The Standish Group’s 2020 CHAOS Report estimated that roughly 66% of IT projects fail. The Consortium for IT Software Quality reports that the total cost of unsuccessful development projects in the US is a shocking $260 Billion. These morbid statistics are reason enough to ensure your team is setting themselves up to be as successful as possible at the onset of every project. This means you need to plan and complete a solid Project Kickoff as a crucial step in your project’s success.
These days, there is plenty of prep-work before seeing a project’s success. This leads to several meetings and discussions. There’s pre-sales activity if working with a partner, forecasting and resource mapping talks, and conversations around budget. Other meetings might include prioritization sessions. Oftentimes, it’s a mix of all of the above. With all of the talking going on, it’s easy to think everyone is on the same page and dive right into the deep end. This can result in stranded team members, unreasonable expectations, and unnecessary sharks in the water risking your project’s success.
Throughout our experience, we’ve learned a tried and true process is essential to ensuring projects are set up and started successfully. By executing well-planned Project Kickoffs, you set your team up for success from the get-go and avoid common project-related issues.
The project manager establishes a session (or two) to make sure the roles and responsibilities for the Project Kickoff are understood. They also ensure the team members can prepare before a proper kickoff. This will help start things off on the right foot, and help solidify your project’s success. The primary client sponsor and the internal consulting team typically participate in this.
The objectives of the session with the client sponsor are to:
- Review the planned Project Kickoff agenda and edit as necessary
- Align on goals for the meeting and determine agreed-upon objectives
- Uncover potential roadblocks, including scheduling hurdles, missing team members, etc.
The objectives of the internal session are to:
- Review agenda and project scope
- Assign and understand roles and responsibilities of all attendees
- Go over expectations of Project Kickoff meeting and overall project plan to cover any questions, concerns, potential conflicts, etc.
Once the pregame activities are complete, we recommend sharing the now agreed-upon and twice-reviewed Project Kickoff Agenda with all remaining attendees. This provides everyone with clear expectations, allowing the team to plan accordingly before the meeting takes place.
The Project Kickoff: an essential piece of your project’s success
A common breakdown agenda of a kickoff meeting includes Opening & Introductions, Statement of Work Review, Methodology Alignment, Project Goals Discussion, Team Communication Plan, and Next Steps.
Opening & Introductions
In our virtual work world, it’s easy to assume we know who everyone on a project is by the time we’re kicking off. However, we’ve found that dedicating five minutes to introductions goes a long way in establishing roles and responsibilities as it relates to a specific project. Even if your team has worked together a dozen times (and, perhaps, it’s even more important if you often work together), it’s critical that each attendee to the kickoff introduces themself, their role on the project, their main responsibilities, and how to engage with them. This practice helps break down barriers, gets rid of assumptions, and opens the door for clear and honest communication.
Statement of Work Review
A bought-in team that understands the goal is much more likely to succeed. This is why it’s important to spend time reviewing details, discussing the plan, and aligning on expectations. Every attendee should have a copy of the Statement of Work or Project Plan. The team will review and talk about this together. This can be done line by line. There is no room for unspoken expectations or assumptions.
A proper Statement of Work Review will include discussions around:
Establish why the project is important to the company, discuss the end goal/deliverable of the project, and ensure everyone is aligned on this understanding.
Walk through the expected deliverables and milestones along with their associated timelines.
Talk about if there are any other stakeholders or team members not involved in the day-to-day of the project that may bring expectations, concerns, or influence.
Review deadlines considered in and out of scope for each project. You can help get rid of issues over unmet or misunderstood expectations early on.
Walk through the assumptions one-by-one to reduce surprises.
In order to be efficient & successful, everyone on the team needs to be rowing in the same direction. The goal of this discussion is ensuring everyone aligns on the methodology that is driving the project tasks, proper processes, key handoffs, roles, and responsibilities. This is the time to outline the project, step by step. This will ensure that everyone is aware of pivotal milestones and how to measure and share progress. This should reduce project status meetings turning into circular discussions on issues or questions on how the team is doing.
Project Goals Discussion
It’s possible that so many projects don’t work out because team members were reluctant to share reservations, hesitations, or worries prior to a project starting. Similarly, knowledge guarding, well-intentioned or not, can lead to unforeseen traps for your project’s progress. Getting the team on the same page on what a successful project looks like engages the team in constructive hindsight. Additionally, this exercise creates a safe communication space to talk about, remove, and fix any concerns. However, dissenters are a part of every project team, whether outspoken or not. This part of the kickoff will provide the opportunity to address concerns head-on prior to starting.
Team Communication Plan
Talk, talk, talk… I know this meeting agenda sounds like a lot of talking. However, setting the standard for over-communicating, push updates instead of pull updates, and reconfirming the plan will only mean less problems down the road. A strong communication plan is essential to any project’s success and should include:
- What: What is being communicated? (project status, budget updates, deliverable details, potential issues, etc.)
- Who: Who is responsible for communicating and who receives the communications?
- When: When and how often are these items communicated?
- How: How are these messages communicated and displayed? (Project Management tools such as JIRA, or emails, or statu.s meetings, etc.)
- Where: Where can the rest of the team members find this information if not involved in the communications directly
- Next Steps:
To finish the Project Kickoff meeting, go over the action items. The team looks at any other possible choices regarding roles and responsibilities. Capture meeting notes, sending them to every team member to reference in the future.
An effective Project Kickoff sets the tone for the entire project timeline. If the meeting goes as planned, your team will be starting with a clear vision. Similarly, these sessions can help motivate and engage your team. Your team will be ready to beat the statistics and see your project’s success.
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