How an effective kickoff meeting sets the stage for a successful project

How an effective kickoff meeting sets the stage for a successful project

Getting the right people together to discuss the right topics is key to success

An important part of any project – one that can sometimes be taken for granted — is the initial kickoff meeting. With nearly 40 years of project management experience, Matrix has had the opportunity to execute thousands of projects and has learned the importance of a well-attended and well-organized kickoff meeting. If the key stakeholders commit their time and attention, not only by being present but also staying engaged, and the proper topics are discussed, an effective kickoff meeting will help set a project up for success.

Gather the right attendees

One of the critical aspects of a good kickoff meeting is those in attendance. Having a solid agenda in place does no good if the right team isn’t involved to discuss and offer input on those topics.

A key player on the client side should include the project sponsor or champion. This is the person ultimately responsible for delivering the project and oftentimes is the primary decision maker. Other client representatives should include the assigned project manager (PM), each of the discipline leads, and whoever the end-user or system owner will be. Having upfront involvement from those who will end up owning the system will lend itself well to system adoption and acceptance.

From the contractor side, it’s important to have participation from the prime contractor as well as any subcontractors. From each, the designated project managers and discipline leads should be actively involved in the project kickoff.

Set the agenda

In addition to proper participation, it’s crucial to ensure the right topics are discussed. The goal is to have an agenda that promotes conversation and helps encourage input and feedback from those involved. The following are examples of important topics to include on the agenda.

  • As with all projects, safety is of utmost importance, so it’s best to start the conversation there. Begin with a safety moment and then lead into a discussion pertaining to any site-specific safety considerations. Are there any hazardous materials or dangerous equipment to be aware of? What about any special training or certifications required? Being aware upfront will allow adequate time for the necessary preparations. Matrix employs a full-time safety engineer who can help with any follow-up action items.
  • Identify the team members and establish roles and responsibilities. Determine who on the client side will review and approve the design details. Make sure it’s clear who is authorized to approve funding adjustments. Also, be sure to recognize the eventual end-user or the person who will ultimately own the system.
  • Identify points of contact. Discuss whether or not all communications should funnel through a single point of contact, such as the project manager, who will then distribute information as needed. It might not always be best to have a single point of contact who could end up being a bottleneck. Instead, maybe there should there be direct correspondence between the discipline leads, while keeping the PM in the loop. The best method really depends on the size and type of project but having the discussion and establishing a communication plan will ensure the entire team is aware of discussions and stays properly informed.
  • Once the key members have been identified on the client side, they should provide a brief overview of the project, describing the big-picture goals and objectives. Doing so will allow the project team to be considerate of those goals and account for them along the way. Having it spoken out loud in someone’s own words is often more beneficial to the team than reading it on paper.
  • Review scope and clarify any assumptions and exclusions. Run through a comparison between the request for proposal (RFP) and proposal to confirm everything is accounted for. Ideally, this would’ve already been done during the bidding phase, but it’s still a good exercise as part of the kickoff. If there are details or information that might still be needed, it’s important to discuss those items as well.
  • Set expectations and gain alignment so that all parties have the same end product in mind. This will help avoid the tree swing analogy.
project management
Tree Swing Analogy
  • Discuss lessons learned from similar projects and how to apply them to this one. Find out if there are certain aspects from other systems or recent projects that worked well and should be incorporated as part of this one. Take note of those and be sure they are implemented. Talk about any areas of concern or things to avoid that might not have worked well in the past. Flagging those items early on will help ensure the same mistakes aren’t repeated.
  • Review the schedule and identify expected review/feedback durations. Adjust if needed based on input from the team and confirm all are in agreement. Discuss what’s driving certain dates. For example, there might be a scheduled site shutdown that dictates when startup will be.
  • Establish frequency of regular meetings, what the agenda will be, and who should participate. It’s important to meet on a regular basis to review status and discuss any outstanding items. Set a plan for how often and who should be involved.
  • Discuss the process for handling scope changes: how to track them, who will approve them, and how funding should be handled. Should a change request be submitted for each item along the way, or is it preferable to compile a log and submit one comprehensive change request at the end? Depending on the specific circumstances and project situation, either option could be the better choice.
  • Start a risk register and populate it based on group discussion. Have the conversation ahead of time while not in a time-sensitive or emotionally influenced situation. If certain risks are discussed and mitigation plans are captured before the event occurs, it will help with timely resolution if it were to actually occur. An example would be losing a key team member during the project. Who would the replacement be and how might that impact the schedule?
  • Lastly, once all of the various topics have been addressed, take time to walk through the overall project execution plan. It’s an opportunity to look at the overall picture now that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place.

Where to meet

One final consideration for kickoff meetings is whether they’re held in person or via web-meeting. Although it’s usually best to meet in person, there are certain situations where a kickoff meeting can be held remotely.

