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Kick-off is a Process, Not Just a Meeting

All too often project managers settle for kick-offs that fail to set the stage for optimal project performance. This is because they do not address the “softer side” of the project, the interpersonal relationships and communications issues.

It is also because they see kick-off as an event rather than a process that may include several kick-off meetings with various groups of stakeholders and ongoing refinements of understandings, particularly as new people join the team.

Develop the Project Team

The PMI PMBoK® Guide does not define kick-off and has no indexed reference to it at all. Though, it is implied in the Develop Project Team process under Human Resource Management by “improving competencies, team interaction and the overall team environment to enhance project performance.” The objectives of developing a project team are to improve knowledge and skills, improve feelings of trust, and to promote mutual understanding and agreement among team members. Overall the objective of team development is to improve performance.

Project team development begins during the initiation of the project and continues across the life of the project and, in many cases, across multiple projects. Kick-off is the process of getting things started. A kick-off meeting is a critical part of it. Its objectives are to make sure that everyone’s understandings are aligned regarding objectives, procedures, and plans (including roles and responsibilities) and to begin or continue the team development process.

Kick-off Meetings

Kick-off meetings take place at the beginning of the project and at the beginning of major phases, for larger projects. As new people join the team, they must be “kicked-off” into the project. Depending on the size and structure of the project team and other stakeholders there may be more than one kick-off meeting. The core team may be involved in a one to three day or more, workshop in which they validate the project charter, begin the high-level planning and address team building and communication issues through discussions and exercises. Other groups may have kick-off meetings at which key people present project plans and objectives, seek feedback and get commitment regarding roles and responsibilities, objectives and processes and procedures. These mini kick-off meetings may also be workshops to address the kick-off of sub-projects and large complex activities.

While it is ideal to have the team co-located for the kick-off event, virtual meetings using web based conferencing or video conferencing or, as a last resort, teleconferencing can be effective if they are well planned and facilitated. Synchronous meetings are strongly recommended as they are far more likely to make an impact and enable the team to address complex and sensitive issues quickly and candidly.

Project performance is improved when we consider both the left brain, analytical aspects of the project – objectives, roles and responsibilities, designs, procedures, etc. – and the right brain, feelings oriented aspects, such as interpersonal relationships, emotional intelligence, diversity awareness, conflict management, etc. The team environment that is characterized by trust, mutual understanding, respect and harmony is likely to promote success even in the face of “less than perfect” planning and execution. Even the most accurately estimated, well planned and meticulously controlled projects, however, are prone to failure when the project environment is unhealthy. Use the kick-off process as a means for ensuring a healthy team environment.

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George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

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