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Top 10 Reasons For Having A Project Kickoff - Part II

Written By: Joseph J. Strub
Published On: January 1 2004

Top 10 Reasons For Having A Project Kickoff - Part II
Featured Author - Joseph J. Strub - January 1, 2004

Introduction

You are about to embark on an important project. Perhaps the project is implementing an ERP package, getting critical applications ready for the busy season, or setting up a warehouse and inventory for radio frequency operations. Whether the project is software or hardware related, it is a good idea to hold a project kickoff meeting. Don't miss this excellent opportunity to get across important communications and establish the tone for the project. This article discusses the 10 objectives of a project kickoff meeting, how to achieve them, and templates for presenting them. In Part II, reasons 7, 6, and 5 focus on preparing the team to undertake the project and generally giving them the confidence to do it.

It would be a stretch to say that most projects fail because of a poor kickoff meeting. However, the lifecycle of the project can easily be made more difficult due to poor directions, communications, and vibes being given out during a project kickoff or the event never happening in the first place. Consequently, it may be useful to review the objectives of a kickoff meeting beforehand and discuss how to obtain them in order to get a project off to a positive, momentum-gaining start.

In Part II of this three-part series, we continue countdown of the 10 reasons or objectives of kickoff meeting, in descending order from least to most important. When setting the agenda for the project kickoff, use these articles as a checklist. Since at times you may act master of ceremony, presenter, cheerleader, and entertainer, awareness of the objectives of a project kickoff can make the meeting more productive, ensure a positive start of the project, and garner you multiple nominations when the Academy Awards are announced.

See Part I of this series for reasons 8, 9, and 10.

7. Demonstrate Product

It is important that the project team, who will be implementing the hardware or software product, and users, who will be putting the product through its paces, understand what they are getting into and how it will benefit them. With hardware, say a bar-code reading device and its accompanying technology, it is fairly easy to get their attention via this labor saving device. Set up of a couple bar-code products, create a pick list, confirm the pick list via the reader, and you can easily impress the audience. For that matter you can add a little levity to the affair by stacking the deck and conducting a pick list runoff to see which process, old versus new, is faster.

Such techniques are not as easily adaptable to software. First of all, the learning curve with new software is usually much greater and, initially, will add drudgery to everyone's work. Who ever said, "Variety is the spice of life", needs to cut down on the condiments.

For software products, some advanced research needs to be completed before selecting the functions or features to highlight or possibly demonstrate. Talking to the business process owners ahead of time to identify hot topics, bottlenecks, and just plain you-won't-believe-that-we-do-it-this-way tasks will help you in structuring this section of the kickoff meeting to your audience. An actual demonstration of the software in front a large audience may be difficult and could even put the audience to sleep. If you have selected the correct topics, a simple PowerPoint slide highlighting the key features with a suitable verbal explanation should suffice. Planting questions with some of the business process owners may help you make your case.

Remember that the company's executives have already made up their minds. The purpose of the demonstration is to win the hearts and minds of the team and users. If you are successful here, the project may be able to avoid the typical bickering and nay saying associated with the early stages of a project. This colossal waste of time, which is affectionately referred to as the "fear and floundering" phase, can be avoided through an effective product demonstration.

6. Describe Planned Training

Nothing eases a team's apprehension when starting a new project better than knowing that they will be trained in what they have to do. This can be accomplished by having the vendor's consultants side-by-side during the implementation. But more important is describing to the project team the training that they are to receive. The more details, more insights that you can provide for the training sessions, the more at ease the team will feel. One approach is to comfort them with the number of training days that will be provided. The chart below provides a quick and typical overview as to the days devoted to training for a software implementation project.

Anticipated Training Days

Course Title
Company Attendees
Course
Duration in Days
Number of
Attendees
Total of
Training Days
Project
Manager
Process
Owners
Process
Leads
Other
Product Overview x x x Management 4.5 7 31.5
Manufacturing Process x x 1 2 2
Purchasing & Accounts Payable x x 1 2 2
Customer Service, Order Entry, A/R x x 1 2 2
Pricing & Promotions x Controller 2 1 2
Financials & Accounting x 1 2 2
Specialized Training x 2 1 2
Technical Overview IT Dept 1 2 2
Database Mining & Report Writing x IT Dept 3 2 6
Total Training Days 51.5

Obviously, these days and associated budget must be confirmed ahead of time. However, the use of this chart conveys, at a glance, that training will be provided on every aspect of the software product, say in an ERP implementation. And, 50 days of training is not unrealistic for a project whose duration is 9 to 12 months. It's less that 5% of the overall anticipated days to be spent on a project of this magnitude.

Again, the more specific that you can get about the training the better the project team will feel. Providing bullet points of the features of the courses will enable to potential trainees to see where they fit in the overall scheme of training.

