042 – The Closer: Avoiding Project Acceptance Exceptions
A defining characteristic of a project is that it ends. Finally. Please. Let the hurting end. Just get it done, right? If it were only that easy!
This episode Kate and Kim talk about what it means to close a project, and walk through some typical scenarios where closing can be really tough. Then they share some practical tips on how to get to done and overcome some of the most common objections and problems with closure
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Today we’re going to talk about ways you can ensure a ‘crisp’ closure to a project – especially when the stakeholders are afraid to sign-off on anything or when the definition of ‘done’ might not be clear.
Closure isn’t just about closure [4:29]
When we originally drafted this episode, it was all about closure. Kim just completed a survey with a large number of PMO leaders at PMO Symposium to better understand project data, tools, and how these relates to project closure. One of the most surprising outcomes is this was the difference that process following and data collecting organizations compared to their counterparts. Organizations that were good at following processes and had reliable data exhibited 4-5 times better results closing a
project than those that do not. So, what this data seems to indicate is that a good closure is the result of a good delivery – which makes sense, right? Things may slip up along the way and may not make a big impact, but you
have to saddle up when it comes time to tie it all together and close the project.
What is closure? [5:58]
Closure is when you get your stakeholder and sponsors to acknowledge that the project completion criteria have been met, and you can proceed with closing the project- that’s it. Simple.
Other times, you need to get:
1. Payment. Now, sometimes this is a very important milestone. Think of it as if you are a PM for a service delivery company and your project is to deliver some kind of project with deliverables to a customer. Often times, you cannot get paid until the customer acknowledges a receipt for the deliverables.
2. Support: Sometimes, the company that you delivered the service to doesn’t want to lose you. This acceptance is critical because of what comes after the project is done – ongoing support and ultimate ownership of the deliverables. This is key because usually, the project team is different from the operational team. Maybe there is some crossover, maybe there isn’t, but the roles are different.
We implement a new phone system. We go live, and now everyone who calls into your company’s phone, voice mail, or call center 24×7 rather than the company. If you have not handed over the system to operations, the project team may still own the support 24X7, 7 days a week, which you don’t want. This is why you need to have a cleaner way to end the project.
Why do you need a crisp and swift closure? [9:00]
If you’ve ever had a tough project closure, you’ll know why. Perfect examples are:
1. You have a project, and to close it, you need an official sign off from someone, usually a business leader. Sometimes, that business leader can be very hesitant to sign off because maybe they don’t normally have a ‘signing’ authority within the organization, and it’s a big contract. Maybe they don’t want to be held accountable if they sign it off when they shouldn’t have. To save yourself from situations like this, it’s best to clarify who will “sign off” from the very beginning, and to put timelines on this date if possible.
2. Your stakeholder(s) may be afraid they will lose your awesome support. Not signing makes you stick around longer, and it makes them feel better. You supported them this far, and they may be hesitant to go on without you. One way to avoid this scenario is to have another person, a client success manager, who will specifically address service issues throughout the lifetime of whatever is being implemented. If you’re an internal PM, you can hand the project over to a service owner or project owner. It is best if you can introduce this person early on, like at the project kick-off, so he/she can establish the relationship with the team, and won’t be a stranger to them later on. The point is is that the person doesn’t have to be there for long, they just need to create a positive impression. If the client is really becoming clingy, you can insinuate that they can always pay more for your time.
3. Your stakeholder(s) may be trying to squeeze more out of the project and take advantage of the situation. For situations like this, it’s important for you to go back to the documentation and what you discussed in the beginning. You have to remind the stakeholders of what you had initially agreed on, and affirm that it has been delivered. Or, you can be straightforward in saying that you can do more work for additional payment.
Tips to Ensure You Get Things Closed [24:13]
1. Start with the end in mind. You should go through your first five questions, repeat it a dozen times, document it, and get it in front of your stakeholders. Discuss creating your sign-off document up front and getting agreement on what the terms are. It is best practice to put your goals on paper.
2. Discuss breaking down one massive acceptance into multiple smaller
acceptances, so there doesn’t have to be an actual ‘decision’ to accept the
phase. Instead, all the components are accepted. If you can’t break the project into smaller checkpoints and/or you’re new to this, you can try creating two or three milestones. The first milestone should be a sign off to agree on success criteria, listing requirements to measure success. You have to do this first, and don’t wait until they get to the end and say, well, what exactly does “done” mean?
3. Make the incentives clear for acceptance. You can say something like, “Well my team can’t provide you post kit support because we’re not 24X7. We’re only going to take your call 8 hours a day. So we need to make sure you sign off. Otherwise, you’ll be in a real tough situation when you go live.” You can have a soft handoff in a short amount of time by being clear with your roles. If you have a conditional acceptance, they might get rid of the sign-off and say, there’s one thing that’s really not quite there, so we should wait until that’s done before we sign off. While you’re in support, you can say, “How about we do this, you give us a conditional sign-off and you sign-off in a condition that the task is complete within 3 days.” That way, you don’t need to revisit it, because it’s already been documented. Remember, you have to be clear with the support and boundaries of each other, so you’re not stepping on anybody’s feet.
4. Making acceptance implied. You can say, “If you don’t sign-off within 5 days, we will assume that you have accepted it if you didn’t raise any issues.”