9.1 Formal handover

The outputs of a project should be defined at the planning stage, including any conditions that will be required for a smooth transfer. Each outcome should be formally handed over to the sponsor who should confirm their delivery (‘sign them off’) so that there is no dispute about whether outcomes have been completed.

A closure list is likely to have sections to include the following groups of tasks, but each project will have different features to consider. A list of suggested areas to consider can be seen below:

  • handover complete for all deliverables;
  • client or sponsor has signed off all deliverables as accepted;
  • responsibility for future maintenance agreed;
  • final project status reports complete;
  • all financial processes and reports complete;
  • project review complete;
  • staff performance evaluations and reports completed;
  • terminate staff employment on project;
  • terminate all supply contracts and processes;
  • close down site operations and accommodation used for project;
  • dispose of equipment and materials;
  • announce completion of project (internal, external and public relations contacts);
  • complete project file and store appropriately.

Not all handovers are at the completion of a project. In some projects there might be several different types of handover, happening at different stages.

If the project involves preparation and handover of a physical object, there may be a number of contributing components and, possibly, subcontracted elements. The project plan should have identified the various elements and the details of handover arrangements for each stage, if there is a sequence of tasks. The schedule will have identified the sequence in which tasks need to be completed. Hopefully, the risk register will have identified the risks associated with each handover and a contingency plan will have been made for each major risk. Handovers should be identified as key stages on the Gantt chart.

Acceptance criteria for ‘hard’ projects, where the output is highly specific, may be fairly straightforward. These arrangements can be quite similar to common routine arrangements for confirming receipt of items by matching delivery notes with order forms. For example, the delivery and instalment of a new computer system should have been tested under normal conditions, as evidenced by signed-off documentation.

Acceptance criteria for ‘soft’ projects may be more problematic.

To illustrate this, let us consider a voluntary organisation setting up an initiative in secondary schools to do preventive work on bullying. The project plans to run a series of events intended to develop awareness and to establish a new procedure for dealing with bullying. The handover phase in projects of this kind may include activities and processes that enable the project's sponsor to take over responsibility on a long-term basis. A definition of completion for this type of project might be ‘achieving the active, successful management of the activity by the project's owners, users or stakeholders and withdrawal of the project team’.

Any support that will be required as part of the project completion should be planned, and the person responsible for providing it should be identified. In some projects (for example, many IT projects) there may be an integration or configuration period, in which the client gradually takes over the long-term maintenance of the project outcomes. Again, it is important to have clear agreement about how the project itself will be concluded and handed over, even if there is a separate agreement about future support or training related to the outcome.

Once a handover process has been agreed, a meeting of the project team to prepare for the handover should be arranged. This is the time to make sure you haven't forgotten anything that might lead your sponsor to withhold acceptance. It is helpful to draw up a list of outstanding tasks, and to make sure that someone is responsible for doing each of them within a specified time-scale. These might include minor tasks from early stages of the project which were not critical to progress and have been left on one side.

9.2 Closing the project

Closing a project can be quite an emotional experience for team members who have worked together for some time, particularly if close bonds have developed.

The manager of a project has some obligations to staff who have worked for some time on it. Build into the plan a closure interview with each member of staff, so that their contribution can be formally recognised and recorded. Staff may need help to recognise the skills and experience that they have gained and how these have been evidenced in their contribution and achievements. They may welcome a signed record of their achievements, and some will need references to progress to their next jobs. Some staff will need to leave before the project is fully finished, and some will not have jobs to go to.

The project is not finished until the closure has been managed and it is helpful if the person managing these final activities is not worried about his or her own future. Once again, planning well in advance can reduce the stress of the final stages.

9.2.1 Project debriefing

Individual interviews with key members of the project team, for example the managers of key stages, can encourage them to evaluate their performance and identify what they have learned. A structured debriefing process can be helpful, to include stakeholders as well as all the project team. This may take the form of a series of meetings, which draw conclusions about overall project performance and constraints, identify and review any new ways of working that were developed, and consider what could have been done differently. These can take the form of after action reviews.

9.2.2 The closure meeting

The final meeting is a time for celebrating successful completion. It could have a similar format to the launch meeting, and involve many of the same people. It might include:

  • reviewing the outputs or outcomes;
  • confirming the arrangements for any follow-up work;
  • thanking the team, the sponsor(s) and the stakeholders for their support;
  • presenting the completion report for approval and sign-off;

Closure events may vary according to the nature of the project.

9.2.3 Problems with closure

Projects do not always go according to plan. If problems develop during the closure period there are particular difficulties.

If the project outcomes include technological systems that need to be used by people who were not part of the project team, the handover needs to include a strategy to ensure that users can operate the new system. The new system also has to work effectively alongside any other systems in use.

9.2.3.1 Project drift

Project drift is a common problem when one project leads into another without a clear break, or when extra tasks, which were not identified at the beginning, are added to a project.

If possible, significant changes of the latter kind should be treated separately as a follow-on project: otherwise they may not be properly resourced and this can have adverse consequences for motivation of the project team.