It’s the end of the project and you should celebrate with a little party. Maybe it didn’t go super well, but still, not for a lack of effort. At least you should raise a glass to that, no?

But instead, things just seem to dissipate. People drift off to other roles. You have now more time to finally focus on all the other pressing issues on your to-do list. The various sponsors are the same, distracted by other corporate priorities.

That shouldn’t be. That’s wrong. Successful or not, you need to acknowledge and celebrate people’s dedication, hard work, and the achievements that were made. The lower down a totem pole an individual is, the more important acknowledgement and time off to celebrate become.

Do you want to motivate people? Do you want to build morale and loyalty? Do you want to reduce your company’s personnel and recruitment costs? One sure-fire way is to have a genuine party after a project. And I am not just saying that because I have a hard time letting go of my mosh pit, crowd surfing past.

No, I am saying it because it’s important, and has real, tangible benefits. First of all, it is the right thing to do, which sends a message about your corporate values. Second, it makes great business sense. Here is a real life example that illustrates how.

Celebrating, corporate style

I worked for a retail client who made it a priority to acknowledge effort, and hold a celebration party after the completion of a project (or any significant milestone). The loyalty that company had was amazing. It was normal to do extra work if someone needed help. This included managers doing extra to help their staff. Figuratively speaking, you couldn’t pry people away with a crow bar, and it wasn’t the salary keeping them there.

In my own case, I was on a six month contract that was then extended by another six. I helped a team of PMs in their PMO with their project management and change management activities. I have never done so much additional ‘free’ work for a client before or since. And it did not feel odd or unusual to do that. When my contract ended, they actually threw a party for me, a contractor. This too has never happened to me before or since.

I wish I could tell you it was because I did something exceptional. But, truth be told, I don’t think I did anything different than the rest of my full time colleagues. I simply adapted to their culture. And, of course I have gone back since to do more work, and took them on preferentially as a client, for less, than others.

I don’t think I am expressing anything unusual here. These type of feelings are common in organizations that celebrate their employees’ effort in this way.

In case you need another reason…

Another reason for celebrating is that it’s inexpensive. You can’t get a better bang for your buck. A company will spend several million dollars on an IT project. What would a pizza and pop party at a local bar cost to celebrate? Even if you had 50 people, and paid $50 per person, that’s $2,500. Compared to the cost of the project, that’s a rounding error. I bet there were mistakes on one of your projects that cost way more.

Tips for a good post-project party

So how do you ensure that you don’t miss out on, and genuinely have everyone enjoy, this valuable morale building event? Here are some tips:

Have this in your project schedule, prominently, right at the start of the project. It will get some chuckles when you present it, but that’s part of the point.

In an earlier blog I mentioned setting out success criteria at the beginning of the project. Linking these to the celebration will make it more real and more justified.

Assign someone on your team the task of planning this activity, and track it the way you would any task.

Budget for it.

Schedule it during working hours. Usually starting at 2 or 3 pm seems to work the best, and people can stay or leave depending on their personal and family responsibilities.

Send the invite as part of a thank you note at the end of the project.

Have the celebration in a comfortable, spacious location. Even if it is not at some restaurant or pub, have it on company property in a large boardroom, or auditorium.

Have snacks, cake, drinks (up to you and your policy whether alcoholic or not, that doesn’t seem to matter).

You may want to have some SWAG, although that’s not critical in most organizations.

Assign people who have the gene for fun and extraversion organize the celebration party.

Make a brief speech (absolutely no longer than 3 minutes, excluding any interruptions) mostly to thank the team and key individuals.

Participate, have fun yourself, let your hair down (if you haven’t pulled it all out in frustration during the project).

Invite me.

Treat yourselves

Life is short, it’s meant to be enjoyed. People worked hard, treat them to an afternoon out. And then watch what happens if you ever need good people on your project team again. I guarantee you will never again have to beg, guilt or coerce people to join your team. Just the opposite.

And besides, you yourself probably deserve this.

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