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Don’t Skip Close-Out Meetings

Future projects will benefit

Published: Monday, October 22, 2007 - 22:00

People in an organization usually move from one project to another, repeating the same mistakes, dealing with similar crises, despairing over underperforming team members, and more. Over and over. Some people learn informally what made one project successful and another unsuccessful, but knowledge is seldom formally captured.

The project management office research conducted by Business Improvement Architects of more than 750 global organizations reveals that two-thirds of the respondents are responsible for archiving documentation, although few organizations actually do so.

Archiving documentation at the completion of a project is the primary method of knowledge retention and transfer. More active approaches include knowledge-management systems and knowledge-sharing sessions.

How to retain lessons learned
BIA’s research found that organizations value passing along what worked and didn’t work on a project. This process begins with capturing lessons learned at the close of each project and retaining this information in a database. Two methods commonly used to retain the information and share it with future project teams include storage on an intranet site or on shared network drives in an organization’s database.

The close-out meeting
Knowledge retention contributes to continuous learning and helps to avoid repeated mistakes. To retain project knowledge for future project teams, a project close-out meeting, which should have been included in the project management’s deliverables, must be held as soon as possible, while the knowledge about the management of the entire project is still fresh in everyone’s mind. The meeting’s purpose is to review the project and decide what the organization can learn from it.This meeting isn’t a blame session. The product of the close-out meeting is an archived document—lessons learned—that is available to future projects, managers, and teams.

Who should attend the close-out meeting?
The project manager and team should attend the close-out meeting. It may also be useful to invite resources or stakeholders who can contribute. In some situations, it can be advantageous to have an outside facilitator lead the meeting. This helps to ensure that the discussions are objective and that everyone’s input is captured.

What happens at the close-out meeting?
The facilitator of the meeting introduces the session and explains its purpose. A series of open-ended questions ensure that the discussion is focused.

Here are some suggested questions:

  • What were the major project successes?
  • What were the major challenges?
  • What could have been done to have increased the successes and decreased the number of difficulties on the project?
  • Can this information be passed to other projects? If so, what would they be?
  • What were the actual project deliverables vs. the original plan?
  • How close to the schedule was the project actually completed?
  • What was learned about scheduling that will help future projects?
  • What was learned about the scheduling of activities and tasks?
  • What unanticipated project benefits were derived?
  • What was learned about the scheduling of resources that will help future projects?
  • How close to budget was the final project cost?
  • What did the project team learn about budgeting that will help them on future projects?
  • Were the right people included in the project team?
  • Were the team roles and responsibilities clear?
  • To what extent did the stakeholder positively or negatively affect the project?
  • Upon completion, did the project output meet the stakeholder’s requirements without additional work?
  • If additional work was required, why was it necessary?
  • How was change managed through the project?
  • What risks occurred on the project that weren’t anticipated?
  • What could have been done to anticipate these risks?
  • What was learned about risk management that will help future projects?
  • To what extent did you manage the project by following the established quality criteria?

The results of the discussions are summarized in a close-out report. This report includes the project’s successes, failures, lessons learned, recommendations for future projects, and other items that future project teams can benefit from.

What happens after the close-out meeting?
The project manager reviews and distributes the close-out report to the project team, project sponsor, and others. The report is archived with the other project documentation.

What documentation should be archived?
Key project documents should be retained so that the lessons learned can be easily passed to future projects, including:

  • Project scope
  • Project team structure
  • Project plan (originally baselined and all subsequent re-baselined plans)
  • Issue-management logs
  • Change requests and change logs
  • Risk-management report
  • Budget (original vs. actual)
  • Close-out project evaluation
  • Close-out project team evaluation
  • Final reports and recommendations

Transfer of best practices
An important responsibility for the project management office is to capture and retain a database of lessons learned from all projects, especially for new project management offices. Bring project managers together to discuss projects undertaken over the last six to 12 months. Hold discussions about what should be repeated, what should be avoided, and any other suggestions for project teams.

Lessons learned can be accessed through intranet storage or via shared network drives, both of which can be easily searched.

Developing an intranet storage system requires that the project management office set up keywords in the project’s lessons learned document. Many search tools will even search text in documents so the project management office may not need to convert lesson learned documents to an HTML format.

Almost every organization has shared network drives that are used to keep files so that employees can easily access the documents. The project management office may store all documents in a single folder or in subfolders within the project folder. Project managers can then search that folder for specific terms. The resulting list of documents that contain those terms just selects those that contain the requested phrase, but doesn’t rank them. While this method involves more work to sift through the documents, it is usually easier to start using because it rarely involves the system support staff to set it up.

Summary
The project management office’s goal is to help their organization manage projects. Managing projects across departments, locations, and countries is best managed when project knowledge is passed on from one project to the next, reducing repeated, costly mistakes. The project management office is responsible for ensuring consistency in the management of all elements of all projects. The successful management of these projects has a direct effect on the organization, and the organization’s customers and resources. The transfer of best practices from one project to the next helps to ensure that this effect is positive.

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