Standard 16: Accountable and timely project close-out.
Close out the project in a way that is responsive and accountable to participants, partners, host or local governments and donors.
Form a cross-discipline team to plan and implement project close-out activities.
Project close-outProject close-out is an important final stage of the project cycle for any CRS project, whether funded by CRS discretionary resources or institutional donor funds. It involves multiple tasks related to program, financial, human resources, supply chain, and other operations closure. Project close-out as used in Compass is an overarching term which includes activities both before and after the project end date. For projects funded by institutional donors, the term “project close-out” also encompasses the specialized activities of award close-out. is an intensive, complex process with multiple components. To ensure timely, comprehensive and accountable project close-out, CRS and partners must draw on the time and skills of staff from programming, finance, supply chain management, human resources, ICT, and other key areas as needed. Identification at the beginning of close-out planning of a team of experienced staff from the various disciplines involved in project close-out:
- Facilitates development of a quality close-out plan.
- Ensures ownership of the close-out plan by those who will ultimately implement it.
- Fosters accountability, collaboration, and clarity of responsibilities.
- Helps the country program manage human resources in a responsible way and allocate the necessary staff time to close-out.
- Primary responsible: Country representative (CR) with the head of programming (HoP) and head of operations (HoOps)
- The CR approves and formally constitutesThe CRS project management standards identify the CR as the primary responsible for forming the project close-out team given the highly cross-discipline nature of comprehensive project close-out. This applies to all types of projects, including those supported with CRS discretionary funds. Although the PM (or CoP) may lead the day-to-day activities of the project close-out team, it is important to keep in mind that the PM/CoP will likely not have the authority to convene and secure the commitment of operations members of the project close-out team. CR leadership in formation of project close-out teams helps set the tone that comprehensive, timely, and accountable close-out is a country program commitment and priority. the cross-discipline project close-out team proposed by the HoP and HoOps.
- Others involved: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP); finance manager (FM); human resources (HR) manager; supply chain manager or equivalent; IDEA staff as applicable (e.g. for centrally-managed awards)
- The PM/CoP helps the HoP and HoOps define the profiles and skills needed for the project close-out team and provides day-to-day leadership of the team’s activities once the team has formed;
- The FM, HR manager, and supply chain manager (or equivalent – e.g., procurement manager) work with the HoOps to identify appropriate close-out team members from their respective areas.
Close-out teams for global/multi-country projects: For global or multi-country projects, the CoP or project director initiates the process of forming the overall project close-out team, identifying potential members of the central close-out team,Central close-out team members would typically be drawn from any regional or global project team members who directly charge the project. and reaching out to the individual country programs regarding formation of their own teams. The CR of each participating country program is responsible for forming the country program (CP) team that will coordinate CP-level close-out.
- For multi-year projects: Form the project close-out team between 12-18 months before the project end date, depending on project length and complexity.
- For projects of 12 months or less: Form the project close-out team 3-4 months before the project end date.
- Pay special attention to the project end-dates for externally-funded projects, as award close-out,Award close-out refers to the process which follows the expiration date (project completion date or end date listed in the agreement) of an award-funded project. Sometimes referred to as “financial and administrative closure”, award close-out includes final reporting on project expenditures, reporting on the final status of all property and equipment purchased with project funds, audit certification if required, submission of all final technical programming deliverables including reports, and any final reporting related to intellectual property created through the project. The award close-out period may extend several weeks or months beyond the grant/award expiration date. In some cases, donors provide funding for the closure process. particularly for donors with more complex administrative and financial closure requirements, may be particularly demanding and require earlier formation of the project close-out team.
Form the close-out team in time for team members to initiate detailed close-out planning: Good practice is to use an annual or quarterly project planning and review meeting to begin developing the detailed project close-out plan. Identifying the project close-out team before this meeting allows those who will be responsible for implementing the close-out activities to participate in developing the project close-out plan. Keep in mind that while it’s important to form the team early, for multi-year projects, after developing the close-out plan, check-in meetings early in the close-out process are likely to be brief and less frequent (e.g. monthly). Meeting frequency and details to be discussed will increase as the project end date/award expiry approaches.
