Emerging Tech

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.

65 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

In years past a project launch was an excuse to drink, fight, and eat to excess as well as other things. The stories that could be told about the early Apple projects and Microsoft projects would make you blush.

nepper
nepper

Closure. That also means that unsuccessful projects need to be closed, to allow people to move on (and start sleeping at night). Not that I'd know what an unsuccessful project looks like :) And people need to be thanked in any case.

JonnyDee
JonnyDee

In my book, project closure should always be agreed with some sort of project steering/governance group (which should be both strong on user/customer presence and have some lifetime after project completion), and handover to ongoing support should be arranged. Users can't be left in the lurch after the project has supposedly completed, and the project owner/senior responsible person should be involved to ensure that product support benefits from the knowledge that was within the project.

alistair.k
alistair.k

Again, I'm struck by the level of mysanthropy in this place. Someone wants to give me cup cakes, fair enough, I like cup cakes well enough. I often get biscuits or a box of chocolates as a "thank you" from people we've done work for when we close out. Its a nice gesture. Do I give a monkey's toss whether they get paid more than me? Meh. there are some seriously bitter & twisted folks seem to be regular contributors to the comments here. You attract back what you give out. If thats how you act to people in your workplaces I'm not surprised you are miserable and negative because you take that attitude into everything, people see you that way, and they treat you that way. Its a circle. I think some people don't like nice gestures because they would far rather complain about how nobody ever recognises their contribution, then when someone does, then its "just not good enough"... "Happy being miserable" as the old song goes.

mmurray49
mmurray49

Well intentioned yes, cheesy, yes. Attractive as a solution to me? No. "Cup cakes" and "little gifts" are for Wusses... and I'd (personally) feel insulted/unappreciated after "months of hard work". Do tank crews have "a hard time emotionally switching" from one system to the next? Again, well intentioned but... Time off or gift cards for two at least...

reisen55
reisen55

At the end of a project, bring in a pizza or box of doughnuts. Always works wonders.

bergenfx
bergenfx

I think it is just like anything else. People know if your appreciation is sincere or not. I have been in situations where companies were not acting in the best faith, and the "thanks" they were proffering was just further manipulation of their employees--and the employees knew it. And then I have been in situations where the gratitude was sincere, and regardless of the form of the gratitude, the employees knew that too. If you are putting on a cheap thank you fest, and your regard for your employees is low, then they will readily detect that you are buying at a very cheap price and be insulted. A simple, heartfelt "I know how much you did, how much you sacrificed to make this happen," would be far superior. For my part, I tended toward a no-limit dinner, (even if I had to pay for part of it myself to clear expense budgets), with a simple and brief expression of my thanks. Most of the time they knew.

Meadowsong
Meadowsong

A project (a temporary endeavor undertaken to produce a unique product, service or result) should be closed in much the same way it is initiated: with a meeting that delineates the formal end of project. A kickoff meeting identifies the key deliverables, timeline, milestones, project team and processes. A closeout meeting does the same thing: in reverse. It reviews the project performance against key milestones, risk events and deliverables (aka lessons learned), identifies the roles and responsibilities for ongoing operations and identifies any functionality that was not in the approved project scope. Issues might get a bit stickier as to who is responsible for repair but generally are turned over to the operational staff. Allowing the project to add several "one more things" is simply scope creep. New projects may be identified to address the new scope or those functions can become the responsiblity of the identified operational staff.

david.cuthill
david.cuthill

I think you get the milestone signed off by the client and a new invoice sent in for after-sales maintenance. If they still want you, why not keep billing them?

cmejia
cmejia

I had a cross-departmental project that no one wanted to take ownership of when completed. At the end I held a meeting letting everyone know that there was a newly formed committe that all change requests should be directed. It was made up of VP's of Sales, Engineeing and Marketing since they all had to have visibility of what the other departments were planning. No new changes could take place without the approval of the entire committee. Worked like a charm and got me out of the loop!

KentWalker
KentWalker

Do confetti canons run of a USB port?

santeewelding
santeewelding

A poke in the eye with a sharp stick, no matter what these other, jaded comments have to say. All I got me for six months of emergency medical training was a piece of paper. I was right proud of that.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

on mere documentation and support. Where does the money for the management bonus and our sticky bun come from? Setting expectation is the key part of project success, quality, documentaion and support, are the first three things sacrificed in response to any type of failure. And all three are the best options for dealing with failure after completion, which all IT projects suffer from in one form or another, even if it's only ane environment change over the life time of the project. There's a lesson in there somewhere, very few seem to have learnt. Change is a given.

