5 key steps to a proper project kickoff

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5 key steps to a proper project kickoff

There are some critical things that need to be done well on your project engagements. Communication – good, effective, efficient communication – is key to project success and probably one of the most important things the project manager does throughout the engagement. Good, complete requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Without accurate, complete requirements that are well-documented and easily reference-able, the project will not likely stay on budget or on time and may be doomed to failure.

And finally, a project that is not properly and formally kicked off jointly with the project customer may get off track before it ever gets a chance to start. It's all about setting proper and accurate expectations right out of the gate and that likely won't happen without such a kickoff.

The five key steps to proper project kickoff.

1. Gather the important documents together. The account manager who closed the project deal always has documentation. A rough draft schedule. A mocked-up dashboard report. At least a rough statement of work (SOW), some high-level requirements, a draft resource forecast and a project budget – at least a high-level one since he had to come up with a sales price somehow and prove it to the project client. This is likely going to be all the information you get, best scenario, to work with so you'll have to run with whatever you're given. But it should be enough to derive what the project is about and what it is going to take – at least at a high-level at this point – to get the job done.

2. Generate a draft schedule. Next, take this information that you have pieced together and, along with any portion of your project team that may be assigned at this point – or alone if you prefer or have no team yet – start drafting the project schedule to the best of your ability. Don't start from scratch – that takes too long.

Pull out a schedule “sample” from a past similar successful project and use it as a shell. Good, experienced project managers always have past project samples and templates that worked well on a project. Why re-invent the wheel every time? There's no shame in re-cycling. Starting from scratch is painful and slow and you can end up overlooking some details.

3. Meet the client. After you have a few things in place, meet the new project client. Introduce yourself, discuss the project, touch on some highlights of the project schedule you're putting together. The goal is to get to know them, give them a comfortable, confident feeling about your knowledge and competence to lead their project, and discuss dates and locations for the project kickoff meeting.

Also, discuss who should attend. I failed to do that with one huge client on a fairly complex project and they showed up with more than 30 end users. What should have been a two hour project kickoff meeting turned into a 2-day requirements meeting. It was painful and inappropriate at that early stage. I'm happy to say that I've gotten better at crowd control and kickoff meeting planning since that day.

4. Prepare the kickoff materials. Next, put together presentation materials for the kickoff session. I like to put together a PowerPoint deck of several slides that discuss the goals of the project, general target dates and milestones, a high-level resource plan, the change control methodology that will be utilized, the overall project management processes that will be followed and what happens next after the kickoff meeting. The goal is to leave the kickoff session with expectations properly set for the engagement and everyone on the same page.

5. Conduct the kickoff session. Finally, conduct the session. You drive the meeting so keep the crowd under control and the discussion focused. Keep focused on what you want to get out of the kickoff session. And followup after with notes for key stakeholders – asking them to confirm understanding or to respond with any changes to your notes within 24 hours. Again, you want everyone on the same page as quickly as possible so you can move on productively with next steps.