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  • Rick Ktorides

5 Tips - Crushing Project Kick-off Meetings

It's like going on a first date - you most definitely and absolutely want to make a good first impression !!

While the main purpose of having a project kick-off meeting is to align the project team and key stakeholders to various fundamental aspects of the project and its required outcomes... also VERY MUCH sets the tone in relation to how you will be running the project and the leadership style you are bringing to the table.

Just imagine you are a project sponsor and have just provided $500,000 of funding for a project you have been trying to get off the ground for some time. A project manager gets assigned and...

  • The project manager only reaches out to invite you to a kick-off meeting

  • When you rock-up to the project kick-off meeting, it seems disorganised and the project manager does not really articulate the required outcomes as you see them

  • The project manager does not really show much confidence or authority over the meeting, several key stakeholders are not there and you're left with more questions and answers

... as the project sponsor, how confident would you be feeling with your investment and the ability of the project manager?

Here are my 5 top tips to crush project kick-off meetings:

Tip # 1 - Agree all key points prior to the actual kick-off meeting

Think of the project kick-off meeting as more of a formality to run through key aspects of your project that have already been pre-agreed - rather than a forum to discuss and negotiate these very points!

If you want to avoid your project kick-off meeting going off on tangents where attendees argue various points and your meeting gets hijacked - you need to do all the leg work behind the scenes to ensure all these points are agreed prior to the kick-off meeting.

A super effective way of doing this is via one-on-one sessions with each core member of the project team as well as high impact / high influence stakeholders.

Start with your project sponsor and work your way down.

You will really be amazed at the number of subtle but valuable points you pick-up that may not have made their way to a project briefing note or statement of work.

I can't highlight enough how important these initial one-on-one meetings are!

They afford you the chance to establish a positive working relationship by working together to further define key aspects of the project in an informal and safe setting.

People tend to speak more openly and express what they are really thinking. It's the first step in establishing trust.

When you finally have your kick-off meeting:

  • You will be confident that you are presenting an agreed position

  • Your project sponsor and core project team members will feel a sense of confidence their points have been factored into the project

  • If there are any disagreements in relation to key items such as scope, schedule or project approach - your project sponsor will be in a position to quickly back you up

Tip # 2 - Create a detailed kick-off meeting agenda

Having an agenda is a great way to set expectations in relation to what will be covered during the kick-off. It will also help enable you to control the meeting.

The following are some key kick-off meeting fundamentals you can mention in your agenda:

  • Chairing: As the project manager, you should always look to chair the kick-off (don't have it any other way!)

  • Attendees: At a minimum, invite the entire core project working group as well as all key stakeholders - especially those that are highly influential. (Don't assume senior stakeholders have something better to do - extend an invitation and let them decide for themselves!)

  • Duration: Aim for 30 mins for smaller / less complex projects and 1 hour for larger / more complex projects

Beyond the above fundamentals, my project kick-off agendas usually cover the following headings:

  • Meeting welcome + introductions

  • Why we are doing this project / business benefits

  • Project critical success factors

  • What's in-scope

  • What's out-of-scope

  • Document deliverables

  • Core project team members + what they will be doing

  • Key stakeholders + their interest

  • Key schedule constraints

  • Budget constraints

  • Current known risks

  • Project approach

  • Project etiquette + controls

  • Next steps

  • Questions / thoughts / open discussion

To help ensure you get through all points on your agenda, make sure you start the meeting 3 to 4 mins past the scheduled start time at maximum (even if some attendees have still not arrived).

For instance, if your meeting is booked for 10am, make sure that by 10:04 you've started on your first agenda point.

Also, don't allow general banter to eat into your valuable kick-off time even if it's between senior executives - get everyone's attention and get straight into it.

Tip # 3 - Assign speaking parts (so you don't do all the talking)

If you want to avoid losing people's attention by having them sit through a whole meeting whilst you tell it how it is - make the meeting interactive.

A great way to do this is by assigning project team members points on the agenda that they need to speak to.

Here's what I've found since I started doing this:

  • The meeting becomes much more interesting for all attendees and does a better job at holding everyone's attention

  • It fosters a spirit of combined team effort right from the start of the project

  • Project team members think more carefully about the part they need to speak to

Using the agenda points in tip # 2 as an example, speaking parts could be assigned as follows:

  • Meeting welcome + introductions - (Project Manager: Rick)

  • Why we are doing this project / business benefits (Project Sponsor: Jean-Luc)

  • Project critical success factors (Project Owner: William)

  • What's in-scope (Solutions Architect: Geordi)

Make sure you provide anyone that needs to speak at the kick-off with prior notification and enough time to prepare for it.

You also want to check to make sure they are comfortable to do so.

When you talk through your own points, be sure to speak with a level of certainty rather than uncertainty. (e.g. "hmmm - I think we need to get this done by errrr...30th June" vs. "WE NEED to get this done by 30th June!)

Tip # 4 - Create a sense of excitement

The project kick-off meeting is a great opportunity right at the start of the project to inspire a shared vision to the entire team.

Find elements of the project to get excited about and share them with the team - it's about encouraging the heart.

If your project is about creating the first human colony on Mars - that's a pretty easy project for the team to get excited about that would inspire them to bring their level best.

However, even if the solution or benefit aspects of your project do not seem exciting by any stretch of the imagination, there are always elements of the project that you can make interesting to create a sense of excitement to help drive your team.

Take a project to manually upgrade 200 switches - it's very mundane work but needs to get done to a high standard.

Here are examples how you can turn it around:

  • "Team - I know that having to manually update firmware on 200 switches may not be the most exciting piece of work - but I'm really excited that we are all going to make this project an example of exactly what this team is capable of. Let's show them how it's done!!"

  • "Team - lets make this a little interesting! Let's break it into 2 teams. First team able to present 100 test cases proving each switch has been upgraded and works perfectly will not only get bragging rights ... but gets free coffees for week bought for them by the project manager!!"

The takeaway here is that you can't really expect your team to give their level best and go above and beyond if you as a leader of the project do not demonstrate that same level of enthusiasm and excitement.

If you present a demeanor that the project is somehow boring / not challenging enough / beneath you / mundane / tiring etc - your team will most likely also have that very same demeanor.

Negativity is contagious!

Tip # 5 - Post kick-off meeting summary email

During your kick-off meeting, you will most certainly pick-up key notes and action items as you go through all the various aspects of your project in the agenda.

You should document and communicate these through to the team as soon as possible.

Doing so will not only help instil confidence and trust with stakeholders that their points are being recorded and taken into account - but also makes them accountable for things they are raising and requesting.

I normally do this via email to the project team and all stakeholders using the following headings:

  • Attendees / and apologies (specify who attended and who did not)

  • Key notes raised (include who raised these points)

  • Agreed Actions

  • Next Steps

In closing...

Whilst it's really important to create that great first impression at project kick-off - it's equally as important to carry that sense of excitement and enthusiasm forward through the whole project !!



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