Mark A. Lewis
Mark A. Lewis

Great idea! Squeal the tires a little while performing a burn-out!

Mark A. Lewis
Mark A. Lewis

Hey, maybe many of the posters here could care less about recognition. Some prefer just doing their jobs and being left alone. As for me, pass the cupcakes and "You're Welcome!"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

That's why rewarding months of hard graft leading to notable success should not be rewarded with a biscuit. Our place takes us for a meal and a few beers, even forgets to have us go back for the rest of the afternoon. Personally I could pass on that. My idea of a reward whould be working on an even higher value , higher profile project.. Piss poor attitude that isn't it? Get over yourself.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I will forgive your testimony as to operation of another soul. I happen to agree with you.

cln
cln

and you could still serve cupcakes!

TooOldToRemember
TooOldToRemember

Folks, if you are brought in to manage a project the close should just be another step in the entire project schedule. Use the "lessons learned" portion of the closing to define new projects if necessary, but close the project. A celebration, dinner, graduation or whatever can be part of the closing process and serves to show a transition.

gechurch
gechurch

You are absolutely correct, but it's not a case of having one or the other. You should do both. If a manager signs off, but you continue to get requests from employees you are now sending out invoices for work that management didn't know about. They probably aren't going to be wrapped. Obviously the answer is to make sure future requests go through management. And that's the point of the end of project party. A very clear way of letting everyone involved know the project has been signed off, and end users should no longer be contacting you direct.

flores.cm
flores.cm

.....but Rocket Launchers do - complete with sound effects! http://www.thinkgeek.com/interests/techies/8a0f/ And judging by some of the comments made on this topic I'd worry that some folks might want those instead of confetti! And although I personally own a USB Rocket Launcher as a gift from a co-worker for a job well done, I say - Bring on the cupcakes!

kenjunior
kenjunior

I cannot believe the negativity of the comments. Seriously, a cheesy informal "over done" celebration for a project of such I think was a great way to say "we've completed it, now lets move on". Furthermore, if all you're concerned about is what management got in bonuses for your hard work, well there's the door . Maybe a career change is in order, ditch digging or asphalt layer would lighten you up a little? After all, if you hate your job so much I would guess others around you really don't enjoy your presence.

cln
cln

And I guess you're working for free ...

bergenfx
bergenfx

I am not licensed to operate other souls. I failed the driver's test.

v r
v r

As a PM on many large projects/programs, I completely agree that the Close is another step in the project/program schedule and that a subsequent project or phase can be defined in the "lessions learned" portion. I has also been my experience that people appreciate the token certificate, however corny it may seem at the time. I have found that people tend to take pride in collecting these silly things in their workspaces. When it is time to update their resumes, they also find them useful as reminders of what they have actually contributed to their employers.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

My da used to do that. Good honest work, unlike management..... As for there's the door. I doubt you'd get past the interview stage in order to get opportunity to show me it.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

"completed a project with a client" This was an external consultant not a integral member of the staff pool. As such the whole thing was condescending to the others in pool! Ken, like, chips n' at?

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Not tongue in cheek, it's my one redeeming quality....

cln
cln

At no time did I mean to imply that you are worthless or a liar, and sincerely apologize if my remarks could be taken in that context. Mostly I was tongue-in-cheek as I thought you were, but that's hard to convey in this forum. As for the other points I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree and hopefully move on.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

explicitly call me a worthless liar, you weren't being insulting? Was I supposed to be too dumb to figure out what you were infering? This person gets you all too well.....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Do I work for free? Erm No Put your leader/manager hat on for a minute for another hypothetical scenario. At the sticky bun party, one of your people doesn't look that cheerful. Let's pretend for a moment that you give a crap. Said individual responds with they would rather work on the next big project than eat this piece of unhealthy fast food. Would your response be a sarcastic I bet you work for free as well? Is this response professional? What does such a response really indicate? If you have so little respect for this person, why did you bother thanking them at all? If they have so little value why did you waste an entire sticky bun on them? Guilt?, Going through the motions, you read an article by some dumbass on TR, and thought that's a cheap way of looking good? Remember I didn't ask for a sticky bun I didn't ask for a raise. I didn't ask for a bonus I didn't ask for praise. I didn't even ask to be thanked. I asked for an opportunity to prove my value, so what does that say about me? More to the point waht does it say about someone who would respond in that fashion, and of course those who would defend them? Hypothetically speaking of course....

