The Project Kickoff

Posted by Brad Egeland

Whether your customer is around the corner or around the world you need an official Kickoff session, strategy session, planning session…whatever you want to call it. With a planned and productive Kickoff session, the project gets off on the right foot and you, as the project manager, will have done your best to start everyone off with the same expectations. Of course, there are no guarantees on that, but at least you are likely to close some major expectation gaps and possibly identify some risks that you hadn’t counted on. The PM methodology that I’ve been using while leading customer implementations is sort of a hybrid, but it’s been well received by the customers. I’ll discuss the phases of the methodology in subsequent posts, but for now I’ll explore in greater detail how I believe a typical Kickoff session should go.

Preparation

As the PM, prepare an agenda and presentation materials – probably a Powerpoint presentation – and share all of it with the customer well in advance of the Kickoff session so you can incorporate their feedback and address any additional information needs they may have. You’ll potentially be meeting with a fairly diverse crowd at the customer site and they may have some requests for discussion points at the Kickoff that you haven’t thought of yet. At one recent customer Kickoff meeting, I had a team of 4 with me and the customer had over 30 representatives for the 2 day session. That’s overkill and can definitely slow things down, but it happens so be prepared.

Face-to-face Kickoffs are great and are usually recommended, but if logistics and/or costs are an issue, then a webex should serve the purpose. Just be as communicative up front with the customer as possible – especially if you’re running the Kickoff remotely – as this is your first chance as the PM to form a relationship with the stakeholders on the customer’s side.

For the actually Kickoff session, here are the major agenda items I usually like to address:

SOW Discussion

The task here is fairly obvious. It’s a high-level overview of the Statement of Work that was hammered out – usually by Sales – with the customer. Here’s where I will once again make my stand that the PM org should be involved up front so that the SOW would likely fall better in line with the customer’s business needs heading into the delivery portion of the engagement. At least the ‘gaps’ would be more apparent up front.

During the SOW discussion, any issues, gaps, concerns, etc. should be noted so that they can be addressed either during the next phase of the project or noted as potential risks.

Review Project Stages/Methodology

This is where the customer gets what is likely their 2nd insight into your PM methodology (Sales probably provided the 1st insight). However, this is where you can tell the customer how you, as the PM, will run the project, how each phase will happen and what the expectations and deliverables are for each phase as they pertain to this specific project.

Define the Project Team

Next we introduce the project team. Of course, for some of the roles there will be no name yet. Depending on the size of the project and the size of your organization, many of the resources will not have been officially assigned yet, but the roles and responsibilities for each role will be known at this point and can be shared in detail with the customer. At a minimum, the PM and the BA (Business Analyst) have been assigned and both are or should be part of this Kickoff session.

Discuss Risk, Issue and Change Management

At this point, discussions of risks, issues and change management is likely to be brief. Risks and issues will flesh themselves out more during the exploration and design phases of the project. However, how risks and issues will be handled as well as how change and change orders will be handled and executed on the project should be discussed in detail and will be of great interest to the paying customer.

High-Level Project Plan Review

Finally, a quick review of the project plan – at least at a high level – needs to happen. If this is the first time the customer is seeing a project plan, then it probably should not be too quick. Both sides need to discuss each phase, the milestones, deliverables, and overall timeframe as well as all tasks that will be taking place over the next 1-2 months.

In my next posts, I’ll discuss what happens after the Kickoff for the project. Again, this is just a derived methodology with phases I’ve used, but it’s been fairly successful and very well received by the customers I’ve been leading implementations for over the years.

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Related posts:

  1. Project Management: How to Successfully Kickoff a Project
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  3. Nailing the Project Kickoff Meeting – Part 1
  4. Project Phase 2 – Exploration
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