Projects have a very transient nature. They have a definite beginning and end. Everything starts with the conceptualisation and a clear definition of what the project aims to deliver. Only with a clear-cut focus will the implementation phase of the project proceed. The project terminates with the handover of the final deliverables and the closeout of the project itself. Understanding the different phases of the project management process is crucial to its effective organisation and successful governance.

Project Conceptualisation and Definition

Precise project conceptualisation is essential to the formulation of an accurate project definition. The more comprehensive and accurate the project conceptualisation is, the more relevant and convincing is the project definition. A clear and compelling project concept and definition can increase the chances of winning a donor to finance the project.

Project conceptualisation typically involves five important activities.

  1. Preparation of a situation analysis
  2. Preparation of a comprehensive stakeholder analysis, while also engaging stakeholders
  3. Development of a change theory, including an in-depth analysis of the problem and the logic of possible interventions
  4. Identification of results and the proposed means to achieve the results
  5. Preparation of the concept document

Project Handover Activities

The goal of any project is to produce deliverables. The completion of the project will lead to its formal handover to the client organisation. The process of handover involves three important activities.

  • Acceptance

The initial stage of the handover phase requires the client or customer to conduct a comprehensive review and evaluation of the project deliverables. He evaluates the outcomes based on the parameters set during the planning stage of the program. The satisfactory fulfilment of the required parameters will lead to the acceptance of the project deliverables.

  • Commissioning

Acceptance only involves documentary review. That is why the client also needs to commission the project deliverables to gauge their performance in the actual organisational setting of the client. Commissioning involves the actual operationalisation of the deliverables into the normal operation of the organisation. It includes checking, testing, and evaluating the different components of the project deliverables in the actual setting.

  • Transfer of Responsibility and Ownership

Only when the project deliverables have been proven to be in accordance with agreed upon parameters and have been tested and proven to work in the actual setting as expected can the project’s locus of responsibility be transferred to the client and stakeholders. The transfer of responsibility requires stakeholders to issue a final acceptance of the project’s deliverables. This also initiates the transfer of the deliverables’ full ownership to the stakeholders or the client.

Project Closeout Activities

Transferring responsibility and ownership of the project to the stakeholders does not mean that the project is already closed. It is also crucial to close the different aspects of the project, especially the management of the various resources that the project utilised throughout its lifespan.

  • Team Dissolution

Projects are one-off ventures. They have a lifespan that terminates with the completion of the project. This includes the disbanding or dissolution of the different project management and support professionals that make up the teams of the endeavour.

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  • Disposal of Project Assets and Facilities

The different equipment, tools, materials, and other resources utilised for the project will also be managed in a more judicious manner. Depending on the nature of the assets and facilities, the client has the option to use these for other purposes. It is also possible to sell the project assets and facilities to generate income for the organisation.

  • Financial Closeout

All financial resources used in the different stages of the project need to be accounted for. Project managers need to provide a thorough accounting of the project costs. The organisation may employ an external auditor to help evaluate and reconcile financial data.

  • Post-project Review

This step is crucial for ensuring continuous growth and improvement for the organisation. The aim of the review is not to assign blame for any failures or missteps in the implementation of the project. The goal of a post project review is to promote collaboration. The focus is on the identification of the things that went well with the project and those areas that the team could have done better. The lessons learned can be utilised in future projects.

Successful Project Handovers

The handover activities outlined in the preceding section underscore the importance of planning for a successful handover. One of the goals of an effective project handover is to minimise, if not eliminate, questions or issues about the project deliverables. Project managers do not want their clients to sue them one day because of issues in the project that they delivered.

Project managers need to prepare the handover for the client, the customer, the business user, and the operations of the organisation. While these entities can be categorised into a single entity, they do have different requirements as to what things project managers should hand over to them.

In general, successful project handovers have four unique elements or characteristics. First, there is the contractual or commercial obligation of the project to the client or the stakeholders. Second, a successful handover is not a specific date on the calendar. Instead, it is a process that requires incremental transfer of both knowledge and operation. This allows the client to move from a project-based unit to a business-as-usual model.

Third, successful handovers always entail valid, accurate, and comprehensive documentation. The documentation should be specific to the intended user. Fourth, the transfer of project deliverables should always have a positive impact on the people of the client organisation.

Formal Project Closure

A project does not end with the transfer of ownership of the deliverables. It ends with the formal termination and closure of the project. This includes the full acceptance of the project deliverables by the client or stakeholders. It also underscores the need for the effective management of all resources used in the project, including the dissolution of the team. Only then can the project be deemed completed.

Projects start with a clear conceptualisation of what clients want to achieve. The concept leads to a clearer definition of the aims of the project and lays the foundation for the selection of objective-based interventions. The completion of the project initiates two important activities: handover and closeout. Project managers need to prepare for these two activities right from the beginning of the project.

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