Last updated 6 April 2023
I recently read a helpful post (with handy infographic) on how to close a project by Elizabeth Harrin of the Rebel’s Guide to Project Management blog. Although I get a lot out of reading project management blogs, the tips don’t always straightforwardly translate into the kind of work I do, which usually involves delivering an encyclopedia or book project for publication rather than conducting the sort of change-management process more typically associated with project management outside publishing.
However, the more I looked at Harrin’s seven steps, the more I thought of ways they fit in with closing editorial projects. Let’s take each of the steps in turn.
Tips on how to close editorial projects effectively
1 and 2 Handover to users (training and support)
The relevance of these items varies depending on the type of client:
- Publisher clients: although I don’t have to train anybody in what to do next with my project deliverables (these clients are, unsurprisingly, very familiar with how to print and digitally publish a book!), I do have to give some context for the files I’m handing over. Final versions of all of the project’s basic documentation (such as style sheets, art logs and lists of authors’ contact details) need to be provided. And there might be things the client needs to know concerning oddities in the files that shouldn’t be overridden at later stages. General project context may also be helpful in terms of the publisher managing their relationship with the author(s) going forward. Finally, I’ll generally have been working closely with an editorial board and/or a team of authors, and they need to know what happens next and who to contact going forward.
- Non-publisher clients: these include charities and other non-profits, businesses, and authors who are publishing their texts themselves. These clients have varying levels of understanding of editorial/publishing processes, so my handovers are always bespoke. For clients with a dedicated editorial team, the handover will be similar to that for a publisher. For other clients, I’ll provide a lot more information – for example, an explanation of what to do with the style sheet I’ve created, and suggestions on how to brief the designer if there are complex design elements.
3 Finalise procurements (close out budgets and contracts)
All costs need to be tallied and checked, with the client updated as necessary. I also make sure all invoices have been properly raised and dealt with so that I can be sure all of the freelancers I’ve contracted can close their part of the project satisfactorily.
4 Evaluate project
My clients generally don’t require a formal project evaluation, but nevertheless I consider some sort of retrospective to be a vital part of finishing a project, both for the sake of my ongoing relationships with my clients and for the sake of my business.
- Relationships with clients: I always aim to work with my clients as a true partner, so I’m always open to sharing views on what worked well and where improvements might be made in the future. Similarly, I always welcome and act upon feedback from my clients; as I’ve written elsewhere, I work on the basis that there’s a direct relationship between how I respond to feedback and the health of my business.
- Improvements to my business: one of the benefits of running a small business is that you have the ability to continually make and remake your procedures without having to get approval from anybody else (as long as you’re meeting your clients’ requirements, of course). The end of a project is a great time to identify whether I can see ways to refine or overhaul my documentation, communications, quality control procedures or efficiency.
5 Write closure document (gain formal approval for project close)
Formal approval to close a project is quite straightforward: handover of the files for publication is deemed to be the end of my role in the project. But all projects require some sort of handover document and sometimes this can be long and complex (the longest one I’ve written to date was 25 pages and covered a huge variety of technical aspects, from a specification of the bespoke cross-referencing system to how to treat particles in non-English names).
Additionally, before I hand the files back, I always look over project communications and to-do lists to ensure that none of my client’s requirements have slipped my mind. As far as I’m concerned, if my client has to ask where to find certain information or check whether I’ve completed a task, I haven’t done my job properly. I want to make it as easy as possible for my client to check what I’ve done and send it on to the next stage of the process.
6 Celebrate (thank the team and celebrate achievements)
On the same basis that I value feedback myself (see point 4 above), I always try to find time to give feedback to freelancers I’ve worked with (I’ve written here about how this directly contributes to project quality). In addition, as a project manager, I’ll periodically ask for feedback from freelancers, on the basis that the better I understand what they need from me, the better they will be able to deliver what I need from them. As to celebrating, the rush of handing back a project is always a great feeling, whether it’s a sprawling 12-volume encyclopedia project that’s lasted several years or a more intensive collaboration with a small team.
7 Archive project (file all project information and create archive)
For me, archiving serves two purposes: (1) ensuring I will have everything to hand should queries on the project arise in the future and (2) helping me to conduct regular analyses of the financial and general health of my business (e.g. in my annual report, as I’ve written about here). However much I think I should be able to remember the minutiae of a given project 12 months from now, I know that I won’t, as hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) more words will have passed through my brain since. Subsequent projects will have made the details of this one fade, so I need to make sure I have the key project facts easily accessible.
Adding that last missing comma is not the end of a project. I’m always aware that the way I close an editorial project has a huge bearing on how clients remember me (and thus whether they might choose to work with me again in the future) and how I manage my business’s development. These seven steps are a great little checklist to keep on hand to make sure all of the details of a project – in terms of deliverables, stakeholders and evaluation – are wrapped up thoroughly and to everybody’s satisfaction.