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.
Closely monitor and manage implementation of the close-out plan, including timely communication with the donor.
Once the project close-out team has developed a comprehensive plan that clearly identifies activities, roles, responsibilities, and timelines for project close-outProject 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. , management of close-out activities and monitoring of progress against the plan is essential. Close monitoring and ongoing management of close-out plan implementation, including regular check-in meetings of the project close-out team:
- Provides an opportunity to flag close-out activities that are off track or at risk of going off track and take corrective action.
- Helps CRS identify and manage close-out related issues that need discussion with senior management, partner leadership, members of the project governance structure, and/or any project donor, in a timely manner.
- Facilitates smooth handovers and ensures activities don’t “fall through the cracks” during a period when staff transitions are the norm.
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)
- The PM/CoP coordinates overall management and monitoring of progress against the close-out plan.
- Others involved: Members of the cross-discipline project close out team, which typically includes staff from programming (including MEAL), finance, supply chain management, human resources, ICT, and other operations teams; partner project staff; country program senior management or the project-specific Close-out Core GroupCRS recommends forming a Close-out Core Group, comprised of senior staff, for highly complex projects (e.g. DFSAs, FFE, FFPr, Global Fund PR awards, complex foundation-funded awards). The Close-out Core Group’s mandate is to: provide overall guidance and high-level oversight to the close-out process; make major decisions; and lead management of sensitive issues. See the Guidance for Forming a Project Close-out Team tool under Standard 16, key action 1 for more details.
(as applicable); headquarters staff (as applicable)
- The members of the project close-out team carry out their responsibilities per the project close-out plan, participate in regular check-in meetings, and alert the PM/CoP to any risks and issues related to the close-out process.
- Partner project staff complete close-out actions at their level.
- Country program senior management or the Close-out Core Group support the PM/CoP in addressing close-out challenges.
- Headquarters staff (e.g. IDEA, HQ Overseas Finance) support country program teams with final project reporting as applicable; for centrally-funded awards, IDEA staff lead communication with the donor as needed about close-out questions, challenges, or issues.
- Ongoing from the start-date of the project close-outProject 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.
plan, through the project end date and award close-out (if applicable),Award close-out is 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 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.
- For multi-year projects: Beginning 12-18 months before the project end date/award expiry
- For projects of 12 months or less: Beginning 3-4 months before the project end date/award expiry
Follow these steps to effectively manage and monitor implementation of the project close-out plan:
Regular close-out team check-ins to monitor close-out progress
- The PM/CoP and other members of the project close-out team agree on a time and location for regular check-in meetings, which are held:
- Monthly following development of the project close-out plan until 4-6 months before the project end date (for multi-year projects).
- Every two weeks starting 3-5 months before the project end date (for projects <12 months, start with meetings every two weeks).
- Weekly in the final month before the project end date, and from the project end date/award expiry through the completion of all remaining close-out activities.
For global/multi-country grants: Establish a two-tier schedule of check-in meetings: one for the central close-out team and country program leads together, and one for individual country program close-out team check-ins.
Virtual coordination of close-out teams: Some close-out teamsE.g. teams for multi-country/global projects, or single-country projects where close-out team members are in a central office plus one or more sub-offices. may be scattered across locations. In such cases, establishing and following a regular schedule of check-in calls is even more important for coordination and for identifying and addressing problems before they become significant issues. Consider communications constraints, establish back-up plansE.g., ask staff with weak connectivity to convey their questions, issues and any key updates by e-mail or a call before the meeting; establish a phone dial-in number or schedule telecon check-ins if phone connectivity is better. as needed and ensure strong pre-meeting preparation and well-planned facilitation during virtual check-in meetings.
- The PM/CoP facilitates a team review of the status of activities from the project close-out plan, using the Checklist: Project Close-out Check-in Meetings and the Cheat Sheet: Common Close-out Pain Points and Mitigation Measures.
- Recommended practice, especially for more complex project close-out plans, is for each person responsible for a close-out activity to update the activity’s status in the planSave the close-out plan in a shared folder, e.g. on OneDrive, and grant anyone responsible for an activity edit permissions. Use a color-coding or similar system for noting activities that are on schedule, those at risk of falling behind, and those that are behind schedule. before the check-in meeting. This helps the team focus on activities that are behind schedule or at risk of falling behind and keeps the check-in meeting focused on questions, decisions, and follow-up actions.
