Performing a proper kickoff for a new project may be the single most important task you perform on any given project.  I’m saying maybe and I do mean ‘may be’.  There are many many ingredients, of course, that go into project success.  And several different people or entities will actually be determining whether or not you’ve achieved project success.  And their determining criteria may differ from entity to entity.  But every project needs a good kickoff and there’s no disputing that fact.

If you’re the project manager and you’ve had the luxury of participating in the sales portion of the engagement, then consider yourself one step ahead of the rest of us.  It’s a rarity, but take it if you can.  What that will allow you is the ability to have some control in properly setting expectations so when it comes time to get down to the real work on the project the customer won’t be thinking ‘apples’ while you’re working on delivering ‘oranges.’

Again, that’s a luxury and a rarity and unless your organization is subscribing to more of an engagement management business model, then you’re not likely to get that chance.  So, in the real world, you’re going to be taking what is handed to you-you better make the best of it.

When kicking off the project, there are four key activities I perform as I prepare for the ‘formal’ kickoff with the customer – and there really needs to be a ‘formal’ kickoff.  Period.

Gather all relevant materials to date

This is going to require some proactiveness on your part because at this point you’ve just been assigned the project – you’ve not participated in any project-related activities to date.  You’ll need the statement of work, the project budget (i.e., what they project was ‘sold’ for), and any mockups of reports or other deliverables.  If Sales put together a rough project schedule to show the customer you can ‘do it’ in their timeframe, you’ll want it, but only as a starting point.  Sales are sales and they’re great at the tasks that they do, but creating detailed project schedules usually isn’t one of them.

Draft the schedule

There’s no doubt you’ll refine it once you have a full team on board, but the initial cut at the project schedule should be yours.  It will be yours to manage, you have the PM experience, and you’ll be using it to keep the project moving forward.  While a ‘team’ activity to create the project schedule sounds like a good idea and may help each team member to own it, the initial creation should be yours and it will cut hours if not days off the overall upfront planning time.  Use the team to help you fine-tune the schedule.  Eventually, use the customer, too.

Create a formal presentation

Create a formal presentation

Using all of your inputs – but most importantly the statement of work – create a formal presentation using something like MS PowerPoint.  Show the customer how you’re going to manage the project – they’ll want to know your style or methodology. Review milestones and deliverables from the statement of work in the formal presentation. Drop proposed dates in front of the customer.  Be aggressive and let them tell you what will work and what won’t.  Believe me, the project client will be much more comfortable with your project management oversight if they see that you’re taking charge and not sitting back waiting for them to make decisions.  They’re paying you (and they’re paying FOR you on the project) and your organization to take charge of the project.  Go with it.

Provide an agenda

If the customer really wants to see it, then you can give them the presentation in advance of the kickoff meeting.  However, in my opinion, that really takes the momentum out of the kickoff meeting.  The actual session becomes rather anti-climatic.  Ideally, just put together a detailed agenda outlining in a very organized manner what will be happening when at the formal project kickoff meeting and what material will be covered.  And make assignments.  If possible, make the customer responsible for leading some of the kickoff discussion.  It will help you to see some of their needs and goals from their side.  It will definitely help you to learn a lot about the customer you’ll be working in the coming months.