As a consultant, my number one objective for any project is to meet the outcomes laid out in the statement of work. By the time I get involved in an engagement, the statement of work has been signed and the project teams are onboarding. My aim as the leader of the consultant team is do whatever I can do to increase the project’s chance of success. Having the right people engaged is important. The project methodology matters to an extent. There are a thousand ways any project can go sideways and it’s my responsibility as the project manager to minimize the likelihood of those multi-versal outcomes rearing their ugly heads.
If I as the project manager can remove hurdles before my team gets to them, that’s only going to enable us to do our job better.
It all begins with the kickoff meeting. A quick internet search tells us that clarity of vision and alignment around common objectives are the most common, if not the most important objectives for a kickoff meeting. My premise here is that clarity of vision and alignment are important, yes, but that there are three other secret ingredients that, when maneuvered into your kickoff meeting, really set your project up for success.
The kickoff meeting is often the first time we mix together these two project teams. That mixing can either be additive or it can begin the slow descent into tension and conflict. The first thing that you want to establish in the kickoff is credibility. The customer needs to leave the meeting feeling like you and your team are the right team for the job. They probably walked into the kickoff meeting at the end of a sales cycle after having reviewed multiple solutions for their particular problem and selected your solution. It’s your responsibility in the kickoff to confidently take the torch from your sales team and demonstrate to the customer that you know what your talking about, you know what their problem is and you have a plan to get them where they’re looking to go.
The second thing you need to establish from the start is rapport. The internet defines rapport as “a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other’s feelings or ideas and communicate well.” If it sounds a little too Kumbaya, trust me. It’s important. I don’t know how long your project is, but if it’s over a few days, chances are that there’s complexity involved and in all likelihood at some point something’s going to sideways. Whether it’s a small speed bump, or the kraken has been released on your project, it will smooth over easier if you have a strong rapport. At the end of the day you have a contractual obligation to meet certain outcomes. However, the customer won’t be happy with whatever you do if you do not manage their expectations towards those outcomes throughout the project. At the end of the project it’s more about how they feel about the outcome than the outcome itself.
If you establish rapport and credibility from the very beginning then you’ve set yourself up in an environment that will cultivate trust. The customer will trust that you have their best interest in mind and that you are the right people for the job. What this means is that when things do eventually go sideways, it will be so much easier to navigate the challenges. Upset customers are a lot better when they like you than if they don’t.
The third and final thing you want to establish in your kickoff is momentum. Once you’ve aligned on your goal, the customer feels like you’re the right team for the job and they know you’re here to help, you want to identify as many key activities at the beginning as possible to rocket out of the gate. The more you front-load activities in your project, the less schedule risk you will have down the road because you will unearth the land mines earlier. In addition to a fast start, in the spirit of momentum, you also want to set yourself up to maintain the momentum. This means clearing hurdles before you get to them. If it were legal, you know the best sprinters would clear the hurdles from the track before competing in the race because hurdles slow you down. If I as the project manager can remove hurdles before my team gets to them, that’s only going to enable us to do our job better.
And that’s it.
If you download the internet into your brain you’ll know the logistics of how to run a kickoff meeting. But if you want your kickoff meeting to kick-start your project then there’s nary a better way than by establishing these three things a) credibility, b) rapport and c) momentum. Establishing these three settings will differentiate you as a project manager and increase your chances of bring the project home successfully.