The project closure process, which as project managers know, simply means closing out a project at its conclusion, can happen many ways.
Some project closures are positive; many are negative. In my experience working with many systems integration companies, I have seen all types of scenarios play out. And I’m sad to say that in over half of them, the project closure process was riddled with incomplete deliverables, missed hand-offs, payment delays (read: lost profits), and damaged client relationships.
If you are a member of Navigate Academy, or have ever taken my project management classes, you know that this is the only industry where I’ve ever heard the phrase, “Did you want it ‘done’ or ‘done-done’?”
How do sloppy project closures keep happening?
More importantly, how does an AV company prevent it in the first place?
Put simply, it’s all about process and disciplined application (no exceptions).
In a maturely managed organization, where each discipline sees itself as part of a larger, interconnected whole, project closure is a natural outcome of documented processes, disciplined execution, and diligent hand-offs.
Each group in the process sees its successor as a valued customer to be served, not a dumping ground.
Here are some best practices I’ve seen at AV integration organizations where the following is routine:
- Sales staff composes a comprehensive Scope of Work, creates a professional relationship with the client, and sets achievable expectations.
- Engineering creates a well-documented design that is current, achievable, and in alignment with a validated site survey.
- Installation (including all the related functions — head-end, production, programming, etc.) performs its tasks according to documented standards, validating that the installation is correct and any modifications to the work have been documented.
- Project managers consistently align the client’s expectations with the project’s evolving changes and document all incremental milestones and sign-offs (especially on larger projects).
- Client training is handled professionally, based on the most recent drawings and programming.
- Commissioning is thorough and provides a smooth transition and a firm foundation for the service team to help the client achieve their operational objectives.
We’ve discussed the importance of design and installation checklists, as well as adhering to standards, in previous posts. That same kind of professional discipline must also hold true when it comes to training and commissioning. These processes are crucial to successful project closure and repeat business.
Training needs to be a formal project milestone that gets client sign-off. The client should formally acknowledge:
- A list of everybody who attended the training
- The training syllabus (if possible)
- A list of training obligations if more training will be offered
- A method of follow-up, based on a communicated procedure, for those who were not present at the training
The client must also be aware of their responsibilities during the training process, including scheduling time with the correct attendees and the ramifications if users don’t attend the training. This step is often overlooked, both during sales and implementation.
You should also have a milestone for “substantial completion,” traditionally a contract term used in architecture and construction that helps ensure a smooth project closure process. Part of the final inspection process, substantial completion allows the AV integration company to begin final billing procedures, as well as take credit for a bulk of the effort already expended on the project.
The final inspection process should cover:
- A check list of items on the bill of materials, with function testing
- Acknowledgement of design changes or add-ins
- Equipment identification (via serial numbers)
- Review of workmanship/site cleanup
- Test and measurement data (if required)
- Programming test protocol
- Network testing
- Sign off by the client, which clearly states it is complete to bill
The result is a notice of substantial completion (a.k.a. the punch list). This list is generated via the final inspection and should be done with cooperation from the client. You need to start it early enough so that you have time to fix any issues that come up. But your main goal is to be able to start final billing, or at least partial billing.
Following the final inspection, there may be several items outstanding. These items often represent less than 1 percent of the total effort expended on a project, but can amount to 10 percent of the project’s billing, to say nothing about their impact on client satisfaction.
Most resource schedulers, technicians, and even some project managers are unaware of how much money and reputation are at risk at this stage of project closure. They often see only “a couple things” need cleaning up when they get some free time. Of course, there’s rarely free time because other emergencies continually come up.
This attitude often results from a lack of knowledge by the installation department (and sometimes procurement and warehousing) about the financial perspectives of the project(s) and reputation of the company as a whole. This can set off a lot of finger-pointing within the company.
Companies that complete their punch lists in a timely fashion do so because they consider them as important as that next, ‘special’ project with a tight deadline, and they address their punch lists with the entire organization focused on their successful completion.
Integrators that view and treat their service department as a customer of the installation department — with its own sign-off authority — close more projects successfully.
When you’ve got this mindset, it creates a discipline around the entire commissioning and transition process and ensures all documents of record (also known as “as-builts”) are correct. It also allows the service department to show a true profit or loss, without having to fix or clean-up implementation’s mess, especially after the job charge number has been closed.
In short, the project closure process and transition to service should follow some basic principles.
The service department requires proper documentation (with the appropriate signatures); otherwise the project will never be “done-done,” causing cost overruns and poor client relationships.
At the end of the day, payment delays and excessive service calls are usually caused by inadequate documentation and a lack of incremental signoffs — a sure sign that client expectations and perceptions have not been well managed and that the client relationship will have to be repaired before it can be grown.
Companies that make completing their current job a greater priority than the starting the next job have a greater chance for success.
One of the best ways to avoid crisis mode is to avoid crisis altogether.
By Brad Malone, Vice President of Consulting for Solutions360 and Navigate Management Consulting.