I’ve written a lot of words about the need to keep the Kickoff and Exploration sessions streamlined.  Too many cooks in the kitchen during these two phases can almost kill a project even before it really gets off the ground.  I’ll look at a case where this proved damaging to one of my projects and then we’ll look at ways to try to mitigate this issue early on in the engagement.

An Example Project

During one of my projects – I wrote about it in “The Worst Project I Ever Managed” – it seems as though nearly everyone in the client’s company was involved in the Kickoff session and most of those continued to hang on for the Exploration phase where we further hammered out requirements, business processes (because neither of these were done well before the engagement) and worked on gap analysis.

Kickoff sessions on projects

One I went onsite with my PMO Director, a VP, and the Business Analyst for Kickoff, it was clear we were horribly outnumbered.  That’s not really a bad thing, but there’s no need for the client to take an army of people into an engagement Kickoff unless something is missing.  And it was….pre-engagement client training (which is highly advisable for this type of software implementation), high-level requirements agreement, and client business processes thoroughly documented.  Remember, this is the engagement where my Business Analyst broke into tears during and outside of the Exploration sessions.

Could be Avoided

Not to be making excuses, but I had just been assigned this project the week before while I was kicking off what turned out to be a very successful project in Chicago.  I immediately traveled to the new client’s location to perform Kickoff duties and walked into the customer onslaught. 

I was prepared for the Kickoff session on my side with all the information, etc., but in hindsight I should have had some direct communication with the customer on meeting attendance and participation.  As the title states, Kickoff and Exploration session attendance should be “VIP Admission Only.”  The only people who need to be there are the ones who will be heavily involved in the project and who will be critical the decision-makers. 

Instead, we had a very broad level of attendance – it seems as if nearly every department sent a couple of representatives.  The result, as you can guess, was a bombardment of questions about things that the company should have already resolved on their side by attending the suggested pre-engagement training and centering around their own business processes – things that should have been ironed out before we even arrived.  They were actually carrying on those types of discussions openly during the Kickoff meetings while we would pause to the let them argue…er…discuss.

How to Handle It

What should have happened is this….

  • Delay the Kickoff meeting until pre-engagement training has been completed
  • Delay the Exploration phase (and possibly Kickoff) until the client SMEs have fully defined the ‘as-is’ and ‘to-be’ business processes
  • Strongly recommend that the client limit Kickoff and Exploration attendance to those decision-makers who are critical to the project

My BA and I were eventually able to re-direct the customer, but this didn’t happen until further into the project and by then we had wasted valuable time on these issues that could have been avoided and the customer had already experienced a significant level of frustration that we still had to overcome.