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.

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