To paraphrase Tolstoy, All successful projects are alike; each failed project unsuccessful in its own way. We believe the two central features of all successful projects are client engagement and clarity of deliverables. It is the primary responsibility of every project manager, be it client or consultant, to ensure complete engagement within the team and to relentlessly drive towards full alignment between all parties.

There are many tools at the project manager’s disposal to force alignment and engagement, but perhaps no so powerful as the client sign-off document. We have found that the addition of client sign-off documents at critical milestones throughout the life cycle of the project spikes both engagement and aligns expectations.

In today’s dynamic business environment continuity of personnel can be a significant hurdle. Team members are added and dropped on an ad hoc basis with a concomitant drop in “institutional knowledge” associated with the project. By instituting a formalized client sign-off process we preserve a record of project decisions and a ‘jumpstart’ bible for new team members. Moving from an oral to written record of the project life cycle cannot help but bring clarity to the process and align expectations and deliverables.

While a far from exhaustive list, the sign-off document could include the following features:

  • Project decisions:
    • Design
    • Settings
    • Configurations
  • Deliverables
  • Timelines
  • Change orders

Including client sign-off as a task or phase of a project manages the expectations and allows the team to re-visit the decisions or tasks and reiterate the progression of the project.

The sign-off process should be neither onerous or time consuming. It can be a simple statement confirming the tasks or decision in an email or a document. Many project planning software include a sign-off, but a simple document or email template will work just as well.

Having a good understanding of a project’s tasks and plans makes for a successful project!