Daily Archives: June 9, 2010

Project Kickoff – Step-2 is to hold an effective meeting

The Kickoff Meeting for a new project is your best opportunity to energize the project team and establish a common purpose toward completing the work. A great kickoff is the result of good planning.

After you’ve done your Project Kickoff Meeting prep work (see my previous BLOG titled, Kickoff your project – Step-1 is preparation), you need to plan to actually hold an effective meeting.

I’ve developed a set of tactics that I use to set the tone for the meeting. These items help me stay organized, establish a sense of leadership, and begin moulding the individual project participants into a team. These tips will help you kickoff your next project successfully.

As in any effective meeting, participants are better off when they have a clear understanding of how the meeting will progress. To help team members prepare, I use the following basic agenda for most of my project kickoff meetings.

  • Project description
  • Purpose
  • Goals and Deliverables
  • Project team member introductions
  • Project assumptions
  • Project schedule
  • Key success factors
  • Status meetings
  • Other communication vehicles
  • Questions and Answers

The meeting
Keep the meeting flowing and avoid wasting time. Be personable and be upbeat; everyone will enjoy participating more if you take this approach.

Be conscious of people’s time and hold a concise and productive meeting. The best way to do this is to be organized and prepared.

Getting started
Take immediate charge of the meeting. Welcome all participants and don’t forget to introduce yourself. Briefly explain that you’ll walk everyone through the agenda and material and that you’ll leave time for questions at the end.

Define the project, its purpose, and expected goals and deliverables. Now is a good time to reinforce the importance of delivering the project successfully. You might even mention any significant implications to the company if the project is not delivered successfully.

Introduce the project members and briefly discuss the role of each. You want to do this yourself, , , don’t let the team members introduce themselves unless it’s a small meeting. Some of your high detail members like to talk and you don’t that much detail to get the project moving.

You should do most of the talking in this first meeting. The kickoff is intended to bring everyone up to speed, not to discuss every item in detail. Every participant needs to see you taking charge of the meeting agenda.

Presenting the project schedule
Now that you’ve set the tone, discuss the project assumptions that set the stage for how you developed the plan. Refer to the project plan document that you sent to everyone and go through it task by task. Explain and reinforce to everyone that this is a “first cut” and that the important thing to do in this meeting is to verify that the tasks are comprehensive, assigned appropriately, and have reasonable time frames.

The time to modify the plan is before the next meeting. Explain that the project plan becomes the foundation for status meetings and is used as the primary communication vehicle for managing the project. As you step through each task, point out key dependencies or factors you noted in preparing for the meeting that affect the completion of the task.

By walking the team through the plan, you’ll be able to point out tasks that are potential bottlenecks in completing the project. Keep your discussion to the point. Don’t get bogged down, but take the opportunity to help staff members anticipate problems.

Reinforce key success factors and explain why they are important.

Establish a timeline and team member expectations
Determine an appropriate time and day of the week to conduct weekly one-hour project status meetings. Reinforce the need for everyone to attend and to have that week’s tasks completed. Explain to them that you expect their tasks to be completed on time. If there are concerns about timelines, now is the time to scrutinize them, , , not after we commit to the schedule.

Take time to remind the group that teamwork is essential. Reinforce the need for participants to look out for one another. The objective is to complete the project successfully, and it is up to everyone to do their part and to help one another.

You might want to mention that, “Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Not asking for help is a weakness.”. High detail people tend to avoid asking for help because they think it’s viewed as weakness, , , encourage them to ask for help early if needed, , , it gives us time to do something. Requesting help too late prevents us from being able to provide the help and can jeopardize the project.

Empower team members to own their responsibilities and to ask for help. Repeat that you expect everyone to attend project status meetings prepared and with all tasks completed.

Part of your project management job is to help the team identify bottlenecks and to eliminate obstacles. Explain to them that you will be inspecting the status of tasks and you are always available if they need your assistance.

Explain the communication plan
Discuss your plan to share information and updates with the group and interested parties, including the following:

  • Weekly project status meetings
  • Subproject planning sessions
  • Project plan status updates
  • Senior management updates
  • Use of the company intranet or other communication vehicles

Emphasize the need to communicate to the project manager anything they see that might affect the project.

Ask for feedback and then close
At the end of the meeting, it’s time for questions and answers. Be certain you’ve blocked out ample time. If time runs out, ask everyone to send questions to you or to call you. You can later send out a Frequently Asked Questions document or even post it on your company intranet for people interested in staying abreast of the project.

Summarize the meeting with a call for action and list outstanding items that require immediate follow-up. Provide direction on any follow-up communication needed and what you expect from everyone at the first project status meeting.

Final thoughts
If you read both articles in this 2-part BLOG post, you might have picked up on the four actions that will increase your success in leading a project:

  • Establish an organized presence. Demonstrate to your team that you are on top of things.
  • Empower the team members. Give each team member responsibilities and expect them to accomplish their assigned tasks by the scheduled due dates.
  • Create teamwork. Encourage all to help one another and to be accountable to the project. Everyone pulling together for a common cause can have dramatic results.
  • Demonstrate leadership. Organize, empower, and develop the team, and everyone will see your leadership and follow.

