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Project Management: Don't Lose the Game at the Kick-Off Meeting

Debra Sunohara

There are always some clients/sponsors who insist on skipping the project kick-off meeting.

They are too busy, the project start has already been delayed enough, or it is seen as just a formality.

In a previous post entitled Managers: 7 Steps to Successful Project Launch, I identified the kick-off (or project launch) meeting as one of the steps you need to take to ensure your project is a success!

Lay the Foundation

Like any good coach, you need to make sure that the key players around you understand the advantages of your system.  The kick-off meeting should help you, your team and other stakeholders:

  • understand the project background,
  • confirm that the project fits in with your strategic objectives,
  • develop a business case,
  • clarify roles and responsibilities,
  • identify project deliverables,
  • identify key risks and stakeholders,
  • secure executive management support,
  • develop project plans,
  • and define a project governance framework.

It is often helpful to provide this list to attendees and key stakeholders ahead of the meeting along with an introductory letter to convince your client/sponsor that the project team can’t afford to skip having a kick-off meeting.  And, unfortunately, it’s likely that you’ll have to sharpen some of your interpersonal skills of persuasion as well!

Some talking points that can help you through these conversations:

  • we can’t know the players without a scorecard...
  • we need to get off to a fast start, stay productive for the duration of the project, and finish smoothly…
  • your help is essential for making sure that…
  • some of  the specific ways you can help include…
  • we’ve done this type of work before, but not with you…
  • every organization has its own unique personalities and politics, which can present opportunities or create barriers…
  • all projects have their supporters and detractors and if we know who these are…they can be a valuable source of information and good ideas….

Pre-Game Prep

Now you need to prepare for the meeting; how can you make sure that it will be efficient and productive?

  • Give your client/sponsor a document checklist prior to the meeting so they arrive with them in hand. Create your wish list - any documents you need to review or which may help you define the project requirement and environment further. These might include:
    • Kick-off-260x262Plans - Strategic, Operational or HR
    • Organization Charts
    • Process Maps
    • Budgets, Financial Data
    • Previous Studies or Assessments
    • Business cases
    • Audit Reports
    • Press Releases
    • Policy Documents
    • Presentation Decks
    • Employee/Client Surveys
  • Making sure the right people are there – who should be there, but perhaps more importantly, who doesn’t need to attend?
  • Prepare and distribute a meeting agenda

In-Game Adjustments

You should go into every meeting with a clear vision and a plan for what you intend to accomplish:

  • Outline your corrective action methodology – How will you deal with project issues?
  • Describe the project in non-technical terms - provide location or contact for technical specifications (or other related documents)
  • Most of all use the meeting to CONFIRM:
    • Project goals, objectives and deliverables
    • Roles & Responsibilities
    • Stakeholder analysis, definition and engagement
    • How deliverables will be used, their target audience, who will review and comment on them, and why do they care about them
    • Relationship to other client/sponsor projects
    • Timing and milestones
    • Resource availability – Are they 100 % devoted to the project?
    • Assumptions – both yours and others
    • Methodology to be used
      • Highlight any methodological or procedural differences from regular projects of this type  
      • Discuss requirements, benefits, and issues of using proposed methodology
      • Provide bibliographic references, location or contact for procedures documents (or other related documents)
    • New technology being used and standards being adopted (benefits) or ignored (drawbacks)
    • Expectations and measures for Success – Can you guarantee satisfaction?
      • How does your client/sponsor define Quality? Value? Success? Usability?
      • How will the client/sponsor know whether the assignment achieved its purpose?
      • What specific service results and benefits are expected by the client?
      • What mechanisms would the client like to put in place to achieve expected results?
      • Who will be reviewing, commenting and signing off on the final deliverable(s)? Identify the real client!
      • Confirm the appropriate level of Quality Assurance for this project.
      • Frequency and format of progress reports - Weekly, bi-weekly, monthly?

Remember, every meeting will take on its own character.  Stay flexible and open to discussion, concerns, and reservations.

By acknowledging and acting upon the reservations that your stakeholders express during the kick-off meeting, you will avoid many unpleasant conversations down the road.

Post-Game Review

  • Prepare and distribute meeting notes
  • Revisit your assumptions
  • Update your Project Charter, Project Plans, Requirements, Specifications, RACI, etc.
  • Start a high-level draft of your After Action Reviewor Lessons Learned Report– be sure to include the new technologies, methodological or procedural differences you presented in the kick-off meeting

The bottom line is you should never pass on a project kick-off meeting.

There are always some who will say it is not necessary, that it’s a waste of time and a formality, but the project kick-off meeting plays a crucial role in setting the stage for ultimate project success!

To best address these  challenges, don’t give detractors any ammunition; do your best to keep your kick-off meeting as lean as possible – keep it short, and start and end on time.

Do you reliably conduct project kick-off meetings? Do you find that they impact the outcome of the project?

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About this Article

Posted by Debra Sunohara
Posted on May 17, 2011

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Categories: communication, lessons learned, management, project management