So you’ve been handed a project, possibly your only project or possibly just one more to add to your already overloaded portfolio of active projects…now what do you do? If your organization is a thought leader in project management then maybe, just maybe, you’ve been involved during the very early customer engagement and sales meetings and maybe you’ve been made aware or involved in creating high-level requirements, a general scope of work, the estimation process and the drafting of a shell project schedule that identifies some key milestones and activities. However, if your organization is like most professional service organizations, then the deal is in place, all of the above has happened without your input or knowledge and just now you’re hearing about the project for the first time. It’s not ideal at all, but it is reality. What do you do?
At this point, it’s all about gaining knowledge. It’s all about getting up to speed so you can productively engage the customer and get the project started off on the right foot. In order to do that, there are a few key steps the project manager should go through to plan, prepare for, and ultimately kickoff the project in the best possible manner with the project customer and other key stakeholders. I’ve narrowed it down to what I consider to be the five main sequential steps:
#1 – Meet with the account manager who closed the deal. If the 2nd scenario above is how your organization handles new projects, then the first thing on the PM’s agenda needs to be an acquisition of everything project related to date from the sales person or account manager who handled the project deal with the new customer. That means getting every piece of material possible – meeting notes, report mockups, estimates, resource plans, statement of work, draft schedule, milestones dates, assumptions and any other project-related materials that are available.
#2 – Get familiar with all material received and created to date. Let’s assume the project manager is ‘alone’ at this point because many professional services organizations don’t actually assign resources to the project till work is ready to start…which is a good thing. If resources are onboarded to early the project budget can take an unnecessary hit. The PM needs to become as familiar as possible with everything project related – especially the statement of work and the draft schedule (if one exists) that likely has key milestone dates mapped out at this point. As I said, you likely won’t have any ‘team’ assigned at this point, so you’re on your own and definitely need to put your leadership hat on – it’s your ball to carry.
#3 – Informally engage the customer sponsor. The next step is to actually engage the customer. Do this once you are prepared enough to sound knowledgeable about the engagement and how (and when) you plan to start to kickoff the project. Begin to discuss actual dates of when (and where) you can conduct a formal project kickoff meeting, who should attend, and what will be covered. And be sure to ask the project sponsor for any special requests they may have of things they want to be discussed at the kickoff meeting.
#4 – Put together a formal presentation for project kickoff. With all the information, project knowledge and customer input in hand, now is the time to put a formal presentation together that will actually drive the formal project kickoff meeting. This meeting is the project manager’s to lead. Take charge and put together a presentation that, at a minimum, covers the following:
- High-level statement of work review
- Key milestone dates
- How communication will flow on the project
- When meetings will happen
- How the project will be managed – methodology, etc.
- What the status report will look like and cover
- How change orders will be handled
- How key signoffs will happen
- What assumptions are being made for the project going forward at this point
- What the delivery team skill set/resources will look like
- When the project will start/next steps
You can cover more things as needed, but these things really should be covered in order to adequately set expectations on the project. I always make sure that I send a draft of this to the customer for review in advance of the meeting so they know what will be covered and have a chance to give final input before the formal kickoff takes place.
#5 – Conduct a formal project kickoff meeting. Finally, conduct the formal project kickoff meeting. For a large project, I definitely suggest an onsite meeting at the customer’s location. And take 1-2 members of your executive management team with you, if possible. For small projects, you may be able to avoid travel to keep costs down and conduct the meeting by phone or video conference. However, I only recommend that approach for very small efforts. And be sure to limit participation on both sides to key stakeholders. Some customers may want to bring every subject matter expert they have to the meeting, but that is not a good thing. Involving too many individuals can invite unnecessary discussions that aren’t appropriate for the kickoff meeting and can add hours to what should be a very structured event.