Project closure is the last stage of a project, when you tie up loose ends, communicate your results, and debrief with your team. Just because you’ve hit your objectives doesn’t mean work is finished, and a clear project closure process ensures that you check every important task off your to-do list before officially wrapping things up. In this article, learn eight steps to help you close projects with confidence.
Longfellow certainly could nail his endings. As one of America’s greatest poets, he understood that great conclusions give poems sticking power—while lackluster endings can ruin even the best writing. And while Longfellow never did get his project management certification (we’re not sure if that was a thing during the 19th century), he can still teach us a thing or two about closing a project.
Projects, like poems, need great endings. Even if you execute your project plan perfectly, a disorganized conclusion can negate all of your hard work. But when you finish strong, you can ensure that your project has clear takeaways, next steps, and sticking power.
Project closure is the last stage of a project, when you tie up loose ends, communicate your results, and debrief with your team. The project closure phase officially puts an end to your project and provides a concrete plan for next steps—whether that’s transitioning project ownership to another team, starting a new project to improve on your work, or incorporating lessons learned into future projects.
You can tailor your project closure process to fit your team’s needs, but here are some key steps to include:
Run final tests to make sure your project deliverable meets expectations (like testing a feature post-launch to make sure it’s still working, or reviewing your final deliverable with stakeholders).
Review your project plan to wrap up loose ends and ensure you haven’t forgotten anything.
Complete administrative tasks—like updating documentation, finalizing your project budget, and reassigning resources.
Communicate notes and next steps to stakeholders.
Hold a project post-mortem meeting to review lessons learned and give your team a chance to provide feedback and adjust their processes.
Circulate a final report that outlines how your project performed relative to its goals.
The term “project closure” comes from the five-phase project management model created by the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI outlines this model in their Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, also known as the PMBOK® Guide. Their model divides the project lifecycle into these five stages:
Project initiation: Broadly define your project and secure buy-in.
Project execution: Launch your project using information from the first two steps.
Project performance: Measure effectiveness using key performance indicators (KPIs).
Project closure: Wrap up loose ends, debrief with stakeholders, and finalize next steps.
It feels great to achieve your final milestones or hit your goal—but that doesn’t mean your work is finished. After you’ve toasted to your success, there are still some important tasks to check off your list before you officially reach the end of the project. Here’s how project closure can help you tick every box and wrap up your initiatives with confidence.
Following a predefined project closure process ensures that your work is complete and that you haven’t forgotten any tasks in your project plan. This last phase of the project includes all those easy-to-miss details like final testing, reviewing your project plan, and communicating results to stakeholders—so you can wrap up projects knowing you’ve checked every box.
Furthermore, the closing phase helps you establish a consensus with stakeholders that your work is effective and complete. That way, everyone knows what you’ve achieved and understands that the project is over.Read: Building the perfect construction punch list
When your project is closed properly, you have concrete next steps: hand work off to another team, start a new project to improve on your work, or incorporate key lessons into future initiatives.
In that way, project closure helps you avoid unwanted scenarios like these:
Your project does not have a concrete end date and your team is responsible for maintaining it indefinitely. For example, imagine you had a project to improve site traffic by 20 percent. Without properly closing your project, you could be held responsible for small tweaks, improvements, and testing indefinitely to improve site traffic.
Your project isn’t handed off to the right team, so it just sits and gathers dust. For example, imagine you created a new project to test a feature on your website. To close your project properly, you should communicate to stakeholders that you’ve accomplished the goal and scope of your project (i.e. to test a feature). Then, you need to hand your testing insights off to the appropriate product team to actually build the feature.
Every project gives your team an opportunity to learn and improve, and project closure ensures that you capture those learnings instead of leaving them behind in your project notes. That’s because a post-mortem meeting is built into the closure process, so your team has a chance to reflect on what went well and what could be improved next time. Discussing project closure with your team often illuminates issues you may not have thought of, since team members can provide an on-the-ground perspective. This means you can continuously improve your project management over time—with every project, you have a chance to learn and streamline team processes, communication, and project execution.
Aside from process improvements, project closure also helps you capture and share key project learnings. In the final report you share with stakeholders, you can capture lessons learned from your actual project data—like takeaways from an A/B test, the results of a user research study, or the timeline for building a new app feature. That way, stakeholders can learn from your project and incorporate those findings into their own work.Read: Asynchronous communication isn’t what you think it is
Before you close your project, you have to determine if it’s complete. But what exactly does that mean?
There are a few ways to determine if your project is finished, but the biggest indicator is whether you’ve achieved the project objectives you set during planning. Regardless of the goal-setting methodology you use, objectives define what success looks like for your project and give you a clear target to aim for. There are several goal setting methods out there, including Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and SMART goals.
Not every project achieves its goals, and that’s ok. Even if you didn’t hit your objectives, you can tell your project is finished when:
You’ve completed the deliverables outlined in your project scope
You’ve completed your project timeline
You’ve used your entire project budget
Closing a project doesn't have to be hard. As you work on projects, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t work for your team. With that knowledge, you can develop your own project closure best practices.
If this is your first time officially closing a project, try these eight steps below. Take notes on what works and what doesn't work so you can refine the process in the future.Create a project closure template
This first step is most useful for teams focused on launching new products or features. Before you formally end work on your project, run final tests to make sure your final deliverable is stable and still performing as expected. This is important because performance often changes post-launch, especially if your product went live to a large number of customers. Often, it can be hard to predict how a product will run at scale before it’s actually launched.
