The standard project management text book stresses that work is not finished until the close-out process is complete and fully documented. In the real world, often team members are re-assigned as soon as possible. The knowledge is then not available for the final process. Companies are losing valuable information which is not noticed until another phase is started or when a similar work is chartered.
This is an unfortunate situation that often leads to increased costs for the organization. Subsequent managers may be forced to re-invent process work that was part of a job completed earlier. Without a comprehensive and easy to use library of close-out documentation, lessons learned during the earlier execution are often lost. As work is nearing completion, resource staff are often released as their special abilities are finished. When the eventual close-out process is documented, the project manager may not have the ability to include comments and other material from transitory staff. Management often makes the situation worse by insisting that expensive staff, (experts, contractors and other highly paid individuals or firms), get moved off projects as soon as possible, (or sooner).
The thought is that keeping the expensive staff fully occupied on new work will save the company money and boost productivity. As well, the departing staff is well aware that their time on the existing tasks is running out which forces them to actively seek other opportunities. The worst-case situation for a company is when an expensive resource leaves as their involvement winds down, there was no indicated future for them in the company and they take a position at a new company. This often results in incomplete work, no lessons learned information for the project manager and the unanticipated need to hire and train a substitute resource.
Experiences at Large Organizations
Large companies seem to have the worst track record with close-out documentation. New managers may be unaware of similar work done by others. With a lot of uncoordinated work executing simultaneously, in multiple divisions and jurisdictions, there might actually be too much information available to be useful. Without a lessons learned repository, which is the normal case, there is no transition of knowledge from the completed tasks to the newly forming teams.
This not always true, of course, as the previous resources may actually repeat some of their work for the company in the future. Such transitions are obviously advantageous to the company but the knowledge is still not readily available to all who might need it. Furthermore, the value of the resource continually increases eventually making the cost to the company significant if the person leaves the firm.
Knowledge gained during task execution is a valuable commodity for both the company and the team. Expert work is costly and difficult. A common feeling is that the experience was learned by an individual and they own it despite any remuneration collected from the company. Often this is completely untrue. Most employment arrangements dictate that the work produced when a person is on staff or contract is the property of the paying firm. This is often emphasized in employment contracts. While created works like documents or systems are often acknowledged as property of the company, the lessons learned should be company property as well.
Fortunately, companies can organize a suitable solution to the close-out deficiencies. Starting immediately, all workers should document activities as part of their responsibilities. This should be done daily, preferably in an electronic tool. Then, at least, a basic body of knowledge gained might be available to the company.
Next, a librarian must be appointed to gather and catalog the lessons learned during task executions. This should be a serious role for an individual, not a background task assigned to an already overloaded staff member. They should be included at the earliest stage in every work effort started by the company. This will instill a sense that documentation is important to the company. Every team worker should be aware of the need to record their activities. They should strive to impress the librarian with their completeness. It is actually a tremendous paradigm shift for many in the management field to acquiesce to such documentation requirements.
Luckily the culture of project close-out completion and suitable protection of company knowledge can be improved with the introduction of a project management office, (PMO). The PMO is established as a special branch of the company with suitable authority to impose documentation, (and other), requirements to projects as they are chartered. While many other benefits can be gained , the effect on project close-out processes is particularly noticeable. This is mainly due to the control on project resource staff. A strong PMO will insist on adequate documentation, including full reporting of lessons learned, before a project is officially closed.
Project management is an important component of many organizations. Even those that do not have a formal PM group may have a large budgetary commitment for project work. These costs are usually spread among many departments so the total amount spent on processes can be difficult to summarize. Similarly, savings gained by adequate documentation of lessons learned can be largely hidden within the organization. Without a strong, central management office that insists on proper project close procedures, organizations will never gain such savings and they may well be forced to incur duplicate charges to perform work previously done.
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