There is a project joke that has been around for years…

There are six stages of a project:

1.  Enthusiasm
2.  Disillusionment
3.  Panic
4.  Search for the guilty
5.  Punishment of the innocent
6.  Praise and honor for the non-participants

While this is satirically funny it is not a project life-cycle anyone wants to experience. A key factor that separates project work from operationally oriented work is that projects have a definitive start and end to the effort and are creating something unique. As such, projects are fresh and, more often than not, somewhat exciting. They actually do start off with enthusiasm.

From there projects can go anywhere. Yes, there can be disillusionment, panic, and anxiety but, there can also be elation, encouragement, and joy. Anyone who has worked on a number of projects will tell you the different combinations of experiences and emotions can be all over the board.

No matter the route a project takes, nor the success or failure that results, the project will always come to an end. For successful projects, team members move on with a sense of pride because of their accomplishments. For unsuccessful projects things are totally different. Team members leave wounded and relieved the project is over.

This is the exact point in the projects life-cycle that is too often ignored or glossed over; the project end.  Ignoring the end of a project is a major error many organizations experience and it effects the entire organization’s project environment.

Every time a project ends and proper closure has NOT been given to it, the enthusiasm relating to the start of the next project for those team members who worked on the last project will be diminished. When this happens over and over again  project work becomes monotonous, lacking highs and lows, and void of passion. This is not the environment that brings out the best in people and moves organizations forward.

One of Systemation’s consultants, Jack, was working with a group of project managers a while back and asked them to tell him their favorite memory or experience relating to a project they worked on over the last two years. A minute passed with no reply, so Jack chose to give the project managers more time to decide what experience was their best. Another minute passed, still no reply. Jack became inquisitive and asked why no stories of favorite memories or experiences came to mind. One project manager finally spoke up and said she did not have any. Then another project manager said the same and finally several raised their hand signifying it was true of them too.

Jack then asked the group of project managers to tell him what the end of their projects looked like. Many spoke up but all conveyed the same thing. It was always on to the next project with hardly a pause in-between the old one and new one. Now Jack was really curious and asked if the project managers ever celebrated the end of their projects and again many spoke up and said no.

Celebrating the end of a project is really just a code word for bringing closure. There is always a reason to celebrate the end. Either it was a great project experience and you want to celebrate the accomplishments or it was a terrible project experience and you want to celebrate an end to the misery. Acknowledging team members’ accomplishments bolsters the pride they feel for doing good work and encourages them to do more of the same in the future. Tactfully acknowledging team members’ wounds helps them heal more quickly and regain their confidence for future work.

Properly celebrating a project’s end doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive.

  • Cookies, cake, soft drinks, or popcorn can create a fun environment.
  • Honest stories and reminiscing over project events, either good or bad, can help establish a healthy perspective for them (adding a touch of humor is always a good thing when telling these stories).
  • Having management show up gives the celebration weight and builds organizational transparency.

Within an hour or two you’re done but the effects will last for weeks and months.

Remember, there is always a reason to celebrate an end to a project. Give it its proper respect.