We talk about stopping projects as if it always means that they are over – and effectively, we are closing them down.  It isn’t always the case.  There is a fine line between stopping a project and closing a project.

Stopping a project can happen once a major issue is uncovered.  If it is something you need a Project Board decision on, the project stops until you have the direction that you were waiting for. In practice, what will happen is that as soon as you realise you are going off track in a serious way, you’ll have to go through the issues process (talking in terms of the PRINCE2 approach) and produce an exception report.  The Project Board will request an exception plan and project effort will shift to producing one of those, based on the options available.  The project manager and Project Board will arrange an exception assessment to discuss and agree the new way forward.

During this planning and approval process there isn’t much that can be done, depending on the issue you are facing. The project, therefore, is stopped.  You might want to call it ‘on hold’ but the outcome is the same regardless.  In practical terms it might not be everything that is stopped.  You could find that there is some project work that is not subject to the exception plan and these tasks can carry on.  It is likely, however, that for a significant issue there will be an impact on all areas of the planned work, so even if you are able to keep things moving in certain workstreams, there may be changes to these later as a result of the outcome from the exception assessment.

The exception assessment will give you the green light to continue, albeit by putting the exception plan into practice.  The old plan gets thrown away and the exception plan takes its place, and you follow that until the end of the stage.  The ‘stopping’ is over, the issue is resolved, the Project Board decision is made about the route forward and the project can recommence.  So a stopped project can get ‘unstopped’ if there is a way out of the problem.

Closing a project does mean closing it down.  The project may have been temporarily stopped – either like in the above situation or for any other reason such as a change in the economic situation.  In PRINCE2 terms, closing is a project is the equivalent of the Managing Stage Boundaries process, but in your final iteration of the Controlling a Stage process, instead of invoking Managing Stage Boundaries, you invoke Closing a Project.  It involves some of the same principles as Managing Stage Boundaries, but doesn’t include any of the work required to start up a new stage, as obviously by this point there isn’t any more work to do.

During the Closing a Project process you are effectively decommissioning the project in its entirety.  The project manager gains operational acceptance from the people who will be running with the product in the long term.  The customer also has to provide their acceptance and agree that the project has delivered what was required.  Files are archive, the post-project review is planned and the lessons learned log is updated.  Any follow on actions are documented for the operational team.  Finally, you should produce an end project report, summarising whether the project has met its objectives and any comments on the project management process.