As a project draws to a close, you should become more alert, not relaxed. This is because the final project stage is the most dangerous: its more prone to mistakes, delays, and complications than any other phase of the project.
Its possible to sprint your way through short to medium length projects, but longer ones need the entire team (including you) to stay focused for months on end. But this saps energy and morale, and you risk running out of steam as the project draws to a close. Fatigue and complacency encourage mistakes, which may extend the project even further as you try to correct them.
Moments like these are where you earn your money as a leader. Keep your team focused and goal-oriented, and give them something to shoot for after the final project stage: a much needed vacation or team outing, for example, or if you can pry it out of HR/accounting, perhaps a monetary reward of some sort. Something that motivates better than, well finally get this project out of our hair.
The opposite of losing momentum is going into overdrive or crunch time. In this scenario, the project is lagging behind and your team is scrambling to finish as much as they can before the project deadline. Overtime will become par for the course, and coffee replaces water, and eyes are propped open with toothpicks and duct tape.
The problem with such an approach is that it burns the team out faster, while introducing even more mistakes and quality issues. If you want to avoid this scenario, you need to plan things properly from the beginning; give your team enough wiggle room so that if something goes wrong (and it will) you wont have to scramble to catch up.
Last Minute Scope Changes
Its a sad fact that many clients have no idea how much work a task involves. When they hear that youve reached the final project stage, they may just squeeze in a last minute addendum to the project scope, just because they just thought of it, or that they didnt think it was a big deal. This often happens during the approval phase.
When you define a project scope, make it absolutely clear to the client that these are fixed and only good for tasks already defined. They need to understand that if they have last minute additions, it will definitely impact the project schedule, add to the cost, and most likely affect the projects overall quality. Do your part and do a thorough investigation into the clients needsbecause who knows? They might actually need something that they havent thought of yet.
Image Credit: Flickr, Frédéric BISSON