Preparing for Project Kickoff Success

By Brandon Huff, PMP, CSM

Project Manager Resources

You heard rumors in the halls and they’re true – you’re about to start your next project. The trouble is, you don’t know much about it other than a vague internal code name and that it starts almost immediately. So, what do you do to prepare to start this project? If we follow the PMBOK, we understand that there is some preparation required to get ready to start a project but there isn’t much discussion of what to do before officially commencing the project.

I’ve identified a few key activities that have been helpful for me and our consultants on a wide variety of projects to get prepare to kick off a project. Let’s take a look at some techniques to ensure a smooth start to any project.

The Known and Unknown

Most projects start with a vague business or technical goal. While this is fine for discussion, it’s a long way from the project details you’ll need to kick off the project.

Start identifying what you know and don’t know about the project scope with a simple list of assumptions, unknowns, and key success factors (key resources, tools, or activity duration). Also identify any internal politics, sensitivities, or issues that may impact the project. Identify if these unknowns are crucial to starting the project or if they’re just project details that can be later addressed without creating risk. Underestimating these items may spell disaster for your project as you move ahead.

Continue to review and refine this list as you move ahead to ensure you have a clear understanding of what this project is shaping up to deliver. This simple but crucial process can help identify an issue long before it can impact your project.

The Unofficial Team

In most organizations, you’ll have a good idea of what resources you’ll be working with on a regular basis. Resources may not have been formally assigned at this early stage of a project so care must be taken to not assign tasks or prematurely engage potential project resources. However, you can discuss high level aspects of the project to get feedback, lessons learned from similar project, and build consensus.

These informal discussions can help you gather information on their environment, other in-flight projects, and any technical or political issues. You can start to understand managements alignment (or lack of alignment) and how engaged they might be. This can help develop or maintain relationships with these potential resources and demonstrate your understanding and interest in their feedback.

Set Expectations of Your Performance

Your informal discussions can help set the tone that you are organized, understand the project details, and create an open environment to discuss challenges and successes. Care and consideration is always noticed and is a genuine asset for any project. This seemingly insignificant act can go a long way to build/maintain credibility with new resources and help set the tone for the project kickoff.

Project Charter Preparation

The information you gather about the project, resources, and environment will pay off handsomely as you move ahead with your Project Charter after official approvals have been granted. Your understanding and discussions will provide key information for the project charter and speed up discussions during planning.

All of these items can help ensure you can develop a clear understanding of the project, can address potential issues, and engage the potential project resources to help ensure a smooth and successful project kickoff.