Project Closeout Tips

Here are some tips on project closeout to make the process as enjoyable (and the least frustrating) as possible for architects, engineers, or general contractors.

Apr 15, 2024

There are two ways to look at project closeout. The first is that the project is about to wrap, everyone will get paid, and the builders can put another feather in their collective cap. The other way is that closeout is boring, tedious, and detailed—and it takes way too long. 

Let’s assume that we’re all in the first boat, where we’re all fired up about closing out. We want to move quickly and efficiently, and waste as little time as possible to get our retainage, pay our accounts, shake hands, and meet on the next one. Here are some tips on project closeout to make the process as enjoyable (and the least frustrating) as possible for architects, engineers, or general contractors. 

Let the Project Manual Be Your Guide

Regardless of whether you’re a design professional or a contractor, let that all-important project manual be your guide. This set of documents will help project teams identify exactly what they need to do and cover for closeout long before the project is ready for it. General contractors can easily determine which subcontractors are responsible for the required manuals and training, allowing them to get ahead of project closeout tasks—if the project manual is utilized correctly. 

Know the Requirements

Waiting until project closeout to make a closeout plan is a big no-no. General contractors will want to know the training and manual requirements and identify the various subcontractors and teams involved with them early in the project. A look through the divisions in the project manual will help GCs pinpoint every aspect of the project that will require operations maintenance manuals. 

Common divisions that might require manuals include those such as the fire suppression system, HVAC system, electrical system, mechanical and plumbing systems, elevators, escalators, communication, and emergency power systems.

The GC’s project closeout job obviously isn’t over yet, though. It’s their job to communicate to all of the subcontractors and pros to ensure they also understand the requirements. This allows them to compile files, pictures, and other important information to create the operation and maintenance manuals as they go. Rather than a mad rush or backpedaling to create these files at closeout, they can start getting them ready sooner.

Keep Information Organized Along the Way

Contractors and subs need to keep their own documents straight as well. Otherwise, when it comes time for project handover, they’ll spend more time scrambling for paperwork and copies of lost documents than necessary.

These pros should rely on digital storage options to keep their submittal reviews, change orders, subcontractor agreements, permits, and other relevant information. They should also make their lives easier by creating individual files for each project, with detailed, descriptive labels.

"The key to a successful project closeout is not in any particular approach to the phase itself but what comes prior. Good project accounting, documentation, and tracking are critical to a successful and simple(!) project closeout. The end of a project should never be the accumulation of prior project documentation and accounting tasks, but simply consolidating existing information and issuing the required documentation to complete the project. As such, in my opinion, it's best to be proactive in keeping project information organized and consolidated for easy access throughout the duration of the project to ensure a successful closeout."

- Ivan. A, Intern Architect

Operation and Maintenance Manuals

Earlier, we mentioned the various divisions that require operation and maintenance manuals. Building personnel must have these documents and understand the building equipment’s maintenance needs, so O&M manuals are a critical part of project closeout. But too often, subcontractors wait until later in the project to start compiling their O&M data and processes, drawing out the process. 

For general contractors, the best course of action is to ensure that subs working on those divisions actively work on the O&M manuals. Manuals should also be sent to the consultant team for review—just as they do with submittals—to ensure that they are complete and that all of the required manuals are covered.

Also, we think we can speak for most of the industry when we say that we’re past three-ring binders and paper manuals. While it’s great to have the ability to get a hard copy, digital manuals are much more helpful. Placing these manuals on cloud-based storage allows users to access them from anywhere at any time. They can also search through digital manuals’ contents faster than they can thumb through dozens of manuals containing a few thousand sheets of paper. 

Training Sessions

One of the most challenging aspects of closeout is organizing and planning the required training sessions. These meetings involve the GC, subcontractors, building owners, building operations staff, and other parties, and scheduling them so that everyone can attend can be a bear. 

No one wants to be responsible, so let’s make it the general contractor’s job.

In all seriousness, the GC should take point in scheduling the training sessions. They can either schedule the date or simply send reminders to the subcontractors awarded to these divisions, helping keep them on track. 

A Note About Video Recording

It’s important to note that most training sessions must be video recorded. General contractors should check the project manual to identify which trainings fall under this requirement. And remember that these videos do more than just satisfy a requirement. They can be extremely helpful for the building operations staff—especially new employees who might be hired long after commissioning and handover. 

Because these recordings are so helpful, putting some effort into their production is important. No, they don’t require the glitz and glam of Hollywood, but subs should ensure that the video and audio are clear. Also, having a running checklist of topics to cover during the video ensures they’re as comprehensive as possible. 


Finally, ensuring that the warranties associated with each division are in order is key to a smooth handover. This is another situation in which the GC should keep the subcontractors on track, and subs should submit their warranties to the consultant team. They’ll ensure that the warranties meet the manual’s specifications, at which point they can be included in the operation and maintenance manuals.

"My project closeout philosophy is to begin with the end in mind. All along the way I work to set things up for a successful closeout. For example, when responding to an RFI, updating the drawings rather than just giving a written answer also takes care of Record Drawings long before the end of the project, it also makes for a much happier contractor."

- Corey Bowman AIA, Associate

Learn and Adapt

Just like every project is different, every project closeout is unique. But contractors who learn from their closeout mistakes and take those lessons with them on future projects will find that, eventually, project closeout can be smoother and faster, potentially making it one of their favorite phases of the project.