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.
Develop a comprehensive, realistic project close-out plan that details roles, responsibilities, timelines and activities, and reflects donor requirements.
With all the moving pieces involved in project programmatic, administrative, and financial close-out, a clear plan is essential for effective management of the close-out process. A poorly-planned close-out process negatively impacts stewardship of project resources and relationships with project stakeholders. Gaps in close-out planning can also trigger a series of issues that often require the intensive and extended efforts of multiple staff to resolve. Developing a comprehensive project close-out plan that details close-out activities, roles, responsibilities, and timelines helps CRS:
- Fulfill its commitment to accountability to project participants, donors, partners, and staff.
- Plan for and maximize opportunities to learn from the project.
- Optimize the use of project and CRS resourcesFor externally-funded projects, delays in close-out or incomplete close-out can lead to the need for follow-up by CRS staff after the award has expired. Staff time spent on these activities after award expiry usually cannot be charged to the donor. (both human and financial).
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP leads the process of developing a comprehensive project close-out plan.
- Others involved: Members of the CRS cross-discipline project close-out team, which typically includes staff from programming (including MEAL), finance, human resources, supply chain management, ICT, and other operations staff; partners; other subject-matter expertsFor example, risk and compliance staff, Global Supply Chain Management staff, senior human resources staff who may not be part of the close-out team, regional technical advisors, IDEA staff, or others familiar with CRS policy, donor requirements and local law.
- The members of the cross-discipline project close-out team work with the PM/CoP and CRS partners to detail and schedule the project close-out activities (see Standard 16, key action 1 for guidance on forming the project close-out team).
- Other subject-matter experts provide inputs and feedback on the plan.
- For multi-year projects: Develop the initial project close-out plan between 12-18 months before the project end date, depending on project length and complexity.
- For projects of 12 months or less: Develop the initial project close-out plan 3-4 months before the project end date.
Plan then refine: While it’s important to develop the close-out plan well before the project end date, treat the plan as a living document. Add detail as the close-out process progresses, review the plan on a regular basis, and update activities, responsibilities, and timelines as needed (see Standard 16, key action 3 for guidance on regular reviews of the close-out plan).
Follow these steps to develop a comprehensive and realistic project close-out plan:
- The PM/CoP prepares to lead the project close-out planning process by:
- Reviewing the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan TemplateThere are two versions of the template: one for projects funded by institutional donors and one for projects funded by CRS discretionary resources. and related instructions.
- Consulting with the project team and country program senior management as needed about the best ways to engage each project partner in the close-out planning process (see the “Partnership” section below).
- Seeking recommendations and lessons learned from colleagues who have led or played a key role in closing out similar projectsThe HoP, IDEA staff, regional staff (e.g. DRDs or RTAs) are good sources of information about potential staff to contact. Gateway is another useful source of information for identifying projects funded by the same donor. Gateway project records should list the contact person for each project. They may also include reports of project after-action reviews or other lessons learned documentation (which, per project management standard 18, should include lessons from the close-out process). in the country program, region, or beyond.
- Reviewing the Cheat Sheet: Common Close-out Pain Points and Mitigation Measures.
Close-out and follow-on projects: Project close-out in a situation where a donor has approved a new phase of the project will differ in several respects compared to close-out in a situation where there is no follow-on project (see Standard 16, key action 5 for additional guidance regarding engaging stakeholders around close-out in different post-project situations). Although close-out in a follow-on project scenario is often easier, with typically fewer human resource close-out tasks and more streamlined processes related to project assets (e.g. asset transfers from one project to the next, rather than asset disposal, sale, or third-party transfers), the core financial closure activities, final project programmatic, financial, and other reporting, and many of the same administrative closure processes will still need to be completed and still require careful planning.
- Following identification of the project close-out team, the PM/CoP convenes a meeting of the CRS close-out team to develop an initial draft of the close-out plan, using the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template. Depending on the approach to close-out planning agreed by the project team and senior management, this initial meeting may also include key partner staff.
- Click here for Tips for the meeting to develop the initial close-out plan.
- When possible and appropriate, coordinate this initial close-out planning meeting with a regular project review and planning meeting, e.g. for multi-year projects, the final annual meeting to develop the plan for the final project year. For more complex projects, it may be necessary and appropriate to organize a separate close-out planning workshop.
