Are We Done Yet? Program Hand-Off and Closure

Programs can often span many years from start to finish.  Completion for a program manager takes many levels and many forms.  When you think about it, there are four possible program closure scenarios you may need to address as a program manager.  Two of the scenarios are pretty good things and the other two address premature termination of a program or one of its constituent projects. The four scenarios are:

  1. The program is complete
  2. A component of the program is complete
  3. A component of the program has been terminated
  4. The program has been terminated

Ultimately, completing your entire program means that all program work is completed and your program benefits are accruing.  This means you are in the last phase of the program and ready to “shut ‘er down” for good. Program closure is its own phase in the program management life cycle, and is ideally performed after all program components have been completed and successfully transitioned to operations.

Of course, closure also occurs for the program components.  Along the program life cycle, its component projects and other work are started up, worked on, completed and transitioned to operations. Completing a program component means that a constituent project or non-project activities of the program are complete and the incremental benefits from them may be accruing.

There are many things taking place when a program or a component project within a program closes.  The Transition Plan, developed as part of program planning and updated as individual projects are selected, is where you plan for both program and project hand-off and closure.  It is always amazing how many times the transition plan is incomplete or not followed at the end of a program. It’s kind of like wrapping a gift and then not adding the ribbon and a card to the recipient. Low quality program closure impacts everyone and everything downstream, including operations as well as subsequent programs that cannot build on your experiences.

When a program is complete and ready to be transitioned into operations, there are a number of deliverables to produce and some meetings to schedule as well. At a minimum, you should expect to build a program closure report, hold final performance reviews with the team and stakeholders, populate your program archives, document and report on your lessons learned.

I am a big fan of getting formal sign-off and acceptance of the program outcome by the program sponsor and/or customer as well.  Any remaining program-level contracts will need to be closed out as well.  A post-review meeting should be scheduled with your key program stakeholders to review program performance and benefits realization. On most programs using today’s technology, many if not all of these activities will have to be performed and shared electronically since your key program team members and stakeholders may not be in the same physical location.

When closing a component project of the program, your project managers will have some work to complete as well. They will update their project archives, reassign their remaining available resources, make sure all project deliverables are accepted and report on lessons learned.  Formal sign-off and acceptance of the project outcomes by the program manager is also required.  How do you make sure they complete all these activities in a timely fashion as your program marches forward?

Additional things you will need to do when wrapping things up includes returning or reassigning your program and project resources, evaluating individual and team performance and making sure to initiate benefits realization measurement for the program now that everything is operational.

Here is an example of a program checklist to use as guidance for activities required while you are closing a program or component project:

  • Are all program or project deliverables complete?
  • Are all lessons learned log and reported on?
  • Is the end program or project report complete and reviewed?
  • Has the customer accepted all program or project results and other associated deliverables?
  • Have all costs been appropriately charged to the program or project?
  • Are all work packages and work orders complete?
  • Do any incomplete work packages exist?
  • Are incomplete work packages documented?
  • Are all administrative closure activities done?
  • Is the program or project management plan archived with supporting data?
  • Are stakeholders aware that the program, project or phase is ending?
  • Are auditing, support, and maintenance procedures in place?
  • Are program or project team members reassigned or pending reassignment?

Don’t forget those lessons learned when you are closing your program! Lessons learned tell us what worked well and what didn’t work at all as well as everything in-between we feel future teams and the business needs to know. Lessons learned offer opportunities for us to gather, document and apply lessons on future programs and projects and do things better (or differently) next time. At a minimum, it is recommended that you gather and document lessons at the end of every program phase and at the completion of each project.  The contents of your lessons learned log should be used to create your program’s lessons learned report.

From: Learning Tree International

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