How to close an IT project with flair

The project is complete, but users keep calling you about "one more thing." Sound familiar? What is an IT pro to do?

OK, so you've worked for weeks, months, or maybe longer delivering an IT project. Every part of the solution has been tested and retested, all the documentation and manuals have been polished and handed over, and the training is complete. You've checked all the boxes. In your heart and mind, you know the project is complete, but you have this nagging feeling. And those users, they keep calling you about "just one more thing."  What's going on? Why isn't this project closed out?  Sound familiar? More importantly, what's an IT pro to do?

The project's done — now what?

Whether you work in an internal IT group or as an external consultant, it's likely that you've experienced the challenge of trying to effectively communicate that a project is closed. Done. Finished. Over. And now, it's time to shift to operating mode. Well, take comfort, you're not alone. Time and again, I see it happen. The project is done, everything seems to be in hand, but the user community isn't ready to let go of IT's hand-holding role just yet.

It's not that the user community doesn't want the project to be over or that they're not ready to jump in the pilot's seat. It's just that emotionally switching to operate mode from a design/build mode can be tricky. Your users have an emotional connection to the project. More importantly, they have an emotional connection to you and the role you have played. The role of dedicated IT professional who is super keen is to make sure the project is a success and fully meets their needs. And letting go of that high-touch relationship can be hard. What's more, the longer the project has been going on, the harder it is for them.

So, what's to be done?

First you have to be 100% sure that the project is actually complete. It may sound pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how often I see projects "re-opened" because they were never completed properly. Once this happens, good luck getting the "project is closed" message to stick.

But assuming that the project is legitimately complete, it's time to focus on overcoming the special attachment the user community has with you so that you can get your life back and move on to your next big success.

How do you do it? Have a meeting? Send a broadcast e-mail announcement?

The problem with these rather conventional methods is that they fly right under the radar. Another e-mail. Another meeting. It takes a more visceral approach to help your beloved (OK, maybe not always so beloved) user community to understand that the project is over.

Sometimes, you need a little flair

A great way to get the message across is to find something to set the message apart, to communicate the project's completion in a unique way.

What do I mean by flair? I don't mean a confetti canon or a troop of juggling monkeys. Think of flair as a way to punctuate your message. Sort of like an exclamation point.

But rather than talking about it, let me give you an example. My colleague, the very talented Christopher Gorgoni, recently completed a project with a client that involved implementing a comprehensive work management system.

The client team was rightfully "attached" to Chris. Together they had built a whole new set of processes and a really slick Web-based workflow system to manage the IT work queue. As such, even after the project was completely done, Chris still found himself acting as the primary conduit for all matters relating to the system and its processes, even after the time had come for the user community to fully take the reins themselves.

They knew how to use the system. In fact, they had already been using it for months. Still, they were slow to mentally take ownership. Any problem, any support request, any question went to Chris. They needed to move on. The project was done, and Chris was no longer necessary in that role.

How Chris handled the situation

Working in conjunction with the client's management team, he created a sort of "graduation ceremony" for the core team of users; a tongue-in-cheek sort of party. It was intentionally a bit cheesy and lighthearted.

He served colorful cupcakes and handed out graduation certificates. He also gave each of the users a little gift for working so hard over the previous few months and embracing the change so well.

And you know what? It worked. The user community got the point. It was a visceral milestone that was hard to miss. They appreciated it and embraced it.

Cupcakes may not be for everybody

Now, you may want to do something a tad subtler or a little more over the top. That's entirely based on the nature of the user community and your particular organizational culture. But you will be surprised how far a bit of fun will take you.

The key is to do something that sets this event apart from the day-to-day activities, whatever works for you. Just remember to thank everyone who had a hand in getting things done. Each and every person deserves a very public heartfelt pat on the back. Because without them, it really would not have gotten done.

Moving on

Closing a project with a little bit of unexpected flair is an excellent way to roll a "thank you" into an otherwise bland procedural task. It's a way to use an ordinary event — the end of a project — to make people feel good about themselves and their work and really communicate that a project is over.

It's taking time to pause at the door, take one last look behind you, offer a wave and a smile... before moving on.

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