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How to close off a project properly

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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.

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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.

More by this author

Tatsuya Nakagawa

Tatsuya Nakagawa is the CEO of Castagra and a Podcaster.

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

What Makes People Poor Listeners?

Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

How To Be a Better Listener

For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

1. Pay Attention

A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

2. Use Positive Body Language

You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

According to Alan Gurney,[2]

“An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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Be polite and wait your turn!

4. Ask Questions

Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

5. Just Listen

This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

6. Remember and Follow Up

Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

  1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
  2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

8. Maintain Eye Contact

When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

Final Thoughts

Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
[2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
[3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
[4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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