The project kickoff is a critical step in setting the stage for a successful endeavor. It signifies the start of a project and sets the tone for its execution. A well-planned and executed kickoff can help align team members, stakeholders, and resources toward a common goal, establish clear expectations, and provide a solid foundation for the project’s success. To ensure a successful project kickoff, consider the following key steps and factors:
Define the Project Objectives
Clearly articulate the project’s goals, objectives, and scope. Emphasize at the start how the project is aligned with the overall company vision, mission, and values. Make sure everyone understands what the project is intended to achieve. Additionally, discussing non-goals can prevent false expectations or misunderstandings.
Identify all relevant stakeholders, both internal and external. Ensure that key decision-makers and influencers are involved from the start. Quantify the influence of the stakeholders, positive and negative. There might be stakeholders that have a strong influence on the project and those need to be handled differently than stakeholders with little influence.
Assemble the Project Team
Select and assemble a dedicated project team with the necessary skills and expertise. Ensure that team members understand their roles and responsibilities. A project cannot be successful if the required skills are not available in the expected amount and the expected time. What use is a skill inside an organization if it cannot be utilized for the project when needed?
Set Roles and Responsibilities
Define and communicate the roles and responsibilities of each team member. This includes project managers, leaders, and individual contributors. This will help to avoid misunderstandings later; especially should a crisis arise. And it will decrease the risk of team members executing the same thing, thereby being highly inefficient.
Develop a Project Plan
Create a detailed project plan that outlines the project’s timeline, milestones, tasks, and dependencies. Use project management tools to help with planning and tracking progress. Project management tools help visualize the project, the timeline, and the correlations between different tasks. If set up right, it will show the influence one change might have on the whole project.
Establish Communication Channels
Set up clear communication channels and protocols. Define how information will be shared, who should be kept informed, and how issues will be escalated and resolved. It is recommended to set up the first meeting, the kickoff meeting, in person. After that regular meetings involving the project team can be handled online, the focus being on the fact that they need to be regular. The period between regular follow-ups should be decided upon (every week or biweekly or not that often?) and then the meetings need to be set up in everyone’s calendar to allow for all participants to join and be updated. Busy schedules require planning such meetings ahead of time to ensure that if not all, then at least most, of the team members can join to keep everyone informed and aligned. Setting up access to places where documents can be viewed and edited by the project team members is required. If there are external project participants, locations such as SharePoint can help.
Address Risks and Mitigation
Identify potential risks and challenges that may arise during the project and develop strategies for mitigating them. These can come from the lessons learned from similar projects or related to potential risks identified before the project starts running.
Define Success Criteria
Establish measurable success criteria and key performance indicators (KPIs) to evaluate the project’s progress and outcomes. These are necessary to be able to judge the health of the project while it is still running (meaning: is the outcome provided so far in line with the timeline e.g.) as well as to rate the project when it is over. KPIs have to be communicated to all project partners to avoid any surprises and need to be monitored regularly.
Create a Kickoff Meeting Agenda
Plan a kickoff meeting to bring all stakeholders and team members together. The agenda should include introductions, a project overview, goals, roles, responsibilities, and expectations. The agenda needs to be sent out well before the kickoff meeting so that all participants can prepare for it. The more information it contains, the easier it will be to understand and avoid any misinterpretation of the project as such.
Communicate the Vision
Communicate the project’s vision and its importance to the organization. Help team members and stakeholders understand the “why” behind the project. It’s crucial to explain to the team members how their project is aligned with the company goals. Sometimes, the company goals may seem abstract or too far-fetched, but it’s essential to ensure that the team understands how their work contributes to the bigger picture. With the Entrepreneurial Tool that is being developed at The Cecily Group, the link between the company goals and the project itself will be clear to all and can be consulted anytime. That link also makes the often slightly abstract company vision more tangible and fills it with real projects. That way a vision is lived.
Engage and Motivate
Inspire and motivate the team by emphasizing the project’s significance and the positive impact it can have. Encourage open communication and collaboration. Members of the project will be more likely to contribute to the project if they are not only valued but also feel the team spirit and the importance of the work they are providing.
Address Questions and Concerns
Allow time for questions and concerns during the kickoff meeting. Address any uncertainties and provide clarifications as needed. Not only does this reduce or even eliminate the uncertainties but team members will also feel valued as they were heard and hopefully all questions can be answered immediately. In case someone still needs to be consulted (for example the legal or HR department), answers may be delivered after the kickoff meeting.
Document the Kickoff
Keep detailed records of the kickoff meeting, including meeting minutes, action items, and any decisions made. Share this documentation with all participants.
Allow everyone the possibility to comment on the notes taken. Notes are sent to all participants, giving a certain time frame for when feedback is requested. After that time has passed, all documents are considered as agreed upon.
Continuously monitor the project’s progress and make adjustments as necessary. Regularly communicate updates to stakeholders. There can always be changes around the project that could not be predicted when the project was set up. Keeping everyone in the loop will enhance understanding but also keep the flexibility that is sometimes needed in an ever-changing environment, especially if a project runs for a longer period.
At The Cecily Group, projects are based on Strategic Coach’s Impact Filters with small adjustments to fit our way of working. The idea for a project can come from any awesome team member and requires filling out the following information:
- Purpose of the project
- Importance of the project
- Ideal outcome
- What if we don’t do this project
- Any expected obstacles
- Milestones to be reached by a person or persons by a specific time (Success Criteria)
Additionally, we also define the required team members, and we assign the project to one of our company goals, so everyone is aware of the ‘why’ and ‘for what’ of the project. We discuss the information gathered in the Impact Filter together to make sure everyone is on the same page and that the defined timelines can be met.
Usually at the start of a new year, we have a kickoff meeting for the Impact Filters and they are combed through in detail to make sure we are still on the same page and all roles are clear. This is true for existing projects but especially for new ones. We are flexible enough to shift things around if the need arises because we keep updating each other regularly and we strongly believe in open communication and listening to each other. Priorities might shift, making changes in projects necessary.
Projects can be a source of motivation or demotivation: if people feel they are part of it and their concerns/ideas are brought on board, it is motivating (especially if results are being shown). If it’s on top of all other work without any clear “Why”, then the opposite happens.
By carefully planning and executing a project kickoff, you can create a strong foundation for your project and increase the likelihood of its success. It helps ensure that everyone involved is on the same page and committed to achieving the project’s goals.