Project kickoff – don’t miss an opportunity

The project concept has outgrown it’s initial purpose to become pervasive in all areas of business and government.
This blog is relevant to all projects, but especially to those traditional ones that are created with a new team to deliver a specific project outcome such as a business change.

The challenges faced by Projects

The challenges faced by Projects are immense and not srprisingly, they represent the same issues that lead to the inception of the project as a model, namely:

  1. The shop must stay open while the improvements are made.  I.E. key people can’t desert their posts, so someone needs to come in to lead it.
  2. The project has to have the ability to make decisions and move forward independently if it’s not to grind to a halt..
  3. It must have its own clear structure of reports, responsibilities and consults, separate from the organisation.
  4. It must overcome the tricky and time consuming challenge of forming a new team and getting it up to peak production.
  5. It must coordinate and arbitrate different egos and personalities to work in a new structure.
    It must communicate effectively as an entity
  6. It must deal effectively with sometimes fraught corporate change environments
  7. In order to achieve even a pass mark in these seven key areas, it is vital that a project team is built and structured to support these functions and that the structure is strong, well designed and policed sufficiently until it is functioning efficiently.

If you are not in the habit of producing and agreeing a project structure document up front, then embracing this simple idea will move your project management performance up to a whole new level.
if you are able to go the next level you will not only end up with a sold structure that is sufficient and functional, you will make sure that the right roles are created, the right people are chosen for each role and the new team is quickly marched through the complex process of Forming, Norming, Storming and Reforming.

Project kick-off is almost indispensible

if you have been following my series on Project management, you will no doubt be aware that we place considerable importance on setting up the project correctly with the right structure and the right people. 
The last and very important lap in kicking off a high performance project is team building.

 When I started in this field in Ireland 20 years ago, we had a uniquely Celtic way of doing the job. we took everyone away for a working weekend in a great hotel, We did a two hour stint on Saturday and the rest, the important bit was drinking too much revealing too much about yourself, making friends and building relationships.  Today we hire coaches to set up special activities that are more politically correct and if they are good, they achieve the same things.

Get their attention

I am a great believer in taking the team off site for a few days. Left onsite people will continue to do the day job and they will not engage with your project or your team.
The people who want to remain aloof are the very ones you most need to keep focused and to do this you need to remove all their other toys long enough to get through to them.

Get them interested

A vectorized image of project dimensions.

Image via Wikipedia

The second thing you need t do is to demonstrate to them the business case for your project and have a business sponsor make it very clear to everyone just how important the project is to him/her. This last bit is so important I am almost tempted to repeat it. If you don’t get strong verbal and moral support from the business, you may as well throw your hat at it right now.
The third thing you need to do is to paint a little detail around the vision and make more real or concrete. To do this you need to find ways of demonstrating what wil be different when the project has been completed and how it will effect each of the stakeholders present and the organisation in general. This is ideally an expansion of the business case put forward earlier, but with more detail to fill in the how rather than just the why. Models, diagrams, prototypes and individual contributions form affected stakeholder are all effective tools for bringing the vision to life.

Get them involved

 Project Management Plan

The fourth thing you need to achieve is to make it personal for each member of the team. It is all too easy to play around with concepts and pass comments on them without ever considering them as reality. Like furniture ordered from the internet, It is only when the postman delivers it that you are forced to unpack it and start considering where it will sit i your life and how you will live with it. This is the time you want your people to consider these issues so that when you call on them to do their bit, they are able and willing to deliver.
A simple and effective technique to help with achieving this is to hold joint planning sessions with the entire team whereby they nominate the high level tasks, point out dependencies  and highlight the risks,  issues and assumptions.
It doesn’t matter if you already have a plan that you think is great, I would strongly recommend binning that plan and starting again because of the extra value you can get from this process.
Joint planning is the first time the team work together and it is the first demonstration of who knows what, who does what and where the tensions may exist.
After the first session you can visit individuals and discuss the issues if you feel that things need to change a little in order to keep the peace.
In addition to territorial issues, the process also forces people to consider these commitments alongside of their existing ones and to consider the amount of time and effort required of them and surface any conflicts early on.
The last element of joint planning, but by no means the least, is to discover the areas where the team members depend on each other for knowledge support or assistance of any kind and begin to break down the barriers and start off this process of team building.

Define some real actions

If you are to reap the true benefits of the work you have done so far, you simply MUST get positive proof of your success by way of actions accepted and completed by the team. These actions will deliver preliminary products of almost any nature, but what they will do is
a). They will set the scene for accepting and completing actions on time
b). The actions will be chosen to involve small groups and pairings that begin the process of forming partnerships within the team.

The outcomes of a project kick-off meeting

  • A strong sense of common purpose built on a clear shared vision and sound communication and sponsorship.
  • A well defined and understood project structure that has been explored and proved itself viable.
  • A clear vision of the work to be done the issues and risks and the critical success factors.
  • A high level plan that is commonly owned and understood along with risk, issue and assumptions logs.
  • Initial tasks completed and a team that are comfortable to work together towards the common goal
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