As team members, we manage our projects meticulously against the project schedules we’ve set up. We kickoff the project with a formal session to set proper expectations of what everyone needs to do, how the project will be managed, and what the next steps are. We go through each phase of the project adhering to the task assignments and meeting weekly to ensure everyone is on schedule and that the project is staying on budget. Basically, everyone is focused, everyone is engaged, and everyone is energized by what challenges lay before them as the project is jumping out of the starting gate.
Now let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. When we near the end of the project, our senior management is already looking for what we are going to dedicate our time to next. In fact, it’s often that the next big engagement has already been assigned to the project manager, who is now multitasking like crazy to prepare for a new kickoff meeting; or worse, that project kickoff meeting may have already happened. Out of necessity, the project manager may switch his focus to the new engagement, and many project team members may already be in the same boat with their new project assignments as well.
Basically, it can become easy for the project manager and team to coast into the final deployment phase of the project, with the project manager possibly not providing the project with the proper oversight that got them this far in the engagement successfully. What once was a cohesive team with excellent customer relations can quickly fall apart if the key personnel on the project suddenly become disengaged, shifting their focus to other tasks outside of this current project. What should possibly be the most critical phase of the project—deployment, where we ensure that the project is really done and ready to handoff to the customer—may only get minimal oversight, resulting in things falling through the cracks.
When you find yourself being pulled six different ways at this point of a key engagement and some of that early enthusiasm has worn off, how you do you stay focused and engaged? How do you ensure that everything is complete and the project is ready to handoff to the client? What key steps should you take to know that the project is really done? For me, there are six key things I look at in order to make sure that my project team has completed everything and the customer is prepared to take over.
1. Check the deliverables.
The project schedule got you this far, but it’s always a good idea to go back through it with a thorough review. Was everything truly completed? Has your project team successfully delivered on all project deliverables? Is there a formal signoff for all of the project deliverables in your project folder? If not, now is the time to go back and get those; it’s very important to have a formal, documented signoff or at least an Email from the customer stating acceptance, for each deliverable on the project.
2. Review all invoices.
As the project approaches the rollout phase, likely all but the last invoice has been sent out to the project customer. Have all been paid? Now is the time to get together with accounting to ensure that there are no outstanding invoices—or at least none outside of their normal payment timetable. If there are outstanding invoices, it could be just an oversight, but it could also be a sign of an outstanding issue with the customer. Work to resolve any of these issues quickly, or they can hold up formal project acceptance.
3. Schedule and conduct lessons learned.
I'm a fan of conducting one or more lessons learned sessions before the actual point of deployment, because it’s hard to pull everyone together after the solution has been turned over to the customer support staff. But if you've not held a session yet, make sure that you actually have one scheduled and participants committed to meeting on both sides. It’s a very important activity and one that many project managers skip. Even if it just ends up being a one-hour conference call, the things that both sides learn can turn out to be of tremendous value later on.
4. Make sure user acceptance test is signed off.
Was user acceptance testing (UAT) successful? Were there outstanding issues that needed to be resolved and if so, were they actually resolved? Make sure that you have a formal UAT signoff in hand; a project that does not have a formal testing acceptance from the project client should not be headed for deployment.
5. Ensure that the right people are trained and ready.
On most technical implementations, there is at least some level of customer training that needs to happen. Whether that’s formal training or informal, adhoc training depends on the project and the solution, of course. Either way, it should be part of the project schedule with appropriate training tasks built into the schedule and tracked. Review the schedule to ensure that all training tasks are complete. A lack of proper customer training in which a customer hasn’t been properly trained on the solution can lead to a customer who is dissatisfied with the end solution that they don’t know how to use.
6. Get formal project signoff.
Finally, don’t skip the process of getting a formal, final signoff from the project sponsor as well as acceptance of the overall project. That signoff should be a ceremonial type signoff at the time of deployment; don’t complete this final phase without it.
The project manager and team can easily lose focus as the project is coming to a close. The same can be true for the project sponsor and team. What should be the most exciting phase can become someone anticlimactic on a long-term project. By running through this six-item “checklist,” the project manager and team can ensure that the project is truly done and ready for rollout, and not worry that a key element remains outstanding.