Doing it right the first time is always a good idea. And when you’re talking about kicking off a long-term IT project worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, it’s essential because you’ll usually find that your project schedule and your budget doesn’t have much of an allowance for rework. When we start a project, we want to make sure we have everything in place so that our team and our customer are as focused and equipped as possible to help us run a successful engagement.
To that end, there are five critical steps to run through to make sure you kick off the project right. To help ensure that you’re ready to meet with the customer, establish the ground rules, and move forward with the subsequent phases of the project.
These five steps are:
1. Gain proper handoff from Sales
The deal closer in your organization – whether that’s Sales, the account manager, or maybe a PMO director – has the original project materials and you, as the project manager, need them. Hold a quick handoff meeting and get all materials transitioned to you because those materials will be the basis for everything you put together in planning out the kickoff and the rest of the project.
2. Draft a project schedule, budget, and resource plan
From the handoff materials, the next step is to put together a project schedule, a draft budget for the project planned out by a week or by phase, and a resource plan that identifies when and what resources are needed on the project. Most of this will likely come from a statement of work and whatever materials Sales used to put together a sales price for the project. Ideally, you’ll have someone from your project team to assist you, but at this point, it may just be you.
3. Engage the customer and set kickoff expectations
Next, introduce yourself to the customer and set up the formal project kickoff meeting. Set expectations for the meeting including the number of attendees the customer should bring. I’ve lead project kickoffs where the customer brought 25-30 representatives. What this often results in is a question and answer session that takes over the kickoff meeting leading to lots of necessary discussion being left on the table due to time constraints. This has been a checkpoint discussion with the customer for me ever since so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
4. Hold a formal project kickoff session
With your materials in hand, put together a formal presentation that addresses key dates, deliverables, assumptions and lays out how you plan to manage the project. The kickoff session is all about setting expectations and laying the groundwork for what is to come and a chance to ask questions to fill in the gaps.
5. Adjust expectations, the schedule, etc. and move forward
There will always be post-kickoff session changes to be made based on the discussions that took place during the formal meeting. Adjust the project schedule, budget and resource plans, and any key assumptions based on these discussions and prepare your team and customer for the next phases of the project.