In the consulting world, arriving at the endpoint is an inherent piece of the project. But amidst the inertia of reaching the goal line, an effective handoff can easily become an afterthought, even when there’s a big X on the calendar reminding you of your endpoint. While there is no silver bullet for how and when to push the closeout button, we have identified several considerations based on our experience. If you can be cognizant of these milestones along the journey, especially during the home stretch, you’ll avoid unnecessary pain and end on a high note.
Here are four tips to ponder when navigating the end of an engagement:
1. Plan Ahead for the End
Timing is everything – and that is especially true as you wind down an engagement. When it comes to planning your transition, that’s something you and your prospective partner should be discussing from the start.
As you build out your scope and timeline, factor in the handoff to the internal team from the get-go. Whether that is a 15- day, 30-day or 90-day transition period, the best practice is for the new team to onboard and participate in at least one cycle of regular meetings or output, such as periodical reports. This will allow them to get up to speed on the various team roles and responsibilities. It also will provide in-situ opportunities to: introduce them to collaborators, discuss procedures and documentation (along with their location), allow for sharing of key engagement learnings to make the link to ancillary resources.
By acknowledging the transition period and signing off on closeout steps ahead of time, you’ll be less likely to end up with knowledge gaps or deer-in-headlight scenarios.
2. Understand your Interim Goals
The client-side lead’s primary focus should be to ensure they understand which project elements will be completed at the close of the contract, as well as areas where the go-forward team will need to carry the torch.
We recommend working closely alongside the engagement lead to understand how things are winding down and the specific information the engagement team will deliver to support the transition. Not only does the client lead need to understand the what of transition, but you’ll also want to ask how they are delivering it, to whom and when? High client engagement in this stage will not only set expectations for transition, but it’ll also decrease the number of gaps the team encounters when they are responsible for day-to-day activities and measurement.
3. Document the Details
The meat of the project – the spreadsheets, internal wiki webpages, file locations, process documentation – may seem like an obvious deliverable. But we all know what it’s like, and how long it can take, to retrace our own steps under a deadline.
To ensure a comprehensive deliverable, we recommend consultants document as much as possible while completing ongoing monthly processes, enabling recorders to detail notes and best practices in the context of executing the task. Consultants should plan to spend 2-3 months creating these notes so that the engagement team is well-prepared ahead of the electronic handoff. Keep in mind this is a big chunk of what organizations request, along with closeout paperwork.
And side note, these aggregated details should be packaged in an easily digestible, transportable package. Lean on communications best practices learned through the engagement – if the client prefers PowerPoint decks, use that; if they prefer verbal explanation with supporting documents, do that instead.
4. Go with Goodwill
We’ve all heard the saying, “leave it better than you found it.” When teams reach the endpoint – both on the engagement side but also client-side – everyone should be asking themselves, what will the final impression look like? Was there a degradation of activity as all parties hit the consultant fatigue stage? Did the engagement team leave a mess or with ample goodwill and mutual respect? The goal is for both parties to be efficient in their closeout activities and walk away with 100% confidence that needs have been met and potential gaps have been filled.
If you are deliberate with these considerations, your path to completion should feel smooth and seamless. Because what’s the sense in working hard to deliver an outcome on a project, only to fumble at the end and jeopardize the long-term impact of your work. It’s in everyone’s best interests to be collaborative and goal-oriented until the very end.
Do you have other tips for successfully ending a client engagement? Don’t hesitate to reach out with questions about our process or additional suggestions.