Breath of Clarity

Environmental Project Management Discussion #9

The closure stage of the project rarely has much impact on technical success or failure, but it has a great deal to do with residual attitudes toward the project– the “taste left in the mouth” of the client, senior management, and the project team. One positive of closure is that the doing is done. Problems have been solved, bypassed, lived with, or ignored. The client is angry, or reasonably satisfied. In construction-type projects where the project cadre remains intact, the closure issue is eased because the team moves on to another challenge. For nonrecurring projects, the issue is far more akin to the breakup of a family. While the members of the family may be on the best of terms, they must now separate, go their individual ways, divide or dispose of the family property, and make plans for individual survival. Unless the project life was only a few weeks or a few months, the change is stressful. For projects organized as weak matrices, there will be only a few individuals, perhaps only the project manager, who still belong to the project. This may represent an even more stressful situation than the breakup of a large project family because there is little or no peer group for support.

The negative impact might be lessened if the project manager chooses a way to close out the project that leads to a guaranteed new assignment for the team members. In the case of closure by extinction, the project is stopped. A special case of extinction is termination by murder which holds two important characteristics including suddenness of the project demise and the lack of obvious signals that death is imminent. Arrangements must be made for the orderly release of project team members and their reassignment to other activities if they are to remain in the parent organization. In contrast, closure by addition project personnel are simply transferring from the dying project to a newly born vision which may entail an additional department or an entirely new subsidiary. However, change from project to another division may bring with it a sharply diminished sense of freedom. Alternatively, closure by integration entails personnel is distributed among the existing elements of the parent organization and brings up the following concerns: Where will the project team go? Will it remain a team? If the functions that the team performed are still needed, who will do them? If ex-team members are assigned to a new project, under what conditions or circumstances might they be temporarily available for help on the old project? Lastly, closure by starvation due to lacking budget results in forcing the reassignment of many project team members. The transition poses a difficult time for the PM, who must see to it that the shift is made smoothly.

The transition demands a superior level of political sensitivity for successful accomplishment. However, PMs may delay the personnel reassignment/release issue as long as possible for three main reasons: a strong reluctance to face the interpersonal conflicts that might arise when new assignments and layoffs are announced; worry that people will lose interest and stop work on the project as soon as it becomes known that closure is being considered; or concern that team members will try to stretch out the work as far as possible. A more useful course of action is to speak with the team members individually or in small groups, let them know about plans for closure, and offer to consult with each in order to aid in the reassignment process or to assist in finding new work. It is almost impossible to keep shutdown plans a secret, and to confront the matter immediately tends to minimize rumors. A reputation of taking care of one’s people is an invaluable aid to the PM when recruiting for the next project.

Project termination has impacted me. While I was a residential solar panel system consultant, my sales-cycle for each project had a definitive end after the client’s system was installed. From there, I had to acquire new clients on my own. While project termination effected me positively because I was able to see the project come to fruition and get paid in full. It effected me negatively because I had to independently go generate new leads. I preferred the operations part of the process which entailed working with the surveyors, designers, and proposal creators as opposed to the lead acquisition stage. I also was under the pressure to get new clients in order to keep my business going.

To adjust to the situation after termination, I generated leads by tabling at farmer’s markets and attending chamber of commerce meetings. It made the negative aspects of project termination more enjoyable because I was no longer going door-to-door to acquire leads. However, I had to do this all on my own as opposed to my project manager helping me with the lead acquisition process.

The project manager should be assisting with lead generation in order to minimize the impact to the project team members. He was relying on his consultants to maintain inflow even though we had a whole set of backend team members who needed clients to do their jobs. There were online lead generation platforms at the time that the company had the option to invest in. However, it was cheaper for the company to take the risk in hoping its consultants would find their own clients. It would have been easier to stay motivated as a consultant if I did not have to be turned down so much during the client prospecting process. I could also focus on improving at implementing a winning strategy in the proposal stage insofar as I was not concerned with simultaneously generating leads. It would have helped people enjoy their jobs more and want to stay in the company. It would have also guaranteed the backend team gets a certain hours of work/month instead of having it be dependent on how many clients the consultants could gather. Feeling more secure would have helped the team members stay motivated.

Comment by Janice Lauria:


Great discussion post. Very detailed and well-written. I think your project termination example was very good. I think that you having to go out and get more leads was not ideal but, as you stated, a very valuable lesson as well. I also liked the “personal” feel that you put to going out getting leads at farmer’s markets and chamber of commerce meetings. Although door to door is nice, I think the former brings a community touch to the sales business and people are more likely to talk and view you as part of the community. Great discussion post.

My Response:

Hi Janice,

Thank you, it is interesting a setting that is more enjoyable for me is also a place where the prospective clients feel more at ease, too.

Comment by Tyler Berry:

Hi Mary,

I too have to go through the client prospecting process and it is demoralizing to get rejected so much. When I find out i am going to be leaving a project, all my efforts shift towards getting a new project, because of how long it takes to find a new project. The company also penalizes you for not having a client so it increases the need to be on a project. Because of this I spend less time focusing on the project and more time focusing on future projects. I do not spend as much time focusing on new projects though when my PM helps me find the next project.

My Response:

Hi Tyler,

Definitely! It is tough to simultaneously do lead generation and work with existing clients.

