Kickstarting a Project

It is often believed that starting a programme or project is the most difficult task for the manager tasked with delivering the endeavour. This is especially pertinent when the project planner is a novice.

The Project Charter may authorise the project, enable a project manager to be assigned and is often recognised as the official kick-off of the project. But there is an essential step that must be performed before jumping in to deliver the newly authorised project. The project start-up meeting.

Irrespective of where your customer is based, whether in a nearby office or the other side of the world, every project based initiative needs a start-up meeting, often called a project kick-off, strategy session, planning session (every organisation has their own specific term for what is the same activity).

The impetus for this meeting is to ensure the project sets off “on the right foot”. With a well planned, effectively managed and productive session the customer and project manager can be reassured that the project is getting the best possible start.

The session is as much about understanding and setting expectations of all concerned with the project. Often these won’t be fully realised during the session, but these will highlight gaps and differences which have to be addressed during the early days of the project.

During the elaboration of the expectations there will be opportunities to clarify high level requirements, identify risks, spot interdependencies with other projects (especially when the project is part of a programme), etc.

The main goal of the session is to agree what needs to be done, by whom (project team and extended project team), when (timescales), what likely challenges will be faced, and taking all this into consideration a high level plan.

I’ve seen projects take as much as five business days to conduct these sessions. You can imagine how drained the participants were by the end!

I’ve worked for a few forward thinking organisations who have recognised the challenges that PM’s face in delivering an effective project kick-off and how beneficial it would be to speed up the process and expedite all these activities. Subsequently I have had to design, develop and facilitate project kick-start workshops.

These half to one day kick-start workshops have got ALL the participants in a room to run through a meticulously planned process, the output of which was initial documentation and high-level plan, agreed by customer, stakeholders and project team. Sufficient for the project team to work effectively straight from the kick-off.

In a soon to be published post, I will elaborate on what is needed to make the kick-start work and what must be undertaken in the days, weeks following kick-off of the project.

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