Encourage early and open communication about close-out challenges: The “domino effect”, where a delay with one activity affects many other activities, is a major risk in close-out. It’s essential to identify problems or potential problems before they trigger other issues. The PM/CoP must create an enabling environmentThis enabling environment is sometimes referred to as a “psychologically safe” workplace. Dr. Amy Edmonson defines “psychological safety” as “a belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes” (for more on psychological safety, see Standard 11, key action 1). for timely, open communication among all close-out team members. Make sure team members know that questions are welcome, and that bad news early is better than bad news late.
- The PM/CoP circulates brief meeting minutes after each check-in meeting, summarizing the key issues discussed, action items, and individuals responsible. The close-out team reviews the list of meeting action items as the first agenda point in the next check-in meeting.
- Click here for a list of Tips for preparing and sharing check-in meeting minutes.
- Copy the SMT when sharing the meeting minutes, for their information and support with follow-up as needed.
- Refer readers to the updated close-out plan; don’t try to summarize the status of all activities in the minutes.
- For centrally-funded awards, copy the IDEA staff member responsible for project donor engagement and support.
- In the last quarter of the project, create an e-mail chain of meeting minutes, for easy reference and identification of action items carrying over from one meeting to the next that may need higher-level attention. See the Sample Meeting Minutes: Close-out Team Check-in Meetings e-mail under “Other Resources”.
Country-level check-in meetings for multi-country/global grants: Copy the CoP/project director when sharing country program close-out team meeting minutes. Highlight and follow up directly with the CoP/project director on any questions or issues that need a quick response/action/decision from the central-level close-out team, or consultation with any project donor.
Regular project coordination activities and meetings during the final year/quarter
- In addition to the formal close-out team check-in meetings, the PM/CoP and project team monitor the project and the wider operating environment through ongoing coordination activities, meetings and discussions. These include:
- Regular analysis of project MEAL data and overall project progress through CRS and partner quarterly project review and planning meetings.
- Monthly meetings to review the project budget/forecast comparison report.
- Regular CRS project team meetings.
- Regular check-ins and planning discussions with supply chain management/procurement staff.
Ongoing monitoring of changes in the project operating environment, the status of planned programming activities and progress toward project objectives, and spending against the approved project budget will help the PM/CoP and project team identify early in the close-out process if there is a need and justification for a no-cost extension. If a no-cost extension is needed, an early decisionIn the case of centrally-funded awards, the country program reaches out to IDEA staff, who will follow up with the donor regarding a possible no-cost extension. will help the team to make timely and appropriate adjustments to project close-out plans.
Checking in with human resources: Standing check-ins with human resources may not be part of regular implementation phase coordination for most projects. However, in projects with larger teams, it’s good practice for the PM/CoP to meet regularly with HR staff throughout close-out, to review and update the project staffing close-out plan as needed and quickly address any individual or team HR-related issues. This is especially important in cases where CRS has initiated close-out activities while awaiting news from a donor regarding a project extension or follow-on.
Coordination, handover, and documentation as the project end-date/award expiry approaches
- Finance staff and the PM/CoP send reminders to all staff regarding the cut-off date for project expenditures.
- The PM/CoP ensures all project team staff members departing the project document the status of their assigned close-out responsibilities and highlight issues requiring follow-up.
- During the last close-out team meeting before the project end-date/award expiry, the team identifies, and the PM/CoP documents, any close-out activities that were scheduled for completion prior to the project end date but which are still pending. The PM/CoP also notes the team’s recommendations/planned actions and timelines for completing these tasks, including reassigning responsibility for pending tasks if they were supposed to be completed by staff who will no longer be available after the project end date.
- Work with country program senior management to confirm the ability of other close-out team members, or to identify other non-award funded country program staff, to complete the post-project close-out activities.
Finalizing close-out without the PM/CoP: If the PM/CoP can’t lead final project/award close-out,For example, due to departure from the country program, separation from CRS, or transfer to another position in the country program which requires full-time level of effort. the country representative (CR) works with the head of programming (HoP) and head of operations to identify another individual to oversee final close-out activities.Ideally, the CR and HoP would have identified appropriate coverage options for such a scenario when forming the project close-out team (see Standard 16, key action 1).
The PM/CoP’s supervisor ensures the PM/CoP prepares a detailed handover document and organizes a briefing on project close-out status prior to PM/CoP’s departure. Whenever possible, this briefing should include the individual who will provide coverage for final close-out activities.
Final close-out tasks (after project end-date/award expiry)
- The PM/CoP follows up with project close-out team members and any other staff supporting final close-out to complete the remaining tasks, in accordance with CRS and donor policies, procedures and deadlines.
