When projects are green-lighted, one of THE most important things to do is to hold a kickoff meeting.
Higher overall project success and, more importantly, improvements to the bottom line are among the many benefits of holding an effective kickoff meeting.
What Is A Kickoff Meeting And Why Is It Important?
A kickoff meeting is basically a meeting held between the buyer and seller to officially initiate the project once the contracts have been signed.
In this meeting, the key stakeholders on both sides are present, as well as other interested parties that have a stake in the project. The aim of the meeting is to cover the main contractual parts of the project and ensure understanding from both sides and alignment on how the project will be executed.
There is also an internal project kickoff meeting which is held after the external meeting and the aim of this meeting is to ensure that the company has understood the minutes issued as well as any impact on the strategies or procedures considered during the bid phase.
These meetings are extremely important as they will, in effect, summarize the activities to be performed during execution while providing important context to the project teams.
1. Meet The Key Stakeholders In Each Functional Area
There is nothing more powerful to increase engagement on a project than a face-to-face (or virtual!) meeting with the person with whom you will be interfacing on a project. Sometimes certain project positions do not have this opportunity due to travel constraints or other issues which are generally concentrated on the project manager or project coordinator’s shoulders.
When project expeditors, schedulers, and cost control, quality, and finance team members have the opportunity to bond with their counterparts in this way, many of the doubts regarding operational tasks which may not make the main screen can be aired out or even taken offline much easier once personal contact has been established.
It is also a great way to network and elevate the visibility of the entire project team.
2. Cover The Project Procedures To Be Followed During Execution
There are many procedures to be followed on most projects and the kickoff meeting provides an avenue to read through the main highlights of each one while ensuring understanding and alignment.
Among some of the main procedures that need to be covered are:
A) Communication Interface – the stakeholders are listed in a matrix format which lists with whom and how they will interface on the project, as well as their roles and responsibilities.
B) Reporting – most project teams love to issue reports and this will set the guidelines regarding which reports will be required, along with the specific formats, frequencies, and distribution requirements.
C) Quality – this procedure will cover the quality requirements which will include the documentation, inspection procedures, and corresponding approvals required for each document.
D) Logistics – an often contentious, volatile, and misunderstood segment, the logistics portion of most international projects is very complex and requires very detailed alignment in order to avoid costly delays, additional charges, taxes, and other potentially political consequences.
E) Finance – processing of project billing can be a very tricky endeavor as supporting documentation and the customer payment processes are not always clear. This is an extremely important topic to align during the kickoff meeting as it will have a direct impact on cash flow as well as the bottom line.
F) Management of Change – this process is also important to address as it will establish an agreed-upon way to manage any changes on a project, both customer and supplier-driven changes.
3. Clarify Any Points In The Project Documentation Received From The Customer
Projects can have so many documents and procedures to consider that it is really easy to get lost in the sea of paper that needs to be digested. As a good practice, I advocate that the documents be divided up amongst the team members, usually by functional area, so that the ones who will have to process each document will be intimately familiar with the requirements before the kickoff meeting.
There are some definite overlaps in documents so the teams need to be aware of this and highlight those portions which the other members will need to consider before execution begins. The project manager needs to read ALL of the documents so that he/she can properly delegate tasks as needed as well as identify any areas that may compromise the team’s ability to execute. This should ideally be brought up during the bid phase and prior to contract signature; however, this is not always possible and the PM needs to be on high alert so as to address these points during the kickoff meeting.
4. Establish Rules Of Engagement For Both Sides, Including The Third-Party Providers
The absence of rules is chaos!
This could not be more true in the world of project management as customers, third parties, or even internal stakeholders can create mayhem on the project by not following a structured execution process.
During the kickoff meeting, these procedures, rules of conduct, and communication methods need to be clearly addressed so that the teams know the course of action in case of a conflict or contractual dispute. The project hierarchy, roles, and responsibilities of each stakeholder as well as scaled, governance-based decision-making are the keys to keeping the project on course.
5. Identify And Address Project Priorities As Well As The Main Risks
When project documentation is analyzed, priorities have generally not been set and they can also evolve over time. For this reason, it is a good practice to ask if any priorities have been set by the time of the kickoff meeting and also include the expected impacts on the agreed-upon baseline schedule. If anything changes and work needs to be re-prioritized at any point, both sides must come to a mutual agreement so that the baseline schedule is revised.
The top risks identified at the bid phase should also be included as a topic of interest to be debated during the meeting as risks can and will evolve over time. Sharing risk registers is a very good way to improve the alignment of both parties while also actually improving the mitigation strategies. This, in turn, leads to the release of fewer contingency sums and a better bottom line!
6. Define And Streamline The Management Of Change (MOC) Process To Be Applied On The Project
Project teams (and most people for that matter!) HATE change.
Change is always disruptive and causes unwelcomed re-work for all those involved in the process.
If both parties take a reasonable approach to this process, then the Management of Change (MOC) process can be streamlined so that neither side change orders the other side to death. While changes will inevitably occur, the way in which they are processed and make their way into the contract is definitely something that both sides can and should negotiate during the kickoff meeting.
Some customers prefer that changes be grouped into a MOC register which is then revisited periodically, usually monthly, so that a determination of GO or NO GO can be made, along with the required changes to the contract pricing, delivery, and scope sections. I think this is the best strategy to reduce disruption while also minimizing the strain on the relationships with the stakeholders.
What Happens At The End Of The Kickoff Meeting?
Kickoff meetings can last several days or even weeks, depending on the number of stakeholders, sites, and time zones to consider.
Once the meeting(s) wrap up, the project manager needs to issue the Minutes of Meeting (MOM) to cover all of the points addressed during the meeting, while being sure to list ALL of the people who participated.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, not all of the issues will be addressed or fully resolved; as such, there should be a section to include the punch list, or all of these open items to be addressed and target dates for each one to be resolved, along with the responsible party(ies).
It is absolutely critical that ALL participants sign the minutes and initial every page so that a clear agreement is reached among the parties. This document will then become an integral part of the project contractual documents so it is very important to be as clear and thorough as possible when issuing this document.
The minutes is one of the main documents the project team will then refer to, along with the project execution plan (PEP), so streamlining its appearance will encourage the team to refer back to it!