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Six Essential Steps to Project Success (part 2)

Six Essential Steps to Project Success (part 2)

By Brad Egeland

This is part two of a three-part series by leading project management expert Brad Egeland.  part 1

Step 2: Kick the Project Off Right

Once you have gathered everything together that we discussed in the last chapter and started to draft the project schedule, a real budget for the project, a resource plan, and potential risks, issues and assumptions, then it’s time to get down to the real planning for kicking off the project.  This usually happens with an actual face-to-face (or virtual) meeting with the project customer and all key stakeholders to run through the information that you have put together representing what you know the project to be.  The kickoff meeting is targeted at ensuring everyone is on the same page, expectations are properly set, and everyone knows what happens next on the project.  It all starts with planning for and putting on a formal presentation – and this effort usually falls to the designated project manager for the engagement.

Put together and deliver the kickoff presentation

At this point, after you have gathered everything together from the account manager and asked the questions you need to ask, then it’s time to put together a detailed and professional presentation that will drive the project kickoff meeting.  Use everything you’ve put together so far as input data for the preparation, but stick to the statement of work as the primary driver of the kickoff meeting and use it as the basis of any assumptions that are made.  That way any changes that are noted during the kickoff meeting can be addressed as change orders and requirements changes during subsequent planning sessions.

The Presentation

For the face-to-face, I always suggest a more formalized meeting to review the following in at least some detail:

  • Statement of Work
  • Draft project schedule (now with your revisions)
  • Milestone dates (pull them from the schedule and review separately so that everyone is very aware of the key dates)
  • Budget (if this is appropriate given the attendees and your customer’s preference)
  • Your PM methodology (let your customer know how you plan to manage the project)
  • Your change order process/change management practices
  • How you intend to handle risks/issues
  • Status calls and status reporting schedules
  • Initial list of risks (if you’re prepared for this at this point…otherwise wait till you have your first status call or conduct a separate risk management and planning meeting)

Prepare a presentation deck and get it to the customer for review and agreement prior to the meeting.  It will make for a much more successful and productive kickoff session as they’ll already have their questions ready for you – or even answered beforehand – thus, ensuring that uncertainty doesn’t extend into the exploration phase which comes up next.

Who Should Attend

There is no way that you won’t be outnumbered so get used to it.  I suggest this 1-2 day session should be held at the customer site and they will probably try to bring everything but the kitchen sink so be careful.  Get a list of their proposed attendees and try to work with them to trim it down.  I once had more then 30 customer attendees in a kickoff session and it nearly turned into a fiasco.  We were able to trim it down for the 2nd day, but I’d advise – as a lesson learned – to try to do that before going onsite.

At a minimum, here’s who should attend:

Delivery team:

  • Project manager (that’s probably you if you’re reading this)
  • Business analyst (ideal if one has been assigned…and if one isn’t assigned immediately after you acquire the project, scream!  You’ll want their technical expertise available at the kickoff meeting)
  • PMO Director (this attendee is not critical, but with a visible, high dollar project, they’re going to want to be there or will be forced to be there by the CEO)

Customer:

  • Project sponsor
  • Relevant subject matter experts (SMEs) that have or are defining more detailed requirements and business processes and know what the end users need (and may be the end users themselves)
  • Customer project manager (often this person is more of a hindrance than a help, but if one is assigned, they need to be present)

If you go beyond this list for the customer, then you probably have too many. Remember, the SMEs are NOT one person…that’s probably 10-12 people depending on the size and type of your enterprise implementation.

Summary

The project kickoff is the where the rubber meets the road for the first real time on the project.  It is critical that it is well planned, well executed, and well documented…and those responsibilities fall to the project manager every time.  Executives and supervisor will be in attendance, but they are there to show the customer they are interested in the project and that the customer is important…nothing more.  The project manager is in charge from this point forward and how you set expectations and explain to the customer how you intend to run the project will either put the project on the right path or it won’t.  You don’t get a second chance on the kickoff.  Be confident, take charge, make good decisions, and above all be professional.

Step 3: Make Time for Planning

Upfront project planning is one of the most critical elements of the project.  If not enough time is spent really laying out the project, understanding requirements, asking the right questions, and planning the work, then your project is likely doomed to fail.  But often it’s that planning time that is looked upon as wasteful, isn’t it?

How often have you heard it said that planning is a waste of time? No sooner is the planning process completed than something comes up on the project requiring a change to the project plan or portions of the project such as new requirements or an additional phase that needs worked in that can completely change the work that is going to be required. Some argue that the project plan, once completed, is disregarded and merely put on the shelf so the team can get down to doing some real work. In people management, the planning activity involves deciding on the types of people resources that will be needed to discharge the responsibilities of the department. That means identifying the types of skills needed and the number of people possessing those skills.

First we must understand that a project plan is dynamic. It is expected it to change as the project itself evolves. A complete plan will clearly state the tasks that need to be done, why they are necessary, who will do what, when it will be completed, what resources will be needed, and what criteria must be met in order for the project to be declared complete and successful.

There are three benefits to developing good project plans and conducting thorough planning on your project:

Planning reduces uncertainty

Even though we would never expect the project work to occur exactly as planned, planning the work allows us to consider the likely outcomes and to put the necessary corrective measures in place.

Planning increases understanding

The mere act of planning gives us a better understanding of the goals and objectives of the project. Even if we were to discard the plans we have made, we would still benefit from having done the exercise.

Planning improves efficiency

Once we have defined the project plan and the necessary resources to carry out the plan, we can schedule the work to take advantage of resource availability. We also can schedule work in parallel; that is, we can do tasks concurrently, rather than in series. By doing tasks concurrently, we can shorten the total duration of the project. We can maximize our use of resources and complete the project work in less time than by taking other approaches.

The project manager must know where he is headed, where his team is headed, and where the project is headed. Not knowing the parameters of a project prevents measurement of progress and results in never knowing when the project is complete. The plan also provides a basis for measuring work planned against work performed.

Summary

There is more to planning, of course, than just a project plan.  Requirements must be defined, project schedules set and reset, resource plans and forecasts put into place, budget plans and forecasts executed and revised weekly, and the planning documents that lay the groundwork for how the project team manages the engagement and communicates and handles risks and issues that must also be created, reviewed and approved.  This is especially true for large projects – whether large means high profile, long, or costly…or all three.  The key is to not skim over this portion even though certain higher powers may be pushing for evidence of forward momentum and task completion.  Failure to plan is planning to fail.  Don’t be afraid to slow things down and return to planning if you feel the project is missing pieces.  Requirements must be complete and detailed before progressing on to the next phase…or rework and budget overruns are almost a certainty.

Read part 3 of this 3-part series