Author's Note:
As an aside from a kickoff meeting but related to training, the vendor's project manager can be utilized to ensure that maximum benefits are realized from training. By reviewing general concepts, fundamental principles, and underlying structures of the product with process owners prior to attending training, the project team will be forearmed with background information to tailor and focus the sessions to their specific business and needs. Ideally, if the vendor's project manager can attend some of the training session with the project team, some of their fears and doubts can be quickly quelled.

Finally, with respect to training, being able to tell the project team, not only that they will be attending training, but that it is has already been scheduled will be a confidence builder. Since a picture is worth a 1,000 words, showing this in black and white during the kickoff session can do wonders. When couched with a disclaimer that personal schedules still need to be reviewed, below may be an appropriate level of detail.

Tentative Training Schedule

Training Dates Course Description Proposed Attendees
February 17-21 Overview Project Mgr, Process Owners & Leads
March 10-11 Manufacturing John Makeit, Suzy Schedule
March 17-18 Customer Service, O/E, A/R Mary Helpful, Joe Sales
March 19-20 Pricing & Promotions George Pricing
March 24 Purchasing & A/P Janet Payme
March 25-26 Financials & Accounting Ernie Credit, Barb Debit
April 2-3 Database Mining & Reports Jeff Miner

When the description of the training classes is combined with the actual dates for attending, the reaction on the project team can be very positive. Fear and trepidation can be turned into confidence and enthusiasm.

5. Instill Confidence

It's appropriate that this reason falls in the middle of the list. The kickoff meeting is all about instilling confidence. You can see it threaded throughout all 10 reasons. However, here we are talking about confidence in the three P's, namely:

  • The Product
  • The Process
  • The Purveyor
The Company
- Over $350M in FY02
- Traded on NASDAQ
- Annual growth rate - 35%
- In business over 25 years
- Over 2500 customers
- Provider of client/server software
The Product
- Over 10 years of client/server development expertise
- Proven track record of large-scale client/server implementations
- Breakthrough utilization of innovative technology
- Growth-oriented corporate culture
- Customer service orientation (98.7% customer retention rate)

With respect to the product, in the kickoff meeting stress the stability, years of development, and the number of installs. Nothing instills confidence more than knowing other companies, possibly larger ones with more locations, have successfully gone before you. It is analogous to crossing a ravine on a rope bridge and knowing the person before you was heavier than you. If you can point to installed companies in the same or complementary industries, so much the better. Even if your company is going on a new release of the product to achieve a competitive advantage in the marketplace, this fact needs to be emphasized. Typically, vendor support is more intense and responsive during the shakedown period and this can be used to your advantage to bolster confidence.

With respect to the process and like the rope bridge analogy, emphasis should be placed on the fact that you will be following the same methodologies and strategies used by other successful companies. It may be helpful to illustrate the process as a building block approach whereby the breath of the project is gradually expanded as the experience of the team and users is expanded. The next block is not put into place until the foundations of the other blocks are solid. Furthermore, the previous steps will prepare you for the step you about to take in a logical, well thought out manner. If this process can be effectively communicated, the objective of this session of the kickoff meeting will have been achieved.

Critical to the confidence building process is having confidence in the purveyor of the product (aka the vendor; the "p" was needed for the alliteration affect). With the number of software companies struggling on the information highway, particularly after the Y2K fallout, it should be obvious why knowing that your selected vendor will be staying around is important. Key indicators of a vendor's stability are years in business, revenues and the percent of these revenues reinvested in research and development, long-term view and use of technology, and a glimpse into future development efforts. Something as simple as having a picture of the vendor's headquarters in a presentation may be impressive and add brick and mortar to the equation.

Summary

Having discussed the first six reasons, you have covered a lot of material. Accordingly, you will need all of your presentation skills to keep the meeting flowing and sustain the interest of the audience. The most important objectives are yet to be discussed. If you did not realize it before, you should now appreciate the opportunity a project kickoff affords you and the important messages that can be conveyed.

Don't remove the greasepaint and makeup just yet. As a project manager, your roles as leading actor or actress and director are just starting. In possibly your directorial debut, you must ensure that you have right people to deliver the intended message. Again, a dress rehearsal may be excessive. Preparing outlines and scripts for other presenters should be definitely considered and encouraged. These scripts could be in the form of PowerPoint slides and bullet point outlines that you prepare. This will become even more apparent when we discuss the remaining four reasons in Part III of this article.

About the Author

Joseph J. Strub has extensive experience as a manager and senior consultant in planning and executing ERP projects for manufacturing and distribution systems for large to medium-size companies in the food & beverage, chemical, and CPG process industries. Additionally, Mr. Strub was a consultant and Information Systems Auditor with PricewaterhouseCoopers and an applications development and support manager for a Fortune 100 company.

He can be reached at JoeStrub@writecompanyplus.com.

 
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