Regardless of location, the important goal is to align expectations and establish a clear path on how to deliver a successful project, both from a vendor-to-client standpoint as well as a client project team to client system owner.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Rob Goldsmith, PMP, Senior Project Manager.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.
Anderson, K. (May 14, 2014). Keeping It Real — Are Our Technology Expectations Out of Whack? Retrieved from

How Designer-Led EPC Improves Project Outcomes

How Designer-Led EPC Improves Project Outcomes

Engineer-Procure-Construct (EPC) projects involve employing one firm to provide most or all the services required to complete a project. Previously, manufacturers would manage their projects with in-house talent, creating the need for large engineering staffs to manage a number of engineering and contracting partners. As manufacturers are now relying more heavily on outside engineering specialties and project management to complete their projects, the use of this project delivery method is growing in popularity.

The Benefits of EPC

EPC projects are typically run by a single entity, resulting in a number of benefits to the manufacturer. First, having one firm in charge alleviates the need to coordinate many different firms, information flow, schedules, and budgets, which are all aspects of a job that are typically run by a manufacturer’s project engineering group. This not only minimizes distraction for the manufacturer’s engineering team, but it also reduces overall oversight effort by eliminating unnecessary layers of management. The EPC firm can manage and procure multiple bids, reduce bid lag time, and optimize schedules by coordinating equipment and fabrication lead times with engineering effort.

Streamlining management of the project also saves time and money. EPC projects typically set a guaranteed maximum price, reducing budget risks to the owner. With a guaranteed maximum price, it is incumbent on the EPC firm to value engineer the project to meet the price and reduce time-consuming changes to the project, which they do while still meeting the original project goals.

EPC Approaches

There are many ways to approach an EPC project, depending on the desire of the manufacturer. In some instances, an owner may want the EPC firm to meet a certain performance specification (i.e. manufacture 100 units/hour) and request a competitive bid up front to provide this process. This method of EPC is sometimes called “turnkey” or “design-build.” Because there is very little definition to determine pricing, this method is typically the least cost-effective for the owner and most risky for the EPC firm.

Another method is EPCm, or engineer-procure-construct-manage. In this method, the EPC firm will provide design and procurement bid services, but the owner will procure all equipment and contractors. The EPC firm then provides construction management to coordinate the project installation. This method reduces the cost of the project typically by the cost of markup on procured items but adds management effort and contract risk to the owner.

EPC projects are typically most successful when they are run in a progressive manner (Progressive EPC). For a minimal cost, the EPC firm would provide preliminary engineering to establish design parameters and set a budget for the project. The owner could then decide to move forward with the project based on this budget or modify the scope of the project to meet their needs. When the project is then approved and moves to a new contract for detailed design, the budget is again determined based on more project definition and could be modified based on scope review and value engineering. At the end of detailed design, the EPC firm is then contracted to provide all installation services.

Project delivery from design to reality

The Advantages of Designer-Led EPC

An EPC project can be either designer-led or contractor-led. In a contractor-led EPC project, the contractor completes procurement and installation services in-house or with subcontractors and hires the design firm to provide engineering services. In a designer-led EPC project, the engineering firm will provide engineering services, complete procurement, and complete installation services with subcontractors.

What are the advantages of a designer-led EPC project? Simply put, the designer controls the design, and the contractors involved respond and provide input. This means that a new plant design will primarily consider the equipment and operability of the plant, as opposed to constructability concerns. A designer-led EPC project will typically be led by a multi-discipline engineering firm, providing a cohesive design due to the firms’ ability to internally coordinate. (In a contractor-led EPC project, there are typically multiple engineering firms involved, creating a risk when coordinating between multiple firms.) Finally, in designer-led EPC projects, the engineers coordinate directly with the owner and the owner’s plant personnel, without information being filtered or controlled by others. This leads to a better understanding of the manufacturer’s needs and desires for their plant and process, and typically leads to a better design.

Why Matrix Technologies Is the Best Choice for Your EPC Needs

With designer-led EPC projects, Matrix has a better process for success. Our experienced project team uses a Project Gating Process to ensure timely delivery of services and maximum value. Because our firm offers all of the engineering disciplines, we are able to avoid subcontracting and eliminate multiple layers of management, providing cost savings to our clients and ensuring a smoother process with minimum hassle. Our team has successfully developed complex EPC projects for a variety of industries, including food, beverage, petrochemical, and consumer goods; from projects as simple as refining a manufacturing process to the complex process of building a new facility. With Matrix as your engineering partner, you’ll have everything you need for a successful, start-to-finish EPC project.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our EPC management capabilities, contact Jerry Francis, Associate Director, Project Delivery.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.

Design and Implementation is Product of Automation Life Cycle Planning

Design and Implementation is Product of Automation Life Cycle Planning

After creating the roadmap during the automation life cycle planning process, the next step in the journey is the design and implementation of the plan. For smaller systems the design and implementation stages of a system upgrade can take weeks or months and not all stages will be visited. For larger systems, design and implementation may take longer and transition over one to five years. These stages may be revisited often prior to completion of the automation changeovers taking place.

Along with the duration of the project, some things to take into consideration may include establishing budgets, migration planning, maintaining systems over time, or using methods such as front-end loading (FEL) to help in planning or future possibilities.

