Do not skip project kickoff meetings.
Let me say it again for the people in the back: do not skip project kickoff meetings.
It’s easy to do. There are arguments about how useful they are, whether it’s a pointless waste of time, etc., and they aren’t without their logic. Having said that, you probably shouldn’t be so quick to toss the idea out the window.
To put it into perspective, I recently had the opportunity to attend the President’s Breakfast at one of Toronto’s post-secondary institutions. It’s an academic kickoff meeting, if you will. It wasn’t a dry or useless event. Why? Because it focused on looking forward and presenting information, benefits and challenges in a way that motivated people to get on board with the vision for the upcoming year. Not only did breakfast have a strong team presence, it was a team-focused environment, almost an adult, corporate version of a pep rally where even challenges were framed in a positive light. It was a celebration, both of past successes and things to come.
This is not unlike a good kickoff meeting, especially if you’re a consultant and/or project manager coming into a team from outside the organization. Your kickoff meeting should set the tone for the rest of the project ahead; it should show the team that the project will be worth both their time and their emotional investment. It should get them excited, help them see the benefits of the project, whether those benefits are personally educational or company specific. This is your first impression and just like any other first impression, it’s extremely important.
Let’s go back to the President’s Breakfast as our example. There were lingering effects from the event. Talk around both the metaphorical and physical watercooler circled around the president’s speech: the special care he took to single out people for their achievements; the way he celebrated other successful projects; the emphasis he put on teamwork, collaboration, support and camaraderie; and most importantly that the guy in charge was not only trustworthy, but also approachable.
He made people feel like they wanted to work there and this is exactly the message that kickoff meetings are meant to convey. Your team can be small enough to fit in someone’s office, or have so many people you only fit in an auditorium, the point is still the same: as the project leader (or manager or sponsor, whatever your title may be) you want to ensure project success by support the project team and taking responsibility for the project. Doing so shows you’re the right leader for the project and establishes a baseline of trust vital to the continued smooth operating of the project team. It promotes open communication, which is the only way to effectively address any issues in a timely manner so they don’t become a detriment to the project. It encourages individual investment in the project.
But it starts with the kickoff meeting.
It’s easy to write kickoff meetings off as just feel good hours with no overall benefit to the project, a waste of man hours just to talk about the intangibles. But don’t discount the importance of sharing the project vision. Don’t discount the message it sends when you bring the whole team into the room with the specific intent to share the benefits of the project and set the expectations. I have to admit I’d feel much better about starting projects off on the right foot if they all started with the same enthusiasm that came out of the President’s Breakfast!
Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you have an alternative way you like to start off your projects? Let us know in the comment section below.
Scott Savage is the Project Management lead at Logixsource Consulting. He has a long history in various organizations building, streamlining and establishing PMOs.