- Final tasks typically include completing asset disposition, preparing the final inventory report, financial closure, final documentation and completion of the last steps in the project data exit strategy, and finalization of project reports.In some projects, deliverables may include publications, articles, research reports that can only be finalized after the project end-date. Be sure there is an appropriate and available individual identified to move such publications through the final internal and (as applicable) donor review and approval processes, in a timely manner.
- Use the project close-out plan and Grant Closure Checklist to track completion of all required steps.
- For externally-funded projects: If the country program submits financial reports to the donor, per CRS policy the country program must send the final financial report to HQ Overseas Finance for review prior to report submission. After the HQ financial analyst’s review (which may take up to 10 business days), if any corrections are needed, country program finance staff works with HQ Finance to ensure all expenses reconcile, no balance sheet account balances remain open, and the award’s revenues equal its expenses. See PRO-FIN-GRT-017.06: Review of Financial Reporting to Donors for detailed guidance.
- The PM/CoP and IT staff verify that all project documentation and data is stored per the agreed data exit strategy, and that the data are retrievable and in a useable format. See Standard 16, key action 4 for more detailed guidance on final project documentation.
Final close-out is not the time for surprises! The period of final project/award close-out is not the time to be uncovering and raising new issues or challenges, either with senior management or an institutional donor. Through solid close-out planning, regular check-ins and timely follow-up, and detailed documentation, the project close-out team should have identified and addressed close-out issues earlier in the close-out process and communicated with senior management and donors as appropriate.
When CRS is a sub-recipient
- Partner completion of close-out steps has a significant impact on overall project close-out. Regular follow-up and accompaniment of partners throughout the close-out process is therefore essential for timely close-out. Engage CRS and partner senior management as needed to address challenges (including lack of partner response to close-out related requests).
- The PM/CoP and other project staff use the final project detailed implementation plan, the partner-specific close-out plan, and relevant action points from check-in meetings of the CRS close-out team as the basis for check-ins with partners during the close-out period.
- For partners needing average follow-up and support, in multi-year projects where close-out planning starts well before the project end date (e.g. 12-18 months before), quarterly project review and planning meetings and regular project monitoring visits are usually sufficient check-ins early in the close-out period. As the partner agreement end date approaches, organize more frequent check-ins (e.g. monthly then weekly).
- For partners requiring more support to complete final programmatic and/or other close-out activities, CRS and the partner should establish a schedule and plan for more intensive support, accompaniment, and review of close-out progress as part of the development of the partner-specific close-out plan (see Standard 16, key action 2 for guidance).
- Organize in-person meetings with each partner four to six weeks before the end date in the partner’s sub-recipient agreement. Review pending activities from the partner project close-out plan and ensure a clear plan of action to complete these activities before the end date.
- If CRS has requested a no-cost extension that similarly would extend the partner sub-agreement or is awaiting a decision on a follow-on proposal that would involve the partner, keep the partner informed about the status. This is especially important for partner close-out staffing plans, particularly given legal requirements around advance notification to staff whose employment will end with the project. If the request/proposal is approved, work with the partner to adjust close-out plans.
- Throughout the close-out period, remind partners of the cut-off date for partner project expenditures, to avoid disallowed costs and associated partner relationship challenges. Pay close attention to issues with partner financial management and liquidations generally, as problems in this area (inaccurate expense forecasting, late liquidations, questioned costs) will delay project/award financial closure. Share the CRS Grant Closure Checklist with partners and discuss how to ensure all required actions (e.g., submitting timesheets) are completed on time.
- Follow the same process, including the guidance above for working with any CRS partners who are second-level sub-recipients or contractors. Delays in close-out at partner level will impact CRS’ timely completion of its close-out responsibilities as a sub-recipient.
- Keep the prime informed of any unexpected challenges or delays in completing close-out activities and seek clarification promptly if questions arise.
- Follow the same process, telescoping as needed given that the close-out process is likely to be more compressed than in a development project.
- As noted in previous key actions (e.g. Standard 16, key action 2), financial close-out when multiple donors have contributed to a wider emergency response can be complex. Closely monitor the financial close-out process to identify challenges and resolve issues as soon as possible.
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-OOD-SUB-001: US government sub-recipient audits procedure
PRO-OSD-GEN-015: FFATA Reporting Procedure
- Ongoing from the start-date of the project close-outProject 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. plan, through the project end date and award close-out (if applicable),Award close-out is 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 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. typically:
- Primary responsible: Project manager or chief of party (PM/CoP)