- For externally-funded projects, review the award agreement and any donor close-out planning guidance or templates at the beginning of the close-out planning meeting. This helps build a common understanding of donor requirements among project close-out team members and helps the team identify close-out activities requiring donor engagement and/or approvalIdentifying activities that require consultation or inputs from the donor and/or donor approval is extremely important for realistic scheduling of the overall close-out process. Underestimating the time needed to secure donor approvals can lead to unrealistic close-out plans and delayed close-out. (e.g. disposal of project assets, final evaluation activities, etc.).
- Review the status of project sustainability and exit plans developed during project design and start-up (see Standards 2 and 7).
- Review other plans from the project proposal that relate to close-out (e.g. data exit strategy,Project data exit strategies typically address data storage, data transfer and formatting of data into sharable formats. If the project design team didn’t develop a data exit plan, set aside adequate time to develop a comprehensive project data exit strategy as part of close-out planning. staffing close-out plans -- see also Standard 17 on human resource close-out).
- Review the status of previously identified project riskProject risk is the effect of uncertainty on project objectives. and issues,Project issues are unresolved decisions, situations, or problems that will significantly affect the project and that the project team cannot immediately resolve. and identify and analyze any other risks and issues specific to the close-out process.
- Adapt the activities in the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template to the project operating context and donor requirements (compliance). Add activities as needed – for example, related to close-out risks and issues specific to the project, partner support needs, accountability to a specific project stakeholder group.
- Keep in mind that as the team develops the close-out plan, they may identify the need for additional support or expertise to implement specific activities in the plan (e.g., compliance with certain donor requirements; managing complex and/or sensitive aspects of programmatic or operations close-out). Highlight support needs when sharing the draft plan with reviewers (see step 3) and consult with country program and/or regional stakeholders to secure the necessary support (see step 4).
What makes a quality CRS project close-out plan? A quality CRS project close-out plan:
- Is comprehensive, builds on lessons learned, and reflects a thorough understanding of both the programmatic and operations components of project close-out, including compliance with CRS and any donor policies and requirements.
- Clearly identifies close-out actions, roles and responsibilities, and timelines, tailored to the project and any award terms and conditions.For example, the project-specific partnerships and individual partner roles; the CRS project team and wider country program staffing structure; the project operating environment; project-specific stakeholders; whether there will be any follow-on to the project; if CRS will be engaged with other projects or activities with project partners/communities/other stakeholders after the project closes.
- Includes activitiesFor example, exit/transition meetings and reflection events, closure ceremonies, formal handover meetings, etc. that promote the project team’s accountability to participants, communities and other in-country stakeholders and provide opportunities to celebrate what the project and project stakeholders have achieved.
- Provides a clear road map for the development of more detailed close-out plans.For example, asset disposition plans, staffing close-out plans, final evaluation plans, project data management/data exit plans.
- Schedules sufficient time for subject-matter expertSubject-matter experts may include compliance officers, the HoOps, IDEA staff, Global Supply Chain Management staff, an HR Manager or other HR specialist, regional technical advisors, or others familiar with CRS policy, donor requirements and local law. and other required review of such plans and other outputs of the close-out process (e.g. final reports and certifications).
- Incorporates activities to mitigate risks and resolve issuesFor example, non-compliance with applicable requirements, under or overspending, questioned costs, challenging stakeholder relationships, premature departure of project staff, etc. that could negatively impact timely and accountable project close-out.
- Properly sequences and schedules closure activities while key members of the project team are still in place. In general, this means scheduling the completion of field-level programming activities or transitioning responsibility for the same well in advance of the project end-date. For multi-year projects, partners should wrap up programming activities at least three months before the project end date/award expiry date, to facilitate timely financial close-out (see also Standard 2, key action 3).
- The PM/CoP shares the draft close-out plan with internal reviewers familiar with the project, the project operating context, and/or the donor requirements, and incorporates reviewer feedback.
- Click here for Tips for the review of the draft close-out plan.
- Reviewers may include country program senior management; regional staff; IDEA staff, Overseas Finance; Global Risk and Compliance, and staff from other country programs who have closed similar projects.
- For externally-funded projects where the comprehensive CRS close-out plan will be the basis for preparing a close-out plan for a donor (see box below), work backward from the donor’s submission deadline to ensure a thorough and timely review of the comprehensive internal close-out plan.
- For complex projects where the close-out team includes a Core Group (see Guidance for Forming a Project Close-out Team for more on the Core Group), ensure key members of the Core Group review the draft plan.
