Whether we are project managers, business managers, auditors, or participants many of us are involved in planning meetings or engagement meetings to kick off new projects at work.
In keeping with the old adage “Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance“, these planning meetings with key stakeholders are often one of the most important events in a project’s life cycle. They lay the groundwork for the rest of the project. That being said, it doesn’t mean that your kick-off meetings should be 2-hour workshops that go over every detail of every task. However, they should accomplish a few simple things, and if you are properly prepared they can be pleasant, positive, and productive experiences.
After a successful meeting, all the attendees should come away with an understanding of the project’s objectives, its key stakeholders, the approach, timing, resource needs and deliverables. The best way to ensure that your kick-off meeting delivers these results is through proper planning.
1) Goals and Objectives: Consensus on then goals and objectives of your project might be the most important goal of your planning meeting, As the project leader or manager, you must do your best to understand them BEFORE you walk into that conference room. Whether your project is to install a new payroll system, or to update the office furniture, it’s up to you to let people know why the project is important to the organization and why it should be important to each of them.
2) Stakeholders: Before your meeting, meet with the project sponsor(s) and understand their needs. Line up the potential stakeholders by analyzing the scope and consider the people, processes and systems your project might affect. If you are unsure whether someone should be included as a stakeholder, do not be afraid to ask the sponsor or the person in question.
3) Approach and Scope: Consider the project goals and the various ways you can go about reaching them. Analyze your options. Be prepared to provide the stakeholders with more than one option, with a concise list of pros and cons. Be prepared to recommend your preferred approach and to defend it, but do not be married to it. Finally, be prepared to happily concede to Option #2 or #3, as well.
4) Time: Know your timetable, or at least estimate it. If it’s a complex project, take advantage of the many project management tools out there, like MS Project. Look at prior work and projects, what timetables did they run on? What were some of the scheduling stumbling blocks they had to overcome? Are you running a project over the summer? (Consider the nightmares that summer vacations create for scheduling.) Are people going to be putting in extra hours to get this done? If you close your eyes and throw a dart at a date on your wall calendar, you have a 1 in 365 chance of getting the target date right, and only a 1 in 52 chance of getting the week right. I don’t particularly care for those odds, but without some careful assessment of timetables, that’s about where you stand.
5) Resources: You must carefully assess your resource needs along with your timetable. This includes people, money, tools and systems. Will you be taking people away from their “day jobs”? If so, will you need to get buy-in from their manager? (The “it’s a CEO priority” reason only carries so much weight when people stop meeting their day-to-day obligations. Strive to be thrifty your time and theirs; it will pay dividends.
6) Deliverables: Make sure that everyone is clear on the big items, what is due, and when it is due. This varies depending on the nature of the project. For instance, the deliverables on an Audit are usually findings memos and an audit report. In a software implementation you will need to consider items like Business Requirements Documents, Specification Documents, Testing Supports, and so on. The project might be broken into phases, with specific deliverables for each. If so, you should outline those phases prior to your meeting.
In the end, if you’ve properly prepared for your kick-off meeting, it should be a relatively smooth capstone to your pre-planning efforts. Many attendees should be aware of some aspects before they walk through the door. Only you, however, will have the full story. Your job is to make sure that you put all the pieces together for your colleagues.