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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 April 8, 2019

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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  1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
  2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
  3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
  4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
  5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
  6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
  7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
  8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
  9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
  10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
  11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
  12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
  13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
  14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
  15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
  16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
  17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
  18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
  19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
  20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
  21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
  22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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