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Out With the Old: How Finance Professionals Can Wrap Up Big Projects

  • By Bryan Lapidus, FP&A
  • Published: 1/4/2018

We just celebrated a family milestone. My daughter turned 13, the age when a Jewish child can assume adult responsibilities in the community; we celebrated at synagogue and with a party afterwards. We celebrated with family and friends representing the coasts and heartland. And when it was all done, after a long weekend, my wife and I took a deep breath.

Whether your project is an event, a system implementation or a product launch, it probably took a long time to plan and prepare for it. But wrapping up a big project requires more than just executing on a final deliverable. It can be hard to collect money from a customer, or hard to let a contractor go if the end is not definitive. Conversely, the team may be disbanded while a piece of work is unfinished, forcing the project sponsor to re-engage or do without that last bit. Future groups who want to reference work products or documentation may find that it is missing, and the pity the lone person who has to chase after colleagues for final details on a project that is now “old news” when everyone else has moved on to new priorities.

There are important steps to take after the music has stopped; here are a few suggestions to end a project well:

Give yourself some time and space. After everyone left and the balloons lost helium, my wife and I took the day off to rest and wrap up some loose ends. Same goes for other big projects. Don’t run off to the next item without closing the loose ends—the next items on the list—and giving yourself time to pause and reflect.

Celebrate and recognize those who helped. We received a lot of help from friends to make everything work, so we made some “thank you” plates of cookies and delivered them the day after our big event. Thank those who contributed to your project directly, either privately or publicly. Consider alerting their supervisor or making presentations in front of an assembled team. But don’t wait too long, or the appreciation will lose its meaning.

Close contracts. Was everyone paid for their efforts? Were the deliverables actually delivered in the required format, and did the adjunct staff roll-off appropriately? In the office, I like to review the statement of work one final time, and also create/receive a memo that explains that the project is over and obligations are satisfied.

Clean up. After the guests left, we had put things away and brought our house back to its pre-Bat Mitzvah state. Translated to the office, that means files are saved and archived and prepared for future access with working papers maintained and summary reports published. The equipment should be returned and the stage set to get back to normal business. In some cases, this cleanup is more of a hand-off from an initiation stage to an ongoing support stage. Be prepared to give the support team a clean set of records to ensure their success.

Lessons learned; reflections on the process. There were things we loved, but also things we would like to do differently, and since I have another daughter, I will get to do this all again. At work, I try to create “after action reviews” or post-mortems to see what worked and what can be improved upon. For large groups, I may use a survey while a conference call or meeting may work better with smaller groups. The goal is always forward-looking, to become a learning organization that constantly improves its operations.

Reinforce the mission. Interestingly, the period right after a big event also is a time to reinforce the event itself and make sure that the thrust is not lost now that the big push is completed. After the weekend, we called people and asked what their favorite memories were, and asked people to send us the five favorite photos that they took. In the office, maintaining the momentum also requires talking about what led to the project in the first place, celebrating the successes, distributing tokens of the project, and driving everything back to the mission.

Be done! The point of going through these steps is to allow yourself to declare that a project is over and sealed, and it is time for everyone to move on—no one wants to expend mental energy or time addressing unfinished business after the team has moved on to the next bit of work.

Finishing completely means finishing strong. It validates the team’s effort for the completed project, allows them to fully current on work, and be better at future projects. It is just as true in the office as it is for family events.

Bryan Lapidus, FP&A, is a contributing consultant and author to the Association for Financial Professionals. Reach him at [email protected].

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