Comment by Cris Marquez:

Hi Mary,

Great post! I found your personal example very interesting and I can understand how having the stress of acquiring clients can hinder your ability to plan better strategies and focus on the implementation process of the project, not to mention the heavy load of having other people look to you for their next job. Being able to share the responsibility of finding new leads would be extremely beneficial and potentially having the PM focus on that would also distract them from the tasks at hand, I wonder if maybe that task could be passed on to a number of people rather than just a couple as a means of spreading out the load and possibly working in conjunction with other team members.

Comment #1:

Original Post by Professor Pasquini:

As a project manager, I would create a “Water Fall” diagram or list of tasks that would come to an end as the project was being completed. This would tell me who on the project would no longer be needed before the project was finished since the tasks are finished and workers on the tasks are no longer needed.

I would be up front with the workers who would be out of work and by when for the task(s). Then I would tell them what I was going to do to find new work for them to reduce their anxiety of project/task completion. If the worker knows that you are looking out for them to find a new project or other work after their current assignment ends, they are more likely to trust you and respect you that you are looking out for them. Consequently, they are less likely to leave your project on their own to look for new work.

To save as many workers as you can will keep your project running smooth to completion, otherwise you could have “holes” to fill in your project if workers leave your project early.

New project work could be on another project within the same company or in another outside company, or the worker could be moved internally on the same project to other tasks as in the close out phase of the project, testing of project systems for turnover, or even promoted within the company and moved to other divisions or departments of upper management within the same company.

The project manager has to be able to manage people and the project’s triple constraints to be a successful and respected project manager recognizes for having “integrity.”

My Comment:

Hi Professor Pasquini,

The Water Fall diagram is a great idea. It would be a useful tool for the PM to have an organized understanding of upcoming layoffs. Since the project termination can be full of anxiety for workers, it is important that, while being up front about who would be out of work and by when, the PM has a clear understanding of the situation. It is difficult for a PM to have direct communication while being upfront insofar as the PM is disorganized in regards to a sensitive topic. The workers are more likely to trust the PM is actually going to take care of them after project termination if the PM is able to talk with conviction about it and seems to have confidence in what they’re doing. Since the workers will then be less confused about the situation, they are likely to be less overwhelmed as well as stay engaged and produce quality results in their final tasks before leaving the project. I agree the workers would also be less likely to leave the project early if they know the PM is finding new work for them. They would not feel as though they would need to choose between 1) looking for new work to guarantee they can support their families versus 2) staying on the project until all their tasks are done to respect the team. Managing the triple constraints throughout the whole project results in the PM being able to tell workers accurate information regarding tasks left and timing which enables the PM to have character in the end.

In your past experience as a PM, what are some strategies you have used to find work for workers?

I figure another reason why it is useful to be upfront with workers about project termination is because the PM can ask them what type of new work they prefer.

Comment by Professor Pasquini:

Several of my people went to the new TSA at the Denver Airport as security guards, others went to the Denver Mint as engineers or operators, others went to adjacent cities and found work in those cities new building projects. Denver is boom with new apartments and other buildings needing every type of engineering discipline as another area to consider.

My Comment:

It seems there is a lot of variety based upon the different projects you managed and the various skillsets of your team members.

Totally, my brother lives in Denver and does marketing for a tech start-up.

Thanks for the insight.

Comment #2:

Original Post by Tyler Berry:

When a project gets terminated there are positive and negative impacts on the team members. Positive impacts for team members are that in some cases the closure may lead to more long term careers for them. They may be included as support for the project or as a team member of the new function. The team can also feel a great deal of success by completing the project. Negative impacts might lead to a sense of low morale if team members are being let go. Team members may be thinking more about their own departure instead of finishing their project tasks. The team members left also may feel over worked as they may have to take on some of the tasks of team members who have left the project.

In order to minimize the negative impacts of project closure a project manager can take a few steps. One, is the project manager could simply be upfront with the team members about their terminations and reasons why they must be terminated. Another step the project manager could take is to help (if possible) and try to find other roles for the team members on other projects at the company. This would help the existing team members strive to still complete good work.

I have been impacted by project closure. I was on a project for about a year and a half, I really enjoyed my role and the project team. The project had to ramp down significantly as the next phase of the project would not be happening for about 6 months. The PM had to scale down the project team to just bare bones. I was on the list to get cut. This hurt at first, but I still wanted to strive to complete all my work with high quality. My logic was that if I worked hard until the end that maybe when the project ramped up again I would be called back to work. This ended up happening, I was brought back onto the project for a different role.

My Comment:

Hi Tyler,

Great point that a positive impact of project termination would be a more long term career for a team member. It is particularly true in cases closure by addition as project personnel are simply transferring from the dying project to a newly born vision which may entail an additional department or an entirely new subsidiary. It is also true in cases of closure by integration which entails personnel being distributed among the existing elements of the parent organization. It shows the PM can play a role in helping their team members have a more long term career by setting them up for their next positions. The negative impact you mention of team members thinking more about their own departure instead of finishing their project tasks makes sense, particularly in the case of wanting to have a more long-term career. Also, if the PM appreciates the team members, he may want to ask them back for another project years down the road. So, it makes sense to set them up for a new position so a quality worker stays in the industry and does not switch career paths.

Your example of project closure is awesome! It shows that insofar as the PM creates conditions where the team members are enjoying the work and experiencing a bond, they are going to want to do quality work and will want to be asked back. Also, the PM was up front with you about the project termination which probably contributed to you wanting to work hard until the end. It is awesome to see you were so loyal to the company, as well!