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How to close off a project properly

How to close off a project properly
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The emphasis on getting things done (GTD) through technologies, tools and psychological tweaks has helped us become able to achieve new heights in productivity. This is great since the more things that we can finish, the sooner we can get on to other (often bigger and better) things. That could mean picking up more money, vacation time or opportunities to try new things – whatever is important at the time. But don’t be in too much of a rush to close a file or finish grinding out the last 10% of a task. There are some great ways to finish things that can yield important benefits for you and those around you who are involved. These benefits can often extend to those who may later come onto the scene.

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Closing a project should include the following elements:

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  • Recognition. McDonalds has its longstanding Employee of the Month picture frame program. Dell has a Volunteers of Distinction program for its employees who become involved with volunteer projects. Toastmasters International has numerous awards for its members completing various tasks and terms of office. The best programs have five aspects:
  • Achievable: The standards are high but not so high as to discourage all but the overachievers from trying to reach them.
  • Objective: People need to know what to expect and to perceive the granting of awards as not being an overly subjective process.
  • Practical: Include rewards that are sensible motivators. Time off and cash don’t make much sense if you are short staffed and cash strapped. However, when the coffers are full and you are in a slow season, time and cash would be better motivators than a coffee table ornament.
  • Timely: The closer the granting of an award to the completion of the task, the better.
  • Useful: Wherever possible, measure and reward something that helps to produce desired results.
  • Documentation. Most companies tend to do a pretty good job of documenting completions since it usually involves financial accounting aspects. Not-for-profit organizations are often notorious for failing to properly document project completions and address transfer issues. Doing a good job of these aspects can make life much easier for those taking over the offices in the future. For example, if an organization has an annual conference, it should prepare an electronic file with all the materials used to plan, promote, operate and complete the event. Maybe burn a CD and give it to the following year’s conference chair.
  • Review and re-examination. This is part of the sandwich – the stuff in the middle. Between the recognition and celebration aspects, this is a great place to conduct an evaluation and bring in constructive feedback so that improvements can be made in future projects. Such feedback should include some positives (things that worked well), suggestions for improvement and a positive overall. A sandwich within the sandwich. These reviews can provide tremendous growth opportunities for those involved, as well as helpful in improving the quality of the projects themselves.
  • Closure & cleanup. Aspects of closure normally include getting paid and paying everybody, completing any outstanding paperwork, filing any required reports, briefing anyone who needs to be briefed, tossing out the trash and cleaning up the factory, warehouse or workspace. Generally, once this is done, the slate should be clear and wherever possible there should not be lingering remains from old projects interfering with future activities.
  • Celebration. The Hollywood people have mastered this with wrap parties and big events such as the Academy Awards. Every time a film is completed, tradition calls for a “wrap party” where everyone involved in the production gets together for a celebration, wrapping up the production. The Academy Awards are an extreme case where the industry in a very public way awards its own for various things while bringing greater recognition to the film and television industry as a whole.

Build an event but keep it in proper proportion. For a small group project at work, ordering in lunch and having a light review and review wrap-up session would work great. The team leader could acknowledge everyone’s contribution, perhaps with a more senior executive coming by to say a few words and present awards. The meal itself could be the award but it is usually better to have something that goes beyond the event. Cash and time off are great but so is something tangible that can be put on display by the person who has earned it. For a bigger project, a big splash at a hotel or conference venue might give the best results. What such an event should look like and how big it should be depends on a number of factors. The important thing is to scale it appropriately. Putting an event together can take considerable time, money and effort, so some thought should be put into planning and managing it properly.

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Overachievers beware. Finishing does not mean starting. There is nothing wrong with using a closing event to announce something new. In fact, this is often a great way to launch a new project. But launching something new should not undermine the thing just completed. Focus the events surrounding the completion on the completion, not on the new beginnings. This serves to preserve the integrity of the activity just completed and to allow those involved to take a breath, enjoy the prizes, tidy up the paperwork, reflect, mop up any odds and ends, and freely enjoy the celebration without getting prematurely wrapped up in the next thing.

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These above completion elements might seem obvious to someone reading them but there is often no formal process in a company or organization for carrying them out effectively. Those that have these processes tend to do a much better job of completing projects with a flourish than those that do not. Larger and more successful companies and organizations tend to be the ones that have such processes.

Those who do a great job finishing projects leave fellow team members motivated towards getting involved and doing great things on future projects. A well completed task also has enough properly completed documentation associated with it that anyone who wants to learn from or duplicate the results in the future is able to do so without having to figure it out from scratch.
If you have any tips or ideas to share on finishing, please post a comment.

Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group, a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation now available.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2019

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard. Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

Curiosity

Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

Patience

Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

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When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

A Feeling for Connectedness

This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

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1. Research

Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

Learning the Basics

Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

Hitting the Books

Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

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Long-Term Reference

While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

2. Practice

Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

3. Network

One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

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These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

4. Schedule

For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

Final Thoughts

In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

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Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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