Follow these steps to form a project close-out team with the knowledge, skills, and authority to plan and execute a responsible and timely project close-out:
- Determine the skills and experience needed on the project close-out team: The HoP and HoOps work with the PM/CoP to clearly articulate the staffing needs for the project close-out team.Reflect on key elements of the project, especially those that may present challenges/require particular skills or additional staff strength for close-out —for example, the number and strength of project partnerships and capacity of project partners; the complexity of technical programming interventions; the country program team’s familiarity with the donor and the complexity of the donor close-out requirements; operating context complexities that may make close-out more challenging and/or time-consuming (e.g. remote communities). This should include defining the programming and operations-related skills and experience needed within the close-out team (e.g. specific language skills; experience with project close-out processes, and/or a specific donor’s requirements).
- Click here for Points to keep in mind when defining project close-out team staffing needs.
- Close-out staffing needs will differ depending on project complexity (including the project structure – e.g., single country or multi-country/ global), and close-out requirements. See the Guidance for Forming a Project Close-out Team, under “Tools” for additional guidance on close-out team considerations and options for projects of different levels of complexity and sources of funding.
- For very complex or otherwise strategic projects, the CR may participate in the definition of the project close-out team staffing needs and should be closely involved in the close-out process (see the description of the “Close-Out Core Group” in Guidance for Forming a Project Close-out Team). If external support is needed for close-out or specific aspects of the close-out process, the CR should contact the region and/or HQE.g. IDEA or the FMRT. (if needed) to discuss options.
- Use the comprehensive close-out plan template as a guide to the types of human resource support that will be needed on the project close-out team.
- For centrally-managed awards or other awards where IDEA staff have significant knowledge of donor requirements and procedures, consult with IDEA to review the donor’s award close-out expectations and requirements and factor these into team requirements.
- Ask, “who has done this before?”. Talk to other staff in the country program or region with strong close-out experience (ideally with similar kinds of projects) and ask for their recommendations about what’s needed on the close-out team. This is especially important when planning close-out for a project funded by a donor new to the country program.
Planning simultaneous or overlapping project close-out processes: If multiple projects are closing at the same time or within a few months of each other, discuss any synergies that might be possible across close-out operations and coordination processes and how those might affect the composition of the project close-out teams. For example, could the same HR staff calculate staff leave balances for staff from all closing projects at the same time? Could the CR and HR adapt a similar set of talking points for use in discussions with project staff? Could supply chain management/administration staff prepare the physical count for inventory for all closing projects at the same time? If the different projects include some of the same partners, are there ways to streamline close-out communication and support to partners, and sensitively address likely partner concerns with multiple projects closing out?
- Identify close-out team members and secure CR endorsement: The HoP, HoOps, and PM/CoP use the list of project close-out team staffing needs to identify close-out team members, then share the list with the CR for his/her endorsement and follow-up.
- Click here for a list of Tips to identify an appropriate close-out team.
- Factor in the knowledge, skills and time of staff who are part of the project staffing structure but think beyond only these staff members (whose focus is typically on programming close-out). It’s also important to keep in mind the planned timing of these staff members’ transitions from the project, particularly if there is a planned phase downPhase down is reducing the level of an activity but continuing to provide support. The phase down stage may be preparatory to phase out or phase over. (Hello, I must be going…) of project activities before a final phase out.Phase out means discontinuing support or involvement in a project activity. There is no attempt to find a new sponsor to continue the activity. (Hello, I must be going…)
- Consult with the supervisors of any staff who do not report directly to the HoP, HoOps, or CoP/PM. Share the Bridge Staffing Plan Template as a tool for supervisors to adapt and use with their staff to ensure proper adjustment to or coverage of ongoing responsibilities, if needed.
- When identifying potential members of the project close-out team, ask about other major activities in the staff person’s unit or department, as well as staff leave schedules, that may overlap with the project close-out period, including the post-award expiry administrative and financial closure period. Identify ways to mitigate any potential scheduling conflicts.
- Consider options for surge support as needed. This may be needed in cases where there are multiple and overlapping, complex projects closing out, or project close-out(s) will take place at a time when country program resources may be stretched.For example, during a transition in country program leadership; a key staff’s extended leave; the design or start-up of a significant new project. Surge support options may include engaging someone from the CRS’ Field Management Response Team (FMRT) to serve on close-out team or provide coverage for an SMT member participating in the close-out team; requesting close-out team TDY support from IDEA staff;For example, Project Support and Institutional Donor Engagement (PSIDE) staff are available for close-out TDY support; other IDEA units (e.g. the Global Fund team) may also be able to offer temporary support to the close-out team. or tapping into other TDY support or support from volunteers,Volunteers may not be an option in every country program, but might include Peace Corps and/or volunteers from the national Youth Corps (or your country’s equivalent). If planning for volunteers to help cover ongoing responsibilities of a member of the project close-out team, be sure to plan sufficient time to prepare the volunteer to provide high-quality coverage. to free up time for country program staff to work on close-out.
