I've learned the hard way that a project manager must start thinking of the project finish line on Day 1. What this means is that there must be a recognition by the PM and the project team that closing out projects is not easy, but it can be manageable. Key elements of project closeout include Operational, Technical, Administrative, Contractual and Financial.
The PM can get a head start on closeout by doing a few simple things. First, she can identify the key elements outlined above as a series of activities and milestones in the schedule and include the predecessor activities. For example, if the PM knows that all training for new equipment and systems must be delivered before the project is deemed substantially complete, a TRAINING MILESTONE can be added prior to the target substantial completion date. If the training is estimated to take one month to deliver, the PM can add that as a predecessor activity and allow for some float by indicating training completion well ahead of the substantial completion date. The PM knows that training cannot be delivered until training manuals are approved, so the preparation and review/approval of training manuals can be added to the schedule. This ensures that this key closeout deliverable is tracked during the project and not at the end of the project. A similar approach can be applied to other closeout activities to provide for timely closeout and final payment.