Used in most organizations to usher the start of a new project, the kick-off meetings have become a key if not a crucial component of any project. How do you know if you are ready to hold that meeting and if it will have the impact that it is intended to? Join me in this article where we review some key areas of consideration for a good kick-off meeting.
I don’t think it would be an over exaggeration to say that all over the world project kick-off meetings are held every day and get a lot of people mobilized around the start of projects. I have personally chaired and been invited to my share of kick-off meeting over the last twenty-five plus years.
Some kick-off meetings are relatively small and held soon after a good portion of the planning is defined while other larger ones are held just before execution starts. They are often catered affairs with a great number of invitees and a lot of eyes on the project to come. In PMI®’s recent 6th edition of the PMBOK® Guide (pg. 86), the kick-off meeting is described as being “associated with the end of planning and the start of executing. Its purpose is to communicate the objectives of the project, gain the commitment of the team for the project, and explain the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder.” 1
Whatever the size, complexity or number of attendees your kick-off meeting has they remain for most part the same in what a project manager is trying to achieve with them. You are trying to let everyone know that the project is official and that some of the people will soon have requirements thrust upon them for completion, delivery or review.
It has been my experience and that of several other PMs that for you to have a good and valuable kick-off meeting you should make certain that several items are in place. Let’s review some of the basics.
1. Having a sponsor designated to the project is essential
I have to admit to having experienced this first hand and trust me it was not an easy lesson to learn. The sponsor should always be assigned to the project being kicked-off and should also be the first person to be invited, the rest of the meeting should be dependent on him/her being able to attend.
You will not have more than one project where you break this rule before you do not go against this rule ever again.
The appearance of a lack of leadership from the top leads to kick-off meeting participants thinking that the project is not important to the organization. It then becomes hard for the project manager to gather the resources needed to accomplish the project within its baselines. Often even though it is still early in the project, not having a sponsor will lead to changes in decisions that will need to be communicated again to the team and the stakeholders making the project look disorganized.
So, rule 1 always have a Sponsor and make him/her visible for the kick-off meeting. He/she should be asked to welcome people and speak a few words about the importance of the project for the organization. This goes a long way.
2. The charter needs to be completed, signed, sealed and available.
The Charter is the document that formally authorizes the project in the organization, and it allows the PM to gather and use resources in order to achieve the project’s objectives. No charter, no project, therefore no project, no kick-off meeting. Sounds simple until someone tries to push you into a quick delivery. You will feel this pressure more on smaller, shorter length projects.
So, rule #2 is also absolute. No Charter, no project equals no kick-off just yet.
3. Planning does not necessarily need to be complete.
Having an authorized Charter as a requirement does not mean that your planning needs to be totally completed and approved for the kick-off meeting to be held. In fact, you will more than likely than not need stakeholder’s assistance to generate the data for a proper plan and set of supporting documents.
A seasoned PM will know through experience at what point before or during planning it is best to hold the kick-off meeting.
Rule #3 is to ensure that you have enough detail to inform but have not gone too far with support and relevant data from the stakeholders.
4. Resources for the project don’t need to be on a first name basis just yet.
Quite often when the kick-off meeting is held, you have not had a discussion yet around actual resources and their availability to work the project. You will know what skills or roles will be needed for the work, but you will more than likely not have a face to that role.
This should not stop you from holding the kick-off meeting. You will simply need to tailor your invitees’ list to account for this. So instead of Joe the programmer, you will invite John, the head of programming.
Further into planning and definitely before execution, you will need to revisit your resourcing plan and get in touch with those that might not have been on the radar earlier.
Rule #4 be conscious of the people that you might not know just yet. Revisit the roles and responsibilities definition as the project team is constructed.
5. The kick-off meeting is more than just for show.
Kick-off meetings have a lot of formality to them and “show.” A good kick-off meeting will need to put the project in perspective but will also need to pave the way for good project organization.
Key rules of engagement and processes are discussed during this meeting. It is common to review the following:
- Importance of the project to the organization
- An understanding the project’s milestones and high-level deliverables
- Roles and responsibilities with a project organizational chart
- Change control processes and systems
- Issue escalation process
Rule #5 a good balance of “show,” cheerleading and structure works well to make people feel comfortable about the project and their possible role in it.
Running a well-structured and value-added kick-off meeting should not be that painful of an experience for a PM. As with anything, there are always certain rules to respect to make it a more seamless process. Whatever your project make-up is, it is important to have that kick-off meeting to get everyone on the same page, heading in the same direction.
Sylvie Edwards, PMP, MCPM, STDC, CMP has 25 years of project management experience spanning various industries and is the owner of SRE Solutions, catering to clients in need of project management course development, education, project risk management, PMO setup/evaluation or recovery services. She has worked with one of the top five consulting firm, where she led projects in the information technology, banking, government, and securities sectors as well as being a manager in the risk management practice. Sylvie writes about risk management, communication, and PMO.