The IPI Partnering model includes a closeout session, yet projects often overlook this best practice. What is the importance of it, and what should facilitators and teams do to get the most out of it?
When a team is pursuing awards they should definitely have a closeout session. We go through the award application right then and there. It’s a positive experience, a way to look back on all they’ve accomplished and to end on a high note. With projects that haven’t gone as well, teams may resist coming together for a closeout session, but then they miss out on the valuable opportunity for lessons learned that can benefit future projects.
It can be difficult to motivate teams to come together for later sessions and the closeout, especially if the project has no “close out” issues. I recommend having the closeout session mandated in the spec, because if they can opt out of it they usually will. Lessons learned at the end of projects is important to encourage continuous improvement of the entire partnering program, rather than a “one-off” on a particular project. For the lessons learned session, I use a retrospective approach where the team decides what to “keep doing, start doing, and stop doing”. We document that session by creating an action plan moving forward, so that the lessons learned on each project can be applied on future projects.
There are two fundamental barriers to holding a lessons learned session. One: the contractor may not want to publicly share lessons which they regard as proprietary. Two: With public owners, one job doesn’t always follow on the other, so the lessons learned won’t necessarily be passed on. Some owners find a Knowledge Management (KM) system helpful, where communities of practice glean knowledge from individual construction project lessons to share and incorporate into a larger strategy. Generally a KM system includes expert review for gatekeeping and an IT backbone to make approved lessons accessible to those who need them.
Even when the physical work is complete, a lot of administrative work typically remains. And, lack of alignment regarding the details of a project closeout exist. A facilitated closeout session can help answer those questions so that everyone is expecting the same documentation and processes, and everything that needs to happen gets done, efficiently. The closeout session is also the opportunity to crystalize lessons learned. If you have a follow-on project, then those lessons learned could become an agenda item at the kickoff session for the next team.
Some teams do not wait until the closeout session to gather lessons learned. On one project, a project analyst gathered data on lessons learned throughout the project. The analyst removed the burden from the rest of the team, and prepared a document on lessons learned that at closeout was already 80-90% complete. Lessons learned can be promoted internally and publically on the intranet and internet. Internally a project management MS SharePoint collaboration platform can be a very effective system for improving project history communication.
A closeout session is most valuable on large major projects where there are a lot of good takeaways. These projects involve many moving pieces and many stakeholders. If you hold a closeout session, dig down, really flesh it out, and create a usable document that accurately captures those lessons. The closeout session is also a convenient time to discuss the awards application. You can get a lot of good quotes from people that way.
The closeout is a good source of knowledge and information that can be applied to future projects; the real value comes in taking the time/effort to review lessons learned from a closeout as the next project is kicking off – making sure the resources and the commitment are present to see this process through.
*Featured image clipart from http://laoblogger.com