6 de octubre de 2013

Project Managers enjoy farewells

We Project Managers are distinguished from Service Managers a.k.a. Operation Managers for mainly one reason: The thing which is managed, that is, the project, is coming to an end, eventually. From the very beginning, projects are born with this in mind: they are to conclude no later than a due date. Besides the timing goal, there are another goals not least important, of course, such as concluding on cost, delivering certain features, making the product to be perceived as “good” from the customer perspective, etc. Nonetheless, the most distinctive goal is that a projects start and finish.

One habit Project Managers are supposed to master is “start with the end in mind.” From day one the Project Manager has to visualize the destiny and the path. We strive to imagine how that final situationwill look like being stakeholders' expectations met or exceeded. We want to do our best to get into that point. Any Effective Project Manager should admit that the project he is starting right now is “a formidable mess” making many people disturbed and upset because they will have to change. Each project suffer many problems, conflicts, unexpected crisis, etc. Each project success depends on team performance, but team members usually have not even met before. Worthy projects are subject to a lot of risk, and many of them depends very much on third parties' performance —and contract issues are often taken to litigation.

Since all of this “mess” has to be managed by the Project Manager, is perfectly normal he starts imagining that last day in which the final closure happens and everything is over finally: He has called a meeting with the sponsor and a representative group of stakeholders. He has elaborated a PowerPoint presentation and leant it by heart. He has dressed his best suit. He has prepared the room, the projector, printed handouts, etc. The stakeholders are sitting. It's time. Finally he is starting this well known ceremony called “Presentation of Project Results. But this presentation is titled other way, in his mind: “Goodbye, I'm leaving.”

I think this way of thinking have to have some psychological roots. Doesn't it sound a little bit alienating that we want to kill what we have created with great effort and illusion: “our project”? However, this is precisely what we are expected to do: we start, we execute and we close projects. Once you have lived throught this for many times, you get used to closing, which is the toughest part, for sure.

Recently I've watched the film: Lilies of the Filed, starring Sidney Poitier. The script resembles very much to a project “Build a Chapel” but the most inspiring part comes at the end: to my understanding, any project should be closed just like that.

What follows is a brief analysis of some key points of what I think is a good closing to a project. Important warning/disclaimer: I'm going to spoil the final scene of this masterpiece film, so if you have not seen it yet, please don't keep reading ;-)

In my opinion, the closing ceremony is full of subliminal messages. Whenever I'm closing a project, I can recognize there is a matching between what I say and what I really want to say:
  • Project Results Presentation = “Goodbye, I'm leaving.”
  • Goals met and other achievements = “Everything is done and accepted.”
  • Project documents are kept in this folder, following phases are described here...  = “The product is entering into operation phase, this is a project no longer, I'm not in charge any more.”
  • Is there any question? = “Whoever has any objections, speak now or forever hold your peace.”

For me, the closing meeting is the most important one in a project. I need to manage it in the most effective way. It doesn't even come to my mind calling this meeting if there is still something to be done. Even if everything is accepted, I know this is not over yet. I have to perform this ceremony to get noticed we are done. After this meeting, stakeholders are not allowed to ask me for more changes, or more deliverables. The most effective way to get all this is playing diplomacy. We don't say goodbye, they have to understand that, implicitly. Communication skills are important here, and it is best when it looks like another workshop meeting.

In this film, the whole thing cannot be portrayed more beautifully. Please click on the image below to see the five minutes final scene:

Do you agree we could match these points with a project?
  • The Project = To build a chapel.
  • The Project Manager = Homer Smith (Sidney Poitier).
  • The product of the project = The chapel.
  • The Sponsor = The mother superior.
  • The Stakeholders = The nuns.
  • Closing pre-requisite = Everything is done.
  • Closing ceremony = Workshop meeting = English lesson time = Singing.

One final note: Do you agree with mother superior regarding who really did the chapel? Personally, I'd like to think of any project as a transcendent experience. As I wrote in this postEvery project needs a lucky strike, but luck comes to you if you are connected...

Click here to read the Spanish version for this article
Click the label English to read other English written articles

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