Lisagor: Kick it off right

10 steps for launching a successful project

It is amazing how many managers dive into a new project without taking the time to identify and meet with all the main stakeholders. One of my worst experiences as a young engineer -- back when it practically took a mainframe to play "Dungeons and Dragons" -- was to work for a project manager who didn't know how to provide specific direction. Instead, he expected his staff to

intuitively know what was expected.

This lack of communication was a nightmare. I call this "stream of consciousness" management. It's not too bad for stand-up comedy but rarely results in success in the information technology arena.

One way to avoid this type of reactive behavior is to have a well-thought out, proactive project kickoff meeting. It is as important as making sure all the subcontractors understand a building blueprint before they lay the foundation.

The main elements of a successful project team kickoff meeting are:

1. Distributing the agenda beforehand.

2. Beginning and ending on time. Stick to the meeting plan.

3. Introducing your project team and major project influencers. Make sure everyone is clear on roles, responsibilities and expectations.

4. Describing the scope and objectives of the project. Don't assume your staff has thoroughly read the statement of work. But make sure you have.

5. Explaining your approach to accomplishing the project including the schedule and critical path. Review the work plan, major milestones and deliverables.

6. Defining success criteria so the team is clear about your client's expectations.

7. Identifying any risks, challenges and project constraints. Take the time to respond to everyone's concerns about the project's success. Don't assume silence is concurrence. Now is the time to encourage open discussion while there is still time to change the plan.

8. Making sure everyone understands the necessary project control and status requirements, including documentation standards and quality reviews. Also, clarify timekeeping and invoicing requirements for other direct charges like travel expenses.

9. Going over the tools, documents and support needed from the client.

10. Recording decisions and action assignments.

A strong beginning will greatly increase the probability of project success and will, I hope, keep you out of the dungeon.

Lisagor founded Celerity Works in 1999 to help executives accelerate and manage business growth. He is the author of the recently published "Guide to Winning Government Business." He is also program chairman of the FCW Events Program Management Summit in Washington, D.C., in November. He lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., and can be reached at lisagor@celerityworks.com.

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