Review the statement of work
You should have some starting point – some document that in some way at least resembles a statement of work (SOW). Review it – know it so you can recite it in your sleep. It should cover general milestones on the project, expected deliverables, key roles for project team members, assumptions, etc. This will provide necessary input into the project schedule as well as the basis for discussion at an official project kickoff session with the project customer, team (what’s assembled to date), senior management and any other necessary stakeholders.
Connect with the project sponsor pre-kickoff
Prior to official project kickoff, the project manager must connect with the project sponsor on the customer side. An introduction needs to happen as well as an on the phone (unless they are local) planning session for when, who, what and where will happen with the project kickoff session. The project manager needs to be in control and drive this discussion, primarily because from this point forward they are the person with the ball and the leader who will present and conduct the kickoff session to get the project officially started. At the end of this call you both should know the date, time, and primary discussion topics for the kickoff session.
Put together a presentation packet/deck
Next, the project manager should put together a draft agenda (to be approved by the project customer) as well as a presentation for the kickoff session. Likely this should be a presentation deck planned for a full room discussion that includes the key players for the project. At this point those will likely be:
- what’s been assembled of the delivery project team to date
- a few senior management participants on the delivery side (PMO director, a VP or two, and any critically relevant department heads)
- customer project sponsor
- customer side subject matter experts (SMEs) and end users
- any other stakeholders deemed critical decision makers or participants at this point (only on a need to know basis, though)
One thing the project manager must do in order to stay in control from the outset – and I learned this the hard way on a big ERP-type project for a large, Fortune 500 drug manufacturer – is limit the size of client-side participation. It was a huge project (18 months and multi-million dollar) and for representation on the delivery side we had 3-4 of us (me as the PM, our PMO director, and a couple of VPs, I think), but because I was doing this at the client site they brought everyone. Every end user, every SME, several department heads…anyone who would be interfacing in any way with processes affected by the new implementation. While, in the long run, their input is needed, the formal onsite kickoff session is not really the place for that. What should have taken 2-3 hours ended up taking two days because everyone had input and questions and it became extremely difficult to stick to the agenda and maintain control of the discussion. My kickoff meeting became more of a pre-design session…not the direction it should have gone and it was a great lesson learned for me. From that point on I made sure I set expectations on attendance and what should really happen at these types of meetings in order to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Set next steps expectation
Finally, plan out what happens next. As the project manager, you already know what you’re planning for next in your project schedule. Even if you’ve shared that with the customer at this point – and you should have – you need to set those expectations in stone as the kickoff session closes so that meetings, travel arrangements and other details can be made and worked out in people’s schedules so the project can continue forward on time and on budget.
Depending on the size of the project, the visibility of the project, it’s length, duration, price tag and probably a few other variables, this list may be longer or shorter. Or what goes into each step may be a larger or smaller effort requiring different levels of detail and participation. But these are definitely some of the key, basic steps need to be followed.
I welcome your input. What have I overlooked as a general guideline to follow? What would you or do you include as you prepare to kickoff the project right? Setting expectations is key as you can never be sure you’re on the same page as the client until you get past that point. And it can get ugly fast if you find you aren’t on the same page.