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Five Steps for Tying Up a Project Unexpectedly Cut Short

As consultants, we always have to be prepared for the unexpected. In rare cases, the surprise can be that a project is suddenly wrapping up. This can happen for a number of reasons. It could be a clerical error in accounting that resulted in the project unexpectedly reaching the limit of its budget. It could be that a planned project extension was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.

These situations can be unsettling for both the consultants and the client. They can be sudden and are often fraught with emotion. The client may feel that their software isn’t as complete as they would have liked, and the team may be cut off with only a sprint or a partial sprint to finish up as much as possible. However these situations may occur, here are five steps for dealing with them:

1. Be Transparent

The most important thing is to be upfront with the client. This includes a discussion about what is and isn’t done, and about what can and can’t be completed within the abridged timeline.

This may be a hard conversation—for both you and the client. By the time features are in the backlog, they’ve received your design time and the client’s buy-in. They’ve been managed by the delivery lead and estimated by development. Both effort and emotions have been invested in these features.

Even though it might be hard to review a list of features-that-might-have-been, being honest with the client gives everyone a chance to prioritize remaining features and bug fixes. It also gives the client an understanding of where they could pick up again in a future extension or engagement.

2. Plan Time for Documentation Cleanup

It is common for frequently updated artifacts such as the backlog, design files, and documentation, to “grow organically.” The backlog might include placeholder stories for future features or items in the icebox that are no longer needed. Design files may include pages or screens for designs long since implemented, or there may be multiple versions and iterations within one file.

While many of these artifacts will never be seen by clients, it is important to plan time for cleaning up the files that you will hand off, including design annotations, the backlog, and technical documentation.

3. Tie Off Your Handoff Files

The types of files you hand off depend on the parameters of your engagement. In a technical engagement, developers will work to prepare documentation for handing off servers, hosting, and the codebase. Delivery leads will prepare the backlog and any other documents that might be needed for the client. Designers may hand off annotations, high-fidelity prototypes, or wireframes (ideally cleaned up in the previous step!). Designers also often prepare a document describing the design work they’ve done, including kickoff artifacts, personas, interviews, on-site observations, and user testing.

4. Complete Your Final Testing

Even if the project is cut off quickly, be sure to take time for a final walk-through of the software. At Atomic Object, we pride ourselves on the quality of our software, and a walk-through is the best way to make sure that everything is working as expected before the final handoff. This also gives the team time to add any last bugs to the backlog.

5. Reflect and Show Gratitude

Unexpected wrap-ups are rare, but know that they are hard for every person involved. Often, the development, design, delivery lead, and client teams have been working together toward a common vision for months or years. Be sure to thank your client for the time you got to spend together and provide support to your internal team. Take the time to get lunch together, or go out for coffee.

These five steps have been helpful to our team when wrapping up a project. What other steps can you think of?