Project Kick-Off is more often than not treated as a joyous announcement to the organization and the Stakeholders that a project is recognized from this day forward as official. There might be a catered meeting call, and a few words of encouragement about the project goals or the diligence of the business team to sign an agreement with a key customer. The intent and purpose of the event usually stops there often having been an adhoc impromptu announcement notice with little forethought or planning to actually get the project started. A Kick-Off announcement is often thought of as a call to pull out the golden scissors to cut the ceremonial ribbon on a newly signed contract; hence, the event is actually denoting a completion of a phase as opposed to the beginning of a project. The Project Manager (PM) often receives the meeting invite at the same time as the wide team and stakeholder’s; therefore, the PM is just an attendee and not the organizer of the Kick-Off of the project.
It is very important that the PM gets out in front of the Kick-Off event to ensure that the project is fully ready to go green. This means that preparations are completed prior to the Kick-Off event to ensure that the following key metrics are clear and are underpinned by a specific plan:
- Team Assignments
- Recognized Stakeholder’s
- Project Deliverables
- Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
- Key Milestones
These five metrics are not the complete list, but do represent a foundation for the announcements that are advertised at the Kick-Off event. In order to publish “public domain” summaries for each of these metrics, a decent straw man plan must exist in order to build out the detail of the project. The last thing that a PM needs is to attend a meeting like this to find that the Senior Management Team (SMT) or the designated Product Manager (PdM) makes statements about these metrics based on wishful data that they may have just pulled out of their ass. The PM must get out in front of this by setting a clear standard for the kick-off. The best way to do this, is to have a check list that is endorsed by the key stakeholders. The artifacts prepared by the PM (and his designates in the case of a larger project) must be complete and agreed upon by the stakeholders in order to have a unified and clear goal, and that the expectations are in line and achievable.
From an Agile Project Management standpoint, the execution of the project must be clearly tied to the structure developed for the kick-off. The short term team engagement in the project may be limited to assigned team leads and system planning in order to ensure that the requirements and expectations are derived into language that the team can understand at an execution level. The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) must be defined prior to the kick-off, and must be deliverable centric as opposed to a project organizational chart or an activity chart. Item number 3 above is the high level presentation of the WBS. This not to say that every last WBS element is finalized, but must be built out sufficiently to validate budgeted metrics.
Is the kick-off the all-call for the wide team to jump to action? Absolutely not! The wide team cannot jump aboard the project as if it were a cruise ship leaving port because the plan will not be mature enough to direct the low level detail. The team leads must first distill the straw man plan. Even at the best of kick-off preparation intent, the detailed tasking backlog preparation will be performed immediately following the kick-off; not prior to kick-off. The kick-off preparation must focus and limit the planning to a high level sufficient to structure execution detail laid in thereafter. In short, the kick-off needs establish structure and does not need to be nor should ever be a detailed playbook for immediate execution. The best way to gain a clear understanding of a project kick-off would be to document the expectations and to establish the check list so that the right level of detail is undertaken.