Project Start-up Meetings
By Russell Whitworth
You know what they say about first impressions? Good. I won’t bother repeating it, then.
For a Project Manager, the Project Start-up Meeting is that chance to make a positive first impression with the team. So it is perhaps surprising how often PMs just seem to “wing it”, without really having thought about the objectives, purpose and process of the meeting. Even worse, some PMs simply don’t seem to bother… which rather sets the tone for the rest of the project.
In response, I offer you this five-minute guide.
The Start-up Meeting is an opportunity to:
- Ensure everyone understands the purpose of the project. The “big picture”, if you like.
Gain commitment and ownership from the team, by involving them in thinking through the process and outcomes.
Work through and overcome perceived objections and obstacles.
Establish ground rules and working relationships.
Display and promote the project manager’s leadership abilities.
Build a team, and have a bit of fun.
Depending on the size of the project, the Start-up Meeting can vary in size from a 1-2 hour meeting for the project team, through to a 1-2 day off-site workshop involving core team, extended team, internal and external suppliers, facilitators, etc.
Even for small projects, the meeting should always be held face-to-face (not a telco) to establish intra-team relationships and trust.
Naturally, I recommend applying The Seven Essentials as the basis for an agenda.
- Business Benefits. Invite the Project Owner to introduce the vision driving the project, and ideally link it to corporate strategy and objectives. A good Project Owner should be able to do this with passion and enthusiasm, motivating the team to deliver to the best of their abilities, and setting the mood for rest of the meeting.
Scope and Quality. During project initiation, the Project Manager will have established the project’s deliverables, defined to a greater or lesser degree of detail depending on the circumstances. Now is the time to introduce this to the team, examining the definition of Scope, and ensuring a common understanding. Where there is uncertainty or ambiguity, this needs to be explored and understood. Quality requirements also need to be defined. Is a “beta release” approach allowed — with known omissions or faults? Or perhaps there are safety or security requirements that are absolute.
Stakeholders and Communications. Again, the PM will have established an initial view during initiation. The Start-up Meeting provides an opportunity to review and possibly update the Stakeholder list and Communications plan. In particular, ensure that the team is understands and is comfortable with the communications that they can expect to receive, and also that they are committed to the communications that they are expected to provide (e.g. reporting deadlines).
Plan. At least some of the team should have been involved in planning activities already. Now introduce it to the full team, and have them work through their own part to ensure full understanding and commitment. New information may come to light — don’t forget to ask about holiday commitments — so don’t be afraid to update the plan accordingly. Ensure that all activities have a clear owner. Check that appropriate contingency has been built in (based on past experience), and that dependencies are mapped and understood.
Team. Is the team complete? Are there any gaps? Does the team feel empowered, capable and confident of delivering? If not, what needs to be done about it: perhaps additional skills or resource, specialist input, training? The Start-up Meeting also provides the opportunity to start building a high-performing team, particularly important if these individuals have not worked together before. Within the constraints of company culture and available budget, now is a good time to work in some team-building activities. Try to have some fun!
Suppliers. If possible, include the major suppliers (internal and external) in the Start-up Meeting. They are part of the extended team, and are critical to the project success. Make sure they understand what is expected of them, and why the team relies on them. Understand their constraints, and give them ample opportunity to explain what they need from the team, why, and when.
Risks. Reviewing risks should be a regular team activity, and the Start-up Meeting is the first iteration. Work through the risk register, add new risks as perceived by the team – and retire any that are no longer relevant. Review mitigation actions and assign owners. Review contingency plans.
A well-planned Start-up Meeting gets the project off to a good start, not just in terms of the mechanics of the project (the plan, the tasks, the responsibilities), but also setting the mood and atmosphere – hopefully one of cooperation, enthusiasm, openness and commitment. You should aim to spend enough time speaking to establish authority and leadership, and to spend even more time listening and questioning.
Q2 Associates Managing Director, Russell Whitworth, is an experienced project/program manager and consultant who has worked in the telecommunications industry throughout his career. His employers have included a user organization, a vendor, a management consultancy, a telecommunications consultancy, and a major telecommunications operator.