All too often, big projects are merely left to drift after their primary goals have been attained, without ever being formally closed. That is problematic for several reasons. It means that they can keep on consuming resources and the people who were involved may be left uncertain of their responsibilities. It also means there is no opportunity to evaluate and learn from the project management cycle. That is why a formal wrap should be considered an essential part of managing any project.
What is a project wrap?
Undertaking a project wrap enables an organisation to do two key things:
- Establish what can be learned from the project
- Create and archive key project documentation
Along with tidying up any loose ends related to the project, and ensuring that resources (including staff) are reallocated, this process makes it possible to take forward useful information from the project for future use. It’s important to be systematic about it to make things easier for anyone who may need to access that information later. Project management software often has a standard form for use during the wrap stage that is designed to facilitate this.
Who should be involved?
A project wrap should involve as many as possible of the people involved in working on the project, because even those engaged at a low level may have useful information to impart. However, not all the individuals need to be present in the final meeting, especially if several teams have been involved in the project as team leaders can collect feedback from all those they supervised. They should also be given the opportunity to contact the overall project manager directly in case their feedback includes a review of their supervisors.
It’s also crucial that the wrap includes everyone who was involved in the conception and planning of the project, even if they had no involvement in actually running it. That makes it easier to asses the degree to which the project met its original objectives and fulfilled the expectations of its creators.
Engaging team members in an analysis of how the project developed is a positive way to raise their awareness of the role each of them played in contributing to the whole. It can also be very effective in motivating them to improve their work.
Referencing the original
The wrap is an opportunity to compare the initial plan behind the project with the reality. It should incorporate an assessment of each of the project management phases to draw out information about how the project was organised. It should also examine the project itself, comparing it with the planning documents, looking at what it achieved, how well it stayed within budget and how well it matched the expected time-frame. Did it bring about any additional, unexpected outcomes, and how well did it satisfy stakeholders?
The degree to which a project wrap can be successful depends on the extent to which the above-mentioned processes were properly documented in the first place. If there were shortcomings in this process which, alone, is an important finding to take away from the process.
Assembling a final report
The final project report that emerges from the wrap should include a detailed profile of every lesson that can be learned from it. These could relate to either positive or negative observations – often the latter are the best teachers. Although project planning software may incorporate standard forms for assessing plans in retrospect, these don’t need to constitute the whole of the final report. There are various ways the data might be presented to maximise clarity and ease of reference.
Shawn Anchor on ‘falling up’
Motivational speaker Shawn Anchor has written extensively on what he calls ‘falling up’, the process whereby organisations can lean from failure. He stresses that fear of failure is one of the best predicators of it happening and encourages organisations to find the positives in difficult situations.
He notes that fear of failure often prompts people to take actions that hinder rather than help them achieve their objectives because their attitude to risk is that they ought to do something. Sometimes doing nothing is, in fact, the best approach. Taking a thorough approach to risk management can help with this. Where projects have fallen short of their objectives, examining the risk analysis methods used in them is a good place to start the process of identifying what went wrong.
Realising the benefits
There is no point in organising a project wrap if the findings that result from it are going to be filed away and forgotten. Although it’s the final stage of the individual project management life cycle, the wrap should also be the start of something. It should result in an identified set of measures that can be taken forward. That may involve sending individual lists of recommended changes to multiple departments within the organisation and following up with each of them systematically to ensure that the points are actioned.
Although large organisations are typically more resistant to change, project wraps provide a significant opportunity to eliminate problem practices and improve efficiency. It’s therefore useful to embed the habit of making adjustments after a wrap into the ongoing practices of the organisation. The project itself can be viewed as a means of assessing particular strategies so that part of the risk analysis pertinent to introducing new systems can already be considered to have been done.
No matter how interesting and enjoyable the work involved in a project has been, it’s often a relief to get to the end of it, so it’s understandable that those involved may not want to go to the trouble of undertaking a project wrap. Doing so significantly increases what can be gained from the project. It’s liable to improve the organisation’s project management methodologies going forward, and it also provides closure to those directly involved, making it easier for them to move forward and get to work on new projects.