- For all projects, ensure a careful review of the project staffing needs during close-out, including any additional skills needed for responsible project close-out (e.g., for asset disposition, completion of final reports) and adjust the composition of the close-out team as needed.
- As applicable, highlight any support needed to implement or finalize the plan and request inputs from reviewers regarding staff who could provide the support.
Donor close-out plans and CRS close-out plans: Some donors require submission of a project close-out plan. Keep in mind that the level of detail required by or useful to the donor will be less than the level of detail CRS needs to manage close-out effectively. Use the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template to develop the overall plan, then streamline the details to prepare the close-out documentation required by the donor.
- The PM/CoP reviews the project spending and commitments to date along with spending projections for the remainder of the project period and works with country program senior management to confirm that CRS and partners will have the necessary financial resources to implement the close-out plan.
- Click here for Steps to confirm the financial resources needed for close-out.
- Review spending by budget line item (keeping in mind project line item flexibility) to identify feasible and necessary budget adjustments to ensure timely and accountable close-out.
- Drill down into the budget requirements for project staffing in the close-out period. Project staffing is one of the most critical factors in successful close-out, and this detailed analysis is especially important to identify options and issuesFor example, if financial projections indicate the likelihood of underspending, there may be options to keep certain key project staff working on the project for longer than initially planned, or to supplement the project team with temporary staff support. to consider when refining project staffing close-out plans (see step 5).
- Confirm or request funding to support the costs for close-out assistance (if needed) from specialized staff, temporary duty staff, or consultants, as well as costs associated with close-out activities that will take place after the project end date/award expiry (as applicable).
- The PM/CoP and HR use the project close-out plan and budget analysis to develop or refine an overall project staffing close-out plan (see the Human Resources category in the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template) and begin reaching out to project staff regarding staffing close-out plans and processes (for additional guidance, see Standard 17, key action 1).
- Pay close attention to identifying any activities in the project close-out plan that might require adjustment based on the anticipated departure date of an individual staff member or group of staff. Adjustments might include assigning another team member (e.g. a country program staff who supports multiple projects) to lead or support the activity, or rescheduling (if feasible) to carry out the activity earlier in the close-out process.
- The PM/CoP, with support from other project team members as needed, works with individual partners to develop partner-level close-out plans – for additional guidance, see the “Partnership” section below.
- The PM/CoP secures country program senior management’s approval of the comprehensive project close-out plan and (as applicable/if required) streamlines the plan to submit for donor approval.
- The PM/CoP uses the approved plan to manage the close-out process (see Standard 16, key action 3 for detailed guidance).
Close-out plans for global/multi-country projects: Close-out planning for these projects is especially complex – start early! As detailed in Standard 16, key action 1, multi-country/global projects require both an overall project close-out planIt’s usually sufficient to include close-out activities related to the central/coordinating team in the overall close-out plan, rather than developing a separate close-out plan for that team. and a plan for each participating country. The project director/CoP can determine the most appropriate order for developing the overall close-out plan and country-specific close-out plans. Whatever the sequence, regular review and discussion of the status of both country-level and central-level close-out activities is especially important for timely and accountable close-out of these complex projects – see Standard 16, key action 3 for additional guidance.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- As the CRS project team prepares to begin the close-out planning process, the PM/CoP and project team, with inputs from senior leadership as needed, should discuss the most effective way to manage the process and engage partners throughout. Keep in mind the unique roles, responsibilities, and status of each partner.For example, is the partner ahead of or behind schedule with implementing the activities in their project scope of work? Has the partner been liquidating project advances in a timely and quality way, or are there issues in partner financial management that still need to be addressed? If a follow-on project is planned, will the partner participate in that project? In some cases, CRS and key partner staff will develop the overall project close-out plan together; in other cases, the CRS close-out team may develop an initial draft of the overall plan and then follow-up with partners to share and refine the general plan. In all cases, partners’ inputs and experience should inform the activities, timing, and responsibilities in the overall project close-out plan.
- In addition to ensuring that partners’ inputs and experience inform the overall project close-out plan, CRS should support partners to develop their own close-out plans.Partners may use the overall project close-out plan (and partner tab of the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template) as a starting point for their plan. The purpose of the partner-level close-out plan is twofold: 1) To further detail and schedule the activities needed to close-out the project and complete all partner obligations under their sub-recipient agreement, and 2) To clarify close-out responsibilities within their project and organization teams. See the “Partnership” category of activities in the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template for a list of key activities involved in working with partners to develop and manage their own close-out plans.