Aside from running technical tests, you can also monitor customer feedback (especially on your social media channels) to see if users are encountering any glaring product errors. If you encounter any big issues, create a follow-up project to fix them.
Next, it’s time to review your project plan and flag incomplete tasks. This helps you tie up loose ends and ensures that you’re not forgetting any critical steps. If you use project management software like Asana, this step is easy because you can see all project tasks in one place—plus their due date, owner, and completion status.
If you forgot something, don’t worry. Take stock of any incomplete tasks and decide whether they’re in your project scope or out of scope. If they’re in scope, make a plan to address those leftover tasks. If they’re out of scope, let stakeholders know and hand off those tasks to the appropriate team.
For example, imagine your development team just finished a website redesign project, and you realize you didn’t complete a task to update banner images on the site. After consulting your project scope statement, you decide that this task is out of scope because your team was primarily focused on infrastructure improvements. Therefore, you pass the leftover task to the design team, who can use the infrastructure you’ve created to update banner images.
Now that you’ve wrapped up loose ends, it’s time to address the administrative side of your project. While administrative tasks can vary by project, here are some common to-do’s to consider:
Make sure all project files and assets are in the right place and that stakeholders know where they are.
Update project documentation, like process documentation, your project budget, and your project schedule. During this process, compare estimates to actual results to see if you were correct. For example, compare estimated vs. actual results for your budget and project timeline.
Make sure project documents are signed, like any vendor contracts or agreements.
Close out any contracts for supplies, subcontractors, donors, or similar external stakeholders.
Wrap up project finances. Make sure your final payments are received or sent, and send your finance team an update with your final budget numbers.
Make sure team members have been reassigned to different projects.
Sell or transfer equipment or other project resources to different teams as needed.
Next up, write a note to your team to fill them in on your wrap-up plan. Let them know about next steps—like how you’ll tackle or transfer ownership of any outstanding project deliverables. In addition, tell your team about closing events they should attend, like a retrospective, project post-mortem, or a final meeting with stakeholders. If you want your team to provide feedback during a post-mortem, now is the time to let them know so they can start preparing.
After you’ve connected with your team, it’s time to sync with your stakeholders. This can either be an asynchronous update or an official wrap-up meeting. Regardless of the format, be sure to include the following information:
A final report, including a summary of what your project accomplished, how it performed compared to the goals you set, and any key successes or failures.
A list of incomplete items that were in scope, plus how you’ll tackle them.
A list of incomplete items that were out of scope, with a quick explanation and details of how you’ll follow up with the appropriate team.
A list of fast-follows you plan to complete as part of your current project or pass off to a different team.
A request for feedback. Ideally, this can be written feedback in the form of a questionnaire or survey.
Holding a project post-mortem meeting is the best way to capture and review lessons learned during each project. During a post-mortem, team members have the opportunity to provide feedback on what went well, what didn’t go well, and what could be improved for next time.
Here are some tips to consider before you host your next post-mortem:
Send team members a list of questions to think about at least two days before the post-mortem meeting. These questions can be as simple as: “What went well, what didn’t go well, and what did we learn?” This helps your team structure their thoughts in advance so they can feel prepared and ready to participate.
During the meeting, share your screen (if you can) and actively take notes to record each person’s feedback. That way, your team can see that their input is valued.
Give each team member dedicated time to share their feedback during the meeting. That way, you can make sure everyone’s voice is heard.
Leave time at the end of your meeting to thank team members for their input. And when you distill their feedback into concrete action items (we’ll get to that in the next step), send your team an update to let them know how you’re addressing their concerns.
After you’ve analyzed how your project went, it’s time to look towards the future. At this point, you can use a project roadmap to plan how you’ll improve and iterate on your final deliverable and management processes:
Consider your final test results from step one and identify any priority issues you want to tackle. For example, if many customers are complaining about slow load times, you could prioritize an initiative to improve site loading speed.
Compile the feedback you received from stakeholders and your project team. Look for common themes and highlight any action items you want to address. For example, if team members shared that they didn’t have enough time to complete tasks, you could set an action item to add additional buffer time into future project schedules.
Create a roadmap to plan how and when you’ll address these action items.
Ask your team for feedback on your roadmap, and get sign-off from relevant stakeholders.
Creating a roadmap for future improvements ensures that you continue to improve and iterate on your final deliverable and project management processes. Plus, it allows you to officially close your current project, then tackle any enhancements in an entirely new initiative. That way, you can prevent projects from dragging on until the final deliverable is “perfect” (something that’s not really attainable anyway).
Celebration can come in many forms—like gifts or cards, a thank you message, a team happy hour, or even a free afternoon off work. Consider your team’s dynamic and the preferences of each team member, and pick the option you think everyone will appreciate the most.
High five—you’ve just successfully closed your project. You’ve checked all the boxes and tied up all the loose ends. Now you can move on to your next initiative with peace of mind, knowing that everything is taken care of and you have a concrete plan for next steps.
If you want to standardize your team’s closing process, consider turning your project closure process into a custom project template. Templates allow you to create a predefined set of steps (like a checklist) that you can duplicate and reuse every time you wrap up a project.Create a project closure template