Take advantage of the opportunity an effective Kickoff Meeting gives you. It can make a big difference in the success of your next project.

Kickoff your project – Step-1 is preparation

Your first project meeting is an opportunity to share your plan to lead the project to a successful completion. You should take advantage of this one-time chance to energize the group, set proper expectations, and establish guidelines that will help you complete the project on time and within budget.

You need a Project Kickoff Meeting !!

Fail to prepare for this meeting and you put the project at risk right from the start.

When you leave the Kickoff Meeting, everyone on the project team must be on the same page. Your preparation beforehand will determine whether you actually kickoff the project and prepare each project team member or put your project in jeopardy.

— Kickoff Meeting preparation —

Step 1:  Develop the project goals and deliverables
Defining these elements will drive the decisions you must make for staffing the project and developing the project plan. Write the specific goals and deliverables down and validate your definitions with the project sponsor (whoever justified and initiated the project, , , usually from the business side).

Step 2:  Identify the project team members and their responsibilities
Resource needs vary based upon the size, complexity, and nature of the project. Include resources from four key groups, as needed, to fully support your project.

  • Business operations  (knowledge experts, etc.)
  • Corporate support  (Legal, Human Resources, other support staff)
  • Management
  • Technical

Develop a project team contact list that includes the name, responsibility, department, physical location, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address for each member. You’ll want to distribute this information to the team prior to the Kickoff Meeting – see Step 7.

Step 3:  Develop a project assumptions list
It’s important for project team members to be aware of major assumptions that apply to the project. For example, spell out the assumption that each team member has been selected and assigned to the project by their manager to insure its success. That assumption means that their assigned tasks must take priority, and each participant must be committed to the success of the project if they are to participate.

Step 4:  Develop the preliminary project plan schedule
You can save a lot of time by going ahead and developing the Project Schedule of tasks, responsibilities, and time frames of the project plan. Going through this exercise will help you validate whether you have the right resources, identify risks, and determine the appropriate time lines for tasks and milestones.

Use whatever resources you need to help you create the initial project plan schedule. The point here is that when you go into the Kickoff Meeting, you will already have a plan drafted that each team member can review prior to the Kickoff Meeting. Doing so will save time and help you get the project off to a faster start.

Realize that the plan is not carved in stone at this point. It is only a draft until you meet with the team and everyone agrees that it’s an achievable plan. Once you have the team assembled and assign clear responsibilities, you should ask team members to validate their task responsibilities and time frames for reasonableness, completeness, and accuracy.

Step 5:  Define key success factors
Every project team member needs to know what it takes to complete the project successfully. Take the time to define in specific terms each item that will be required for success. Validate your list with the project sponsor.

Step 6:  Schedule the project kickoff meeting
It is important for all project team members to participate in the kickoff meeting. You want every member of the team to hear what you have to say at this meeting. Send a communication to each participant with a preferred time and date and include options in case they are unavailable. Even if someone is “out of pocket,” he or she can participate by conference phone.

Your goal here is to assemble the entire team so they all hear the same message at the start of the project. Instruct all participants to look for meeting materials on a specified date and to prepare for the Kickoff Meeting by reviewing them before the meeting, , , you want them to come to the meeting prepared to commit to the project schedule or to provide insight to appropriately adjust elements of the schedule.

As soon as you have a firm time and date, schedule a conference room and phone services to support conference calls, as needed. Plan for a 90-minute meeting depending upon the size and complexity of the project. Most of the Kickoff Meeting will be spent in walking through the Project Schedule to confirm accuracy and gain commitment from the team so be sure you have sufficient time to do all that you need to do.

Personal note
In a project, I had 12 team members from four company departments located in seven physical office locations in five cities. It’s not always feasible to get all team members in the same conference room, as in this case. By preparing a solid agenda, providing supporting documentation ahead of time, and organizing the flow of the meeting, you can conduct an excellent Kickoff Meeting that gets all participants focused on the same objectives, even when many have never met one another.

Step 7:  Send Kickoff Meeting materials to all team members
On your designated date, send a package of meeting materials to each project team member, including:

  1. Meeting time, date, and location
  2. Call-in phone number and access code for “out-of-towners”
  3. Meeting agenda
  4. Project Team  Member contact information
  5. Project Schedule draft

In your correspondence, ask each person to review the project plan carefully and confirm that all tasks under his/her responsibility are achievable by the dates listed. Also ask them to assess whether any tasks are missing or inappropriate.

Indicate that additional information will be discussed at the Kickoff Meeting and everyone should be familiar with his or her part of the plan. Explain that there will be a Question & Answer session at the meeting to discuss any questions.

Step 8:  Identify key issues and project dependencies
Review the Project Schedule prior to the Kickoff Meeting and make notes on points that you want to make at the meeting. Pertinent items include potential bottlenecks, impact issues, risk areas, status meeting process, communication plans, etc.

By going through these steps, you should be prepared to hold a successful Project Kickoff Meeting.

What’s next?
After all of your preparation, knowing how to conduct your Kickoff Meeting is the next step. In my next post, I will walk you through this part.