Who participates in project close-out teams? Though project close-out teams are always cross-disciplinary, the size and exact composition of an individual project close-out team will vary. See Guidance for Forming a Project Close-out Team for examples of potential close-out team composition for different types of projects.
- Orient and set the tone for the close-out team: After all supervisors have confirmed their team member’s participation in the project close-out team, the PM/CoP convenes the close-out team to discuss the close-out planning process and close-out team expectations, roles and responsibilities.
- CR engagement in this initial meeting of the close-out team helps emphasize the importance of the close-out process and close-out team members’ participation.
- For multi-country/global projects, the CR should convene the meeting of the country-level close-out team and make sure the team understands how the country-level and central-level close-out teams will coordinate and communicate. Involve the CoP/project director in this discussion as helpful and feasible.
TIP--Link close-out team participation to performance plans: At the beginning of the annual performance planning cycle, the HoP and HoOps should work with supervisor to ensure that each staff member who is likely to participate in a project close-out team during the FY includes participation in the close-out team in his/her annual performance plan. This helps formalize key stakeholders’ (HoP, HoOps, supervisor, and staff member) commitment to making the time for each team member to contribute meaningfully to the close-out process.
- Manage close-out team performance: After the team has developed the initial project close-out plan (see Standard 16, key action 2 for detailed guidance), the CR, HoOps, and HoP check in regularly with the PM/CoP on progress against the close-out plan, support needs, and any issues with the participation, performance or workload of members of the close-out team.
- To ensure decisions are taken by the right person in a timely manner, be sure the PM/CoP and senior management are all clear on the PM/CoP’s decision-making authority (tolerances)Project tolerances set clear parameters within which a project manager/chief of party (PM/CoP) can act autonomously—and make it clear when the PM/CoP needs to seek approval. Project tolerances describe the approved ranges of variation that a PM/CoP is authorized to oversee without seeking the endorsement of members of the project governance structure. Tolerances may relate to such things as budget and project timeframe, project scope and quality. For example, a project tolerance might describe the percent by which a project, or line items in a project, can over- or under-spend without the approval of members of the project governance structure; or the acceptable number of days of delay in the implementation schedule before approval from the project governance structure is required. in the close-out period. This is especially important for complex projects, including any project that forms a Close-out Core Group (see the Guidance for Forming a Close-out Team). If needed, update the project charterA project charter is a document that formalizes the project governance structure including the roles, responsibilities, and norms of the governance structure, and establishes project tolerances and decision-making authority. to reflect any new tolerances or decision-making processes for the close-out period.
Protect the time of the close-out team: Staffing transitions can leave project and country program teams understaffed and lead to additional demands on close-out team members. Staff outside the country program may be unaware of the time staff need to devote to close-out activities and thus may send time-consuming requests that take time away from close-out. The CR should emphasize within and outside the country program the importance of respecting the time needed by close-out team members to ensure a timely and accountable close-out.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Support partners to define close-out staffing needs and required roles for timely and accountable project close-out at the level of their own organization. Keep in mind that some partners (particularly local partner organizations) may not have larger teams that support multiple projects and general operations, and thus may have more limited human resources to draw on outside of the project team. Partners also have different management structures for decision-making. Be sure that each partner’s project close-out team (and close-out plan) reflects their organizational structure and internal systems.
- See Standard 16, key action 2 for guidance on working with partners to develop their own project close-out plans.
- Forming a project close-out team is a critical first step in accountable project close-out when CRS is a sub-recipient. Follow the process above, seeking guidance from the prime about the close-out process to better define CRS close-out staffing needs.
- Although emergency project implementation periods are often shorter and thus have more compressed project close-out timeframes, it’s still important to clearly define project close-out team staffing needs. This is true even in cases where an initial emergency response is followed by a recovery project which will be staffed by many members of the project team.
- Keep in mind that for emergency projects/responses funded by multiple donors, project financial closure may be quite complex, especially if there were challenges with project financial set-up or initial project financial reporting (see Standard 8, key action 4, and Standard 13, key action 4, “Emergency projects” sections for additional consideration and guidance on this issue). Be sure to identify any additional support the close-out team may need to manage these issues.
- Primary responsible: Country representative (CR) with the head of programming (HoP) and head of operations (HoOps)