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.
References:
Anderson, K. (May 14, 2014). Keeping It Real — Are Our Technology Expectations Out of Whack? Retrieved from https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2014/05/14/keeping-it-real-are-our-technology-expectations-out-of-whack/

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