A good start is half the work, think before you act, prepare well. All expressions that indicate that we need to prepare well. And that's no surprise, we've known that for a long time.
The importance of starting a project
When it comes to projects, why do we often skip a good preparation? Projects are started, managers get their assignment and teams are put together. And then we just start. The Project Manager starts his project plan, fine-tunes his goals, makes a schedule and arranges the budget. The team starts with the requirements or setting up a backlog. All in all an energetic start of the project.
Regardless of how the project continues and what the final results will be, if we look back at the end, there will hardly ever be a point of improvement that says something about the start. Maybe the start was very unclear or we didn't know what the goal was.
Project Managers usually say that this lack of clarity seems to creep in during the project. But what if the cause of this ambiguity lies at the start of the project? Every project is unique, the approach is specific, the team changes and the starting points are always different. If we realise this at the start of a project, we can also pay immediate attention to this: start every project with a project kick-off!
What is a project kick-off?
A project kick-off is not a one-sided presentation of the preliminary project plans, the planning and the goal. Nor is it the time for the management to say how important the project is. The project kick-off should be an active session where knowledge and insights are shared, where team members get to know each other better and where the basis is laid for a successful collaboration. That collaboration will ultimately lead to a successful project. Rules, guidelines, goals and budget are necessary, but the people in a team ensure the real success.
How to get to a successful kick-off in 5 steps?
- Provide a socially safe environment
- Ensure interaction
- Prepare the kick-off well
- Focus on the important things not on all the details
- Celebrate the commitment
1. Provide a socially safe environment
During a good project kick-off you want tuning, critical feedback, good ideas and above all interaction. This can only happen in a socially safe environment. Every team member should be given room to have his/her input, especially young and inexperienced team members may feel impeded to express their questions or doubts. Some tips for creating a safe environment:
- Use a remote location. This way you will not be hindered by the 'daily' environment (telephone, colleagues, etc.) Attention will then be focused on the session itself.
- Provide an open arrangement, optionally place the chairs in a circle but be sure to remove the tables. This always takes some getting used to, but it creates a greater form of openness and trust, because participants literally cannot hide behind a table or laptop.
- Have all team members take part in the kick-off (including the project leader himself) and provide someone who leads this meeting and monitors the process, but has no substantive input himself. Preferably this should be a person who has no interest in the project itself.
2. Ensure interaction
Before you start working together, it is important to know how project members think about certain issues and which arguments support their vision. An open dialogue between the team members is therefore essential and contributes directly to the end result. As facilitator of the kick-off:
- Involve everyone, invite those who don't want to speak to ventilate their opinions.
- Agree that everyone is free to say what they want, giving your opinion is never wrong!
Interaction is not automatic. Make sure there is room for the interaction. In the preparation consciously choose specific work forms, take your time and accept (to a limited extent) that the details will be discussed from time to time. For example, work forms that lead to a dialogue:
- Open the kick-off with a question you ask a number of different team members. Make sure it's an open question. All answers are good, because it is often an opinion or vision.
- Play the position-playing game or the 'House of Commons', for example, in which you can have the team members make statements at the cutting edge by means of predetermined positions. Every answer is right.
- Be happy when discussions arise and give them - to a certain extent - space. If the discussion does not lead to consensus, park it and invite the team members concerned to discuss it at a later time. It is better to expose possible conflicts during the kick-off than to expose them during the implementation of the project.
- Have team members draw up a concise job description of one or more team members and present it to the group. In this way, expectations of each other come to the fore, creating clarity and consensus through dialogue.
3. Prepare the kick-off well
Think carefully about what is important at the start of the project. Of course, the bigger picture and the objective of the project. Treat specific characteristics or techniques that are important. It's not just about what you say, but also how and to whom. So the preparation consists of:
- Know what you're going to tell (and don't tell what you know). Omitting less relevant information makes the existing message more powerful.
- Determine who the participants are and make sure to adjust the kick-off to your group of spectators.
- Make sure everything is well taken care of: the presentation, the location, the invitations, etc. Careful preparation radiates this and your participants are also more likely to put time into it.
Plan the kick-off and take your time. Scheduling it in time and remembering it regularly shows that you find it important. Take enough time for the kick-off, preferably for at least a part of the day, so that there is time for personal input.
4. Focus on the important things and not on all the details
There is no point in discussing project plans in detail. Firstly, no one can remember that and secondly, there is a reason it is laid down in a plan, everyone can read it and fathom it for themselves. Most people only remember 3 to a maximum of 7 aspects from such a session. Use this fact in the preparation by making sure that the important aspects are covered and fill in details later. Objective, planning, budget and team are the most important aspects.
5. Celebrate the commitment
The team spirit and with it the cooperation will get an enormous 'boost' when the project kick-off is concluded with a joint statement and of course a toast! So work towards this commitment during the kick-off.
The joint statement could be the objective but it could also be a set of challenges that the team sees and which need to be overcome to be successful.
On to success with a good project kick-off!
In the next project evaluation, the start of the project and the kick-off will certainly be mentioned. Named as one of the aspects why the project has become such a success and what should definitely be retained at the start of a next project. From now on, the project kick-off is a keeper.
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