In my article titled “The Project Kickoff” I discussed how the project manager should handle a typical project kickoff session with an external customer on a sizeable engagement. In that post I covered what happened in the Kickoff phase – Phase 1 of the overall PM methodology I presented over eight articles and in summary form in “A Quick Guide to Project Management Methodology".

One can say I use PMI, etc., but that doesn’t really tell the story. PMI provides the common terminology and practices, but what it doesn’t seem to do a great job of is laying out an entire PM methodology…one that you can follow, build a project plan from that means something in the real world, and manage the project and team from. The Quick Guide I laid out does allow that…and here I’d like to talk more about how the project manager successfully kicks off a project.

The Assumptions

For the purposes of this discussion, we’re going to assume that the project we’re talking about is visible, high dollar, important to your organization, and is for an external customer. Internal customers need a kickoff session, but it’s not usually too elaborate nor does it require as much preparation…funny how that works but the external customers often get top priority, the most attention and the best resources…especially if they’re paying decent money for the project. We’ll also assume this is for some sort of enterprise software solution that your organization offers.

Dropped in Your Lap

project management

So a large project has been passed from Sales to the PMO and your PMO Director has dropped it on you. Now what do you do?

AT this point, Sales has completed their part of the process and you likely have a Statement of Work (SOW), rough resource estimates, specific contract dollar amounts, and a rough project schedule or at least milestone dates in front of you. Whatever you want to call it – kickoff meeting, planning meeting, strategy session – you must hold a face-to-face with the customer to go through these items and ensure that, now that Sales is out of the way, everyone is on the same page. Trust me, it’s not a given and depending on how your organization is run, it’s not even very likely. If you’ve read enough of my articles you’ll understand what I mean – remember when I found my business analyst crying in the hallway? If I’ve learned anything, it’s that you should never assume anything. There…that’s one of my BIG lessons learned.

Wrap Your Arms Around It

In order to prepare for the face-to-face, you first have to get your arms around what you’ve been given. Meet with Sales, go through the SOW with a fine-toothed comb, and review the pseudo schedule and budget that Sales likely passed on to you – and then make them both your own. And by that I mean re-create them how you want to manage against them. Beef up the project schedule with what you know must happen…Sales doesn’t have that PM detail in their heads of what happens on typical projects and neither did the customer when they were meeting with Sales. The onus for that is on you.

The Presentation

For the face-to-face, I always suggest a more formalized meeting to review the following in at least some detail:

  • Statement of Work
  • Draft project schedule (now with your revisions)
  • Milestone dates (pull them from the schedule and review separately so that everyone is very aware of the key dates)
  • Budget (if this is appropriate given the attendees and your customer’s preference)
  • Your PM methodology (let your customer know how you plan to manage the project)
  • Your change order process/change management practices
  • How you intend to handle risks/issues
  • Status calls and status reporting schedules
  • Initial list of risks (if you’re prepared for this at this point…otherwise wait till you have your first status call)

Prepare a presentation deck and get it to the customer for review and agreement prior to the meeting. It will make for a much more successful and productive kickoff session as they’ll already have their questions ready for you – or even answered beforehand – thus, ensuring that uncertainty doesn’t extend into the Exploration phase which comes up next.

Who Should Attend

Face it, you’ll be outnumbered no matter what. I suggest this 1-2 day session should be held at the customer site and they’ll probably try to bring everything but the kitchen sink so be careful. Get a list of their proposed attendees and try to work with them to trim it down. I once had more then 30 customer attendees in a kickoff session and it nearly turned into a fiasco. We were able to trim it down for the 2nd day, but I’d advise – as a lesson learned – to try to do that before going onsite.

At a minimum, here’s who should attend:

Delivery team:

  • Project Manager (that’s probably you if you’re reading this)
  • Business Analyst (ideal if one has been assigned…and if one isn’t assigned immediately after you acquire the project, scream! You’ll want their technical expertise available at the kickoff meeting)
  • PMO Director (this attendee is not critical, but with a visible, high $$ project, they’re going to want to be there or will be forced to be there by the CEO)


  • Project sponsor
  • Relevant SMEs that have or are defining more detailed requirements and business processes and know what the end users need (and maybe the end users themselves)
  • Customer Project Manager (often this person is more of a hindrance than a help, but if one is assigned, they need to be present).

Beyond that for the customer and you’re probably going to have too many. Remember, the SMEs are NOT one person…that’s probably 10-12 people depending on the size and type of your enterprise implementation.

project presentation


Following these steps will usually ensure that you’ve brought the right people and information to the table to go through the details and get the project started off on the right foot. And it’s extremely important to do that as you’re likely to have some expectation resetting to do... Sales set one expectation, but yours is the more important, and realistic expectation. Make sure you’re well prepared, well represented, and a little bit stubborn.