How to Successfully End a Project by: Phil Alsup

How to Successfully End a Project

Let’s start with a quick quiz. When would you believe a project is completed?

  1. When the goal is hit.
  2. When it blows up.
  3. When the due date for project has passed.
  4. When the team loses focus on it.

If you are going with “none of the above” then you are on the right path. Projects have deadlines and how much is accomplished (or not) depends on these factors. As a leader we need to realize though a project may have its action items checked off the completed list in many cases a project isn’t completed until some scrutiny is put on it. Did this project hit the goals? What do those outcomes mean for future work? What unexpected barriers were encountered? Each project, big or small, can be a teachable moment regardless of the level of success of its action items. In fact, it really can’t be considered completed until some evaluation has been put upon it.

Executing a successful evaluation, or a post mortem as they are called, is a key skill for anyone who wants to lead.

In the previous post we examined five steps to begin a project. Executing a successful evaluation, or a post mortem as they are called, is a key skill for anyone who wants to lead. You can demonstrate value to your organization when you can communicate succinctly what was learned and what might be applied. Successfully doing this is limited to the quality of information you can mine from the project team so you want to create an environment that allows for well-developed thoughts to be presented and shared. These five simple steps can set your team up for this.

Step 1: The Need for Speed

Remember basic physics? Anyone? Anyone? Before you check out because you think this is going down a rabbit hole there is a principle to be applied here. Simplifying a complex law of science the process of entropy is the word for the dynamic that minimizes potential. Think of a mug of hot coffee sitting at room temperature. Does it stay hot? No. It loses the potential to stay hot as time passes. The same dynamic takes place with your team. As days pass what they remember about the project dissipates. In fact, some research is now demonstrating our mind can only work about four items at once. As days and weeks go by the focus will move to more urgent matters and they will begin to lose sight of what went well and what were pain points. You want to schedule a time for project evaluation very soon after the work of the project has wrapped up.

It would be easy to think a large group gives you more data. The opposite is true.

Step 2: Set the Environment

There are two larger considerations here. First, is a conference room or a meeting room conducive to good thinking and is it far enough from the distractions that could interrupt the meeting? Sometimes it is but sometimes you need to change the environment to get people engaged. Second, bigger is not better. It would be easy to think a large group gives you more data. The opposite is true. A small group of invited people strategically connected to the project will give you the best data. That doesn’t mean you can’t invite certain people in for short segments to give insights on particular aspects but overall a small group who have the deepest view on the overall project is preferable.

Step 3: Setting the Group Up for Success

You can expect to get quality input from your group by how well you set them up. Everyone processes and shares information in different ways. Some team members will benefit from knowing the exact agenda and what is going to be asked of them. Send the team the agenda beforehand with assignments on which they can do some pre-work so that everyone is ready to go when the meeting begins.

Step 4: Assign Roles Beforehand

Seek to facilitate the meeting but don’t take responsibility for sharing the information that is being processed. Some team members may see bias in this and that you are trying to control the message. Organize the meeting and send out specific leadership assignments to the appropriate team members beforehand. Then let the meeting flow naturally from the agenda. It’s OK to ask critical questions but weight them carefully making sure that by a question you haven’t shut down input others might share. File away questions that may have this type of risk and follow-up with individuals later if you want to lower the risk of team members feeling they can’t honestly share.

Gleaning valuable information can change the perception of a project that may not have gone well to one viewed favorably due to what was learned.

Step 5: Use What Is Learned to Teach the Organization

This is the ultimate value of a good post mortem. What of value that has been learned can be shared with other areas of work? How has this project been a case study for the organization? Has it pointed out flaws in processes? Has it pointed out frustrations that keep team members from being productive? Most projects are full of applications for other areas of work.

Taking these steps will wrap up a big project or task well. Gleaning valuable information can change the perception of a project that may not have gone well to one viewed favorably due to what was learned. Leaders must always be looking for ways to increase efficiencies and for ways to do things better and a successful post-project evaluation can pay big results toward this.