cln
cln

I gave up after being called a "minor". When people resort to name calling the discussion has basically degraded at that point. To me, the author's original idea was simply "have a little fun when closing out a project." Thanks for carrying on making the point but this person just isn't likely to get it.

gechurch
gechurch

Instead of trying to discredit cln by suggesting they are a minor (and presumably therefore that their opinion is not worthy), why not answer the question? You get paid to work, right? That's the deal... you work, the company pays you. So why do you deserve so much praise and thanks, for doing what you are employed to do? If you think it's because of how hard you work, or how much more you contribute, or how much smarter you are than everyone else, you might like to open your eyes. There are thousands of people that work exceptionally hard. That's called being a professional. And whinging that the additional thanks you get isn't good enough... that's called being a self-centred child (or minor, if you prefer).

bergenfx
bergenfx

or do you prefer Mr Welding ... or Chairman Sanitee? Off-roading is sometimes a problem, but I do try.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Well I intended to write this code much quicker and with far less bugs. So it's OK it's crap then? After all I intended to do it right... Keep the sticky buns, if you want to show appreciation, pay me more, or give me work I can get paid more for. I'll be grateful then... I suggest you take your own advice.

gechurch
gechurch

It is your fault because as the receiver of the gift, it is your choice how to take it. The gift was given as a genuine way of saying thank you. Regardless of how insignificant or crap the gift was, a decent person would recognise that it is the persons way of saying thank you, and they would appreciate that. Far too often these days work goes unnoticed. This person has taken the time out to come up with a way of noticing you, and showing that they appreciate your efforts. To not appreciate that, because you consider the gift to be too trivial is completely and utterly rude in my opinion. And if you have that attitude, don't bother complaining the next time your efforts go unrewarded. If someone went out of their way to thank you, and you complained that it was insincere or not to the extent that you deserve, why would they bother trying to thank you again next time? Get over yourself. Try taking a look at situations from others point of view.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

when you do something for them that THEY value! Which bit of this simple concept do you fail to comprehend? I wouldn't expect more than a simple thankyou for saving your life, never mind a project. This is about your expectation, not mine. You expect me to be grateful, I'm not, end of story. Live with it. Employ too many people that are the sort to be grateful on IT projects, and you won't have anything to say thankyou for.

cln
cln

I think you are so offended by cupcakes (and sticky buns) that you entirely missed the point of what was intended. As I mentioned in another post I have used various methods of saying thank you, depending on the nature of the project and who is on the receiving end. I agree that a thank you a techie might appreciate could be entirely different than someone in a non-techie role (the article mentioned user community). The main point is the THANK YOU and the CLOSE OUT of the project. Why is it your fault? Let's start with attitude and gratitude and a change in both. ;) I know I won't win this one but I had to try.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Some organisation that trained and policed management? Why is it my fault your token of appreciation to me indicates a lack of appreciation. This may be a bit outside of the box for you, perhaps even too radical. Maybe, just maybe a sticky bun isn't that much of a reward. Be honest you arec one of those people who puts foreign coins in blind beggar's bowls aren't you.

cln
cln

Why do you dislike management/managers so much? I'm sure there must be a good therapist or support group somewhere you could join.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

the OP, who think it's a great way of boosting team morale. Not many think our morale would be boosted... So there's something wrong with us then? Good job you are in management, you'd be crap at logic. Instead of just coming up with some cheap cheesy crap it pleases you to hand out, why don't you ask your people how they would like to mark the end of the project. Hmm might cost money that eh? Could come out of that cost savings bonus you are on... Career malfunction sort of thing when your boss says all the other managers are happy with the result of a cup cake and a 2 inch high power ranger.... Like I said I'd rather have nothing than this shite. If you find some feebleminded doormat in the same team that thinks it's a good idea, find another room to masturbate in, I'm busy and it's distracting.

ocmel001
ocmel001

I have been the 'client' and have just been ignored as the way of being weened off of the consultant. At least this was an acknowledgement and graceful goodbye, and I'm sure they'd love to have that consultant back for future projects. I'm amazed at the rightiousness of some of the comments. Good grief do you all really think you are SO above it all? Get over yourselves and loosen up! I'd hate to think how miserable I'd be if an article like this or behavior described within it got me so inflamed, thank goodness I'm not like you negativos out there, life is good.

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