Design and Implementation
Design and Implementation

Front-End Loading

Upgrading systems can often uncover unexpected unknowns not identified during planning stages. When selecting a new control system, other process or electrical equipment may need to be upgraded to support full migration. Instrumentation, network hardware, network infrastructure, software and systems infrastructure may need to be looked at as well to support full conversion. Some control systems can last 20 or even 30 years or longer, surpassing the tenure of an employee at any given site. There may not be experienced enough personnel on site to handle looking at all areas needing to be upgraded. Proper front-end loading (FEL) efforts can help determine full project costs including installation estimates. FEL is a method that uses sophisticated capabilities to help determine the project’s viability and feasibility. These methods typically revisit stages of the planning process in efforts to define gateways, where the systems are reviewed as a whole.

Internal project processes determine how far to take initial cost estimates for approval. This could be as elaborate as developing a pilot system to test theories and develop real samples, or as simple as estimating high-level factored costs for implementation. A pre-engineering effort may help at this stage. When a project is relatively complex, there are many factors that must be considered in the overall design and migration to ensure all costs and risks are identified. This initial effort will help avoid missteps and underestimating the true cost of the upgrade. If this effort results in a cost that exceeds the budget, the team can return to the drawing board and consider alternate approaches to reach the end goal.

Example of FEL Process
Example of FEL Process

Engineering Design

Once the planning team is confident in the cost and schedule for the upgrade, the engineering process can begin. This effort typically includes development of new control systems such as hardware design, control panel design, smart motor control center (MCC) configuration, safety systems, industrial networks, and many more. Security of automation software is a key industry trend as the automation world moves into the internet of things. Firewall, virtual private network (VPN), and other security measures, such as separation of information technology (IT) business networks and operational technology (OT) industrial networks, needs to be considered. The International Society of Automation (ISA) 99 structure is a great starting point to develop this approach.

Advanced capabilities for historian software can be leveraged to help reduce downtime in the future. Historian development and report generation are areas that can be touched during the design phase. Working with operations and maintenance during the design process can help ensure a buy-in to the new systems. Software considerations should be made while reviewing, developing, and deploying upgraded systems to deliver results that support the design basis uncovered during the planning process.

A functional specification should be developed for a control system, since it defines the overall operation of the system. Typically, this specification is reviewed and approved by all parties involved prior to full design of the project. The functional specification will help streamline the software development phase, aligns expectations by clearly stating what the system will do, and helps all project members understand the scope of the project.

To ensure a smooth and efficient startup, a factory acceptance test (FAT) should be performed on the completed software system. A FAT typically will use as much of the new automation hardware and software as possible allowing operators, supervisors and other identified plant personnel a chance to test the system prior to going live. A test specification should also be developed to thoroughly test the system and to demonstrate that the system performs in accordance with the functionality described in the functional specification.

Commissioning and Start-Up

New systems need to be thoroughly commissioned and checked out prior to turning over to production. Once the equipment is installed, proper testing of devices, interlocks and equipment is necessary to validate the control system. Safety checks should be performed to ensure that the system will shut down properly in the event of an emergency or planned stop.

Network and security checks also need to be performed in order to ensure site and company information is not publicly available. Involving the IT department in project reviews ensures that the project meets the guidelines and requirements of the company standards for security. For larger projects and larger organizations, getting IT involved early can help save headaches in the completion of projects.

Maintaining Systems

Maintaining systems is an important part of the life cycle. Continual maintenance of both software applications and physical hardware is needed to support the control system over its life at the facility. Developing a spares inventory for current systems can also help reduce downtime in the event of a hardware failure. Ongoing training of both maintenance and operations personnel is required to support the control system. Service contracts with outside companies such as instrumentation specialists, engineering firms, or mechanical and electrical contractors can help offset keeping those experts on staff.

Data collection by a historian can help log information such as equipment run time, faults, maintenance information from smart instruments, personnel who addressed the issue, and many more features. This can help give facilities better information to track down issues and reduce outage time. Plant meters and other devices can be logged to create reports over time. User interface for maintenance modes can be developed to give plant personnel quick access to information commonly gathered such as motor status, valve limit status, alarm status and alarm history.

Identifying Improvements

All of this information feeds into making improvements that help maintain, improve and sustain the facility. Improvements could be something small, such as making the process safer for operators, to something more complex, such as integrating additional capabilities or reconfiguring existing process to make room for future expansions. Each modification adds another chapter of the book that tells the story of the life cycle of the automation. A well-designed plan for upgrades will allow for expansion following the same design basis developed previously. Once the improvements are identified one can begin either the planning process or design and implementation cycles identified in this two-part collection.

System Upgrade


Automation life cycle planning is a continuous process that leads to a successful design and implementation phase. Design and implementation is also a continuous process, sometimes spanning several years, during which further improvements to the system are identified. Best automation design practice is not to let life cycle planning end with a completely running system, but rather to continue to plan for further enhancements to the system by making continuous improvements and planning for dealing with eventual obsolete systems.

Matrix Technologies is one of the largest independent process design, industrial automation engineering, and manufacturing operations management companies in North America. To learn more about our manufacturing operations management capabilities and manufacturing process control solutions, contact Tony Ferguson, Senior Client Solutions Manager.

© Matrix Technologies, Inc.