the terms of the agreed project parameters. Completion criteria protect both the customer and the provider because they each know precisely what is expected of the other. Without these criteria, the customer can always claim that the provider has not met the project requirements, and the project will never be closed. Generally speaking, this is not a scenario that is often played out because the customer wants the project finished as much as, if not more than, the provider.
Getting customer sign-off on the project officially completes the project, but there are still activities that have to be finished.
In most cases, IT projects are transferred to another organizational group or team for care and maintenance. The actual maintenance of an IT system is not a project but rather becomes a functional activity. Nevertheless, all the documentation and work of the original project can be viewed as the statement of work (SOW) or scope for the maintenance phase. So the closeout of the project should be accomplished with this view in mind. The successful maintenance and continued customer satisfaction of the product depends in large part on the quality of the information handed over to the maintenance team. Hence, a thorough and well-documented, supported transfer plan is a major activity during the project termination; this is yet another reason for holding the team together until all phase activities are completed.
One of the most neglected activities of the termination phase is the "lessons learned" effort. The reason so few organizations support this activity is simply that there is a rush to start the next project, and the resources are desperately needed elsewhere. In short, the feeling is that the organization can't afford to lose its resources to this kind of activity. The irony is that a lessons learned meeting generally only takes two to three hours because most of the data are already available in the status reports. Basically all that remains is to collect individual thoughts, opinions, and comments about what went well and what didn't during the project. It is also important for the project manager to record his evaluations of the project team members. The objective in a lessons learned exercise is not to place blame but to evaluate actions and skills, people and technical skills, so that future project teams have the benefit of knowing how best to utilize the talents of the resource pool.
After the lessons learned activity is completed, the only thing left is for the project manager and team to close the project office.
Closing a project office is difficult or relatively easy, depending on whether the office is a loose structure within the organization or an actual office on the customer's site. If the latter, there can actually be a considerable amount of work involved. There may be a rental agreement that has to be paid off or terminated. Or, a transfer of responsibility has to be made. There also may be utilities and telephones to disconnect, and office furniture that must be disposed of. In many instances, the customer will have furnished equipment, usually computers, for the development effort. If so, these customer-owned assets have to be properly accounted for, returned, or disposed of in accordance with the client's direction.
In addition to disposing of the physical assets of the project office, the project manager is responsible for archiving the project documentation. This documentation usually is of two types: the project control book, which contains all the plans, status reports, and all other technical information, and the legal documentation. The legal documentation will contain such things as the contract, if from an outside customer, or a memorandum of understanding, if from an internal customer. It may also include memoranda between the project manager and customer and other stakeholders, in addition to any other documentation that has to do with the contractual aspects of the project.
One final but very important project manager activity in this phase is the reassignment of people resources. The project manager may not have functional responsibility for the team members. In fact, she probably won't have that responsibility unless the project operates in a projectized organizational structure. But at the very least, the project manager should make recommendations about how best to utilize the team members. This action not only engenders trust and loyalty on future projects. It also helps the organization maximize the use of individual skill sets.