Data & Analytics, CRM, Collaboration, ERP

Ready! Set! Whoops! or: Why the kick-off is so important for project success

Peter Burghardt06/03/2019

You know how it is. A new project starts. You’ve heard one or two things through the grapevine, and then finally it’s kick-off time. Everyone’s psyched and motivated and then…

And then all involved persons go right back to business as usual. The first deadline arrives a few weeks after the kick-off. No one really feels particularly responsible, and the included people only have a vague idea of what it’s really about.

The little seedling that aspired to grow into a grand old tree is now wilting, because no one’s taking care of it, or no one knows that it’s actually about this seedling.

Kick-offs are just a waste of time

The need for a kick-off is often ignored and seen as unnecessary overhead. Our experience shows a different picture. The kick-off is, if not the most important, then at least one of the most important events in the life of a project. It’s a one-time make or break opportunity. Because this is the starting point of a phase in the project life cycle – the project start phase. The problem with the kick-off and the start phase is that if it’s done right, you’ll never see the costs that were saved.

Why is the kick-off so important?

This question is best answered by another question: Why shouldn’t it be important? No professional sports team would start a match without first giving the players a pep talk and going over the game plan. The police would never set out on a serious mission without first clarifying the tactics and who is responsible for what.

Why do they do this? Because they’re entering a new, unique, dynamic, high-risk, complex situation that can only be mastered by working as a team. Alright, but what does this have to do with projects? Ok… so projects are new, unique, dynamic, high-risk, complex and can only be successful by working as a team.

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The right approach to start your project

The project kick-off basically has two primary goals: first, to sort out the hard factors such as deadlines, budget, contents and responsibilities and second, to establish the soft factors such as the “we-feeling,” communication and teamwork. Hard factors are quick to impart, but the soft ones take time. And this time is worth investing. Because this is what will determine if you end up with a group of lone warriors or a high-performance team.

Planning a memorable, efficient and effective kick-off meeting is not very difficult. If you approach the kick-off meeting and the project start the right way, it can be incredibly useful to you as a project manager.

As described above, the kick-off is just the meeting where everyone comes together. The project start phase comprises a series of other tasks. This part takes place in the planning workshops and includes things like

  • defining the project processes,
  • project planning,
  • compiling risk lists, stakeholder analyses,…
  • drawing up communication plans
  • and defining roles and responsibilities.

These tasks are important for clearly defining the hard factors. Ideally, these tasks should be done in collaboration with the customer and/or with project team members. Working alone, the project manager will not be as efficient at this as the entire team would be.

The soft factors, too, require preparation if you want to handle them adequately and efficiently. Many people don't take it seriously, but playing games to practice problem-solving or working together to come up with content is enormously helpful for fostering team-building. Think about what methods are best suited for your project team. Just keep in mind that you can’t build a team with just one exercise. This takes time, but exercises allow the team to run through the team-building ´s phases faster. A joint problem-solving exercise helps the team to adjust to the various ways of working and helps the project manager to figure out what kind of personalities he/she is working with. These types of exercises are perfect for including in a kick-off meeting.

Get your project start on the road!

The kick-off and the project start phase are essential for a project. Anything that you ignore or neglect is guaranteed to catch up with you during the project. And one thing’s for sure – doing things retroactively ends up costing you more. The company Primas Consulting has identified “8 moments of truth” for project managers. Four of these take place during the project start phase, and one of them is the kick-off meeting. This alone should demonstrate the importance of the project start and the kick-off meeting. 

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Peter Burghardt
Project Manager