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Simple Steps to the Perfect Project Kickoff

Perfect project kickoff. Wouldn't that be great? The best start... The best possible foot forward for the project you are about to lead. The best possible first impression that a project manager, project team, and project as a whole can get from a customer that it is their #1 priority to please.

Perfect? Well, nobody is perfect and nothing ever goes off completely without a hitch. But if you're an experienced leader and ready to take charge of the project you've been dealt, then following these four steps below should help you get the project kicked off right and a good start down the road to project success.

  1. Acquire every possible piece of pre-project information. Someone, somewhere in the organization closed a deal that created this project - unless it's an internal project in which case there is still some info laying around somewhere from the initial request or discussion before you got involved. Likely it's a sales person or account manager who knows the generals but not the details on how to deliver the quality end solution. Hopefully, from this initial effort you can get some key high-level requirements, some resource needs and time estimates, key deliverable dates and milestones that were discussed or requested, and maybe even a more formal statement of work (SOW) that may give you some of these items all in one place including key assumptions.
  2. Introduce yourself. Next, introduce yourself to the project customer. Be bold, reach out and let this individual – the project sponsor or whoever is the lead on the customer's side – know who you are, how you intend to run the project and how you see the project kickoff happening. Things to discuss: who should attend the project kickoff, what will likely be or should be discussed and decided, what you'll be delivering in advance of the kickoff and how, when, and where the project kickoff will happen. This critical, formal kickoff session usually takes place at the customer's site. Be careful, when the customer is hosting this type of meeting it is often their action to bring too many - rather than too few - people to the meeting. The more the merrier, right? No, too many end users can change a two hour project kickoff meeting into a two day project requirements meeting and this is not the proper time for that. The goal is to get the project kicked off and keep everyone's expectations correctly set and to define next steps.
  3. Deliver the deck. The third step on the list is to put together a nice, formal presentation. You want to show competency, define how the early stages of the project are going to go, establish yourself as the leader of the engagement, introduce your team if you have it assembled (otherwise discuss the roles at a high level), set expectations on the communication and change order processes, and discuss key milestones and deliverable dates. You want to deliver these presentation materials – along with a concise meeting agenda and your first real draft project schedule, to the customer a few days in advance of the project kickoff so they can come prepared and possibly even interject any necessary info into your presentation that may be missing but critical to the kickoff and next steps.
  4. Deliver the kickoff. Finally, proceed with the formal kicking off of the engagement. Again, the real goals here are to define next processes, identify key dates and general responsibilities and – above all else – properly set expectations and ensure that everyone is on the same page going forward. This is the best way to get the project off on the right foot and make the next meetings and tasks as productive and effective as possible.

Summary

There really isn't such a thing as the “perfect project kickoff.” Nothing every goes off completely as planned on a project – even just the kickoff session. Too many variables. But if you have planned it well, followed these four steps and are an experienced project leader ready to make decisions when necessary, then you should do fine. And following these steps will help you get there.

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