- As described under the “Partnership” category in the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template, integrate activities to address partner close-out support needs into the overall project close-out plan, and schedule regular check-ins with partners throughout the close-out process (see Standard 16, key action 3 for guidance on check-ins).
- Although the prime is responsible for the overall project close-out plan, CRS still needs to develop a comprehensive close-out plan to ensure timely and accountable close-out of the activities for which CRS and any CRS sub-recipients or contractors are responsible.
- Reach out to the prime around 14-18 months before the project end date for a multi-year project and 4-6 months before the project end date for a project of 12 months or less, to ask about the prime’s schedule and plans for developing an overall project close-out plan.Note that some primes may not use the language of a project close-out plan but may refer instead to the detailed implementation plan or work plan for the final project year/period. The prime has the authority and responsibility to engage with the donor around close-out requirements and timelines. However, it’s extremely important for CRS and partners to understand these requirements and be aware of any plans by the prime to seek an award modification (e.g., a cost or no-cost extension) that could impact the timing and scope of CRS and partner close-out activities.
- Ideally, the prime should organize a planning workshop to develop the project close-out plan/DIP for the final project year or period. Work with the prime to ensure that CRS and partner representatives participate in these events, to better understand expectations and responsibilities. Equally important, participation helps ensure that project close-out plan timelines and responsibilities reflect CRS’ and partners’ understanding of the operating context, programming and operations realities, and close-out experience and lessons learned.
- Following the prime-led development of an overall project close-out plan, CRS and partners should develop more detailed close-out plans for the components of the project for which they are responsible – follow the steps above.
- If the prime is not planning a participatory close-out plan development process, CRS and partners should follow the steps above to develop their own project close-out plans. Before working on the CRS and partner plans, confirm the prime’s close-out expectations and deadlines (as specified in CRS’ agreement with the prime). Once CRS and any partners have developed close-out plans, share key details of these plans with the prime and alert the prime to any anticipated challenges or issues in the close-out process.
- Close-out planning for emergency projects, which tend to be of shorter duration, is likely to be integrated in ongoing coordination and review meetings. Telescope the project close-out planning process and be sure to use the appropriate version of the Comprehensive Project Close-out Plan Template (e.g. the version for projects < 12 months for short-term emergency projects).
- If the emergency project will be followed by a recovery project, project staff and assets may transition from the emergency project to the recovery project. Keep in mind, however, that there are still close-out processes related to those transitions. Proper planning of programmatic, financial, and other operations activities to close out the emergency project is still important. Failure to plan and complete emergency project close-out activities will lead to the project team’s attention being diverted from recovery to “close-out clean-up” for the emergency project.
- As noted in previous standards (e.g. Standard 13, key action 4), for large-scale emergency responses where many donors may have contributed to an overall response framework, financial close-out and final reporting can be especially challenging and time-consuming, especially where reclassifications of expenses may be needed. In such cases, be sure to plan sufficient time for financial close-out.
- For closure of a Caritas Internationalis Emergency Appeal, follow the procedure in the Caritas Internationalis (CI) Emergency Response Toolkit Manual. This document is available on the CI Baobab site. If you are not registered on the CI Baobab site, please register here.When registering for the CI Baobab site, CRS staff should select "Caritas United States - CRS" as their organization and list the Humanitarian Response Department and firstname.lastname@example.org as the reference contact. If you have any questions, please contact CRS’ Humanitarian Response Department (email@example.com).
Tools and templates
Policies and procedures
GKIM-Records Management-001: CRS Records Management Policy
POL-FIN-GRT-017: Grant Accounting and Reporting Policy (especially section 5, “Timely grant closure”)
POL-OOD-PRG-008: MEAL Policies & Procedures
POL/PRO-FIN-FAS-013: Fixed Assets
PRO-FIN-GRT-017.06: Review of Financial Reporting to Donors
PRO-FIN-INV-025.01: Accounting for Purchased Inventoriable Goods
PRO-OOD-SUB-001: Non-U.S. USAID Subrecipient Audits Procedure
PRO-OSD-GEN-015: FFATA Reporting Procedure
Supply Chain Management Handbook, especially chapters 7 and 13
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)