Stripping Project Management to Its Core: Closing or... Learning how to Learn

Project closures tend to be executed in a quick & superficial manner. People want to get rid of the project and move on to something new, as soon as possible. Unfortunately, doing this, means you are wasting a great opportunity to learn and improve. In this article, I would like to go through they key steps of a good project closure and argue that, doing this right, is key to learning and development.

Did you pay your debts?

Just like any outstanding member of society pays his/her debts on time, projects need to do the same. Once you have delivered the project and its promise, it is time to close everything by starting with paying debts.
By debts, don’t think only of contracts with suppliers and the money involved in these contracts. Think also of debts towards individuals: Does the team deserve a bonus? Do you need to reward special contributors?

Debts can be financial, moral, political, psychological, etc. Make sure you take them all into account and pay them appropriately.

Did you deliver what was planned?

A project must be evaluated before it can be considered closed. The main question that needs answering is: Did the project actually deliver what was planned?

The answer to this question will be given by the project team, important stakeholders and the end users of what has been delivered. Make sure all the important parties are involved in evaluating the end deliverables, and giving their vote on the closure of the project.

Did you achieve the desired benefits?

This is a questions which, depending on the context of the project, can take quite some time to answer. For some projects, you can give a good answer only once a number of months have passed since delivering the project. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean you should skip the question. On the contrary. Projects are not just about creating deliverables, they are first and foremost about delivering benefits.

What’s different between the end results and your plans, and why?

As with anything in life, people will have different opinions on the degree of your project’s completion. Make sure you talk through the deliverables where people seem to have different perspectives. Listen to them carefully and learn the source of these discrepancies in perspective. They might be caused by simple misunderstandings or they might be real problems that need to be tackled before the closure of the project.

Also, don’t forget to compare the benefits you expected to those you actually achieved.

What did you learn?

Before closing the project, you should ask two final questions. There first is: what did you learn on this project? Even if you don’t consider this to be true, any project is a learning experience. The scale of learning will be different between projects but you always learn something. Make sure you write things down: both positive and negative lessons about the project delivery.

One not so obvious tip is to spend more time focusing on the positive lessons. Think about what went well, make sure you capture everything and do more of the same in the future. Focusing too much on the negatives only fosters blame games and non-productive behaviors & outcomes.

What will you do differently?

Learning without practice has very little value. Once you are clear on what you have learned from this project’s delivery, write down what you will do differently on your next project and actually do it. This is key to making sure you always keep an open mind and you improve yourself from project to project.


This article ends our pretty long series on Stripping Project Management to Its Core. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and you consider it a useful exercise. Any feedback you have out it is welcome, so don’t hesitate to leave a comment.

Related content:

Learning from New Product Development Projects
Stripping Project Management to Its Core: Executing & Controlling a Project

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