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How to Make Your Next Kickoff Meeting a Winner

January 2018- By Carl Pritchard, PMP, PMI-RMP

kickoff meeting

Five movies. Five. That’s how many I went to see over the holidays. And of the five? Two lived up to my expectations. I walked out of two of them feeling like they were what they claimed to be. The other three just couldn’t live to the hyperbole.

The two that I loved both had one thing in common. They were promoted honestly. And the promotion made them look like fun.

We can take a page from that. As project managers, it is incumbent on us to be honest about what’s ahead in our project environments. It’s also incumbent on us to create the positive energy required to get people enthused and keep them there.

For anyone who is either pursuing or has pursued the PMP® certification (Project Management Professional), one question in the exam pool asks about the primary goals and objectives of the kickoff meeting. The primary goal of the kickoff is to energize and enthuse the team. It’s one of those special questions on the exam where I totally agree with the author, without reservation. But how? There are three core elements you have to ensure you have for every kickoff meeting, without exception:

  • Energy
  • Direction
  • Honesty

Energy

Do you believe in the outcome of your project? Do you believe you can get there? If you can answer “yes” to both of those questions, the challenge becomes getting others to share that understanding. Before your next kickoff meeting, think about why you believe in your project. Seriously consider what about it makes it both do-able and worth doing. Boil that down into a few-word phrase. Whether that phrase is “Faster Responses with More Reliability” or “One Step Closer to a Cure”, it allows others to grasp where the goals are in a way that promotes a high degree of enthusiasm.

One project manager I knew in a utility provider was responsible for replacing a host of legacy systems that were completely outdated and outmoded. His energy-inducing phrase was “A Shiny, Functional Tomorrow”. It might sound a little corny, but it conveyed the new aspects and the practical aspects of his team’s work. And it provided them a sense that they were doing something positive.

Direction

You may have noticed that the “shiny, functional tomorrow” and the “closer to a cure” examples seem to point toward project direction. True, but they’re a little on the general side. Your kickoff meeting should provide a sense of direction both on the grand scale, but also on the day-to-day. Traveling coast-to-coast, it’s one thing to say “We’re going to San Diego!” It’s another thing entirely to know which route you’re taking.

Earlier, I mentioned that I enjoyed two movies recently. In both instances, I had a sense of the direction the films were going to take. I didn’t know the details of the journey, but I had seen a few scenes that provided the sense of the challenges and the emotions of the experience ahead.

As project managers, we can carve out those scenes! Just two months from now, we’re going to be halfway through one of the biggest installations in our organization’s history. Statements like that provide the brief preview or glimpse into the future. And those glimpses offer reassurance as to how and where we’re going to reach our goals.

Honesty

Many projects are boring. We are responsible for a lot of administrative, ho-hum stuff. It happens. And in those instances, you may believe the previous two elements of kick-off guidance don’t apply to you. But they do. If your project is a slog through documentation and rote process, you cannot hide that from your team. But that also should not be the focus of your next kick-off meeting. The focus should be on the end game. It should be on the reasons why you’re tackling the administrative. It should be on how the world is improved over time by the information you’re generating and preserving.

Focusing on the outcomes, rather than the daunting work to get there, is honest. It’s forthright. And it paints you in a positive light. People are generally more attracted to individuals who see their world as an opportunity than a threat.

Time for Change

As project managers, we are agents of change. Every time there’s a kick-off meeting, we can paint that change as complex, uncertain and inherently problematic. Or we can paint a future where the world is improved by our efforts. The kick-off meeting is where we have that positive opportunity. Problems will present themselves as our work gets underway. We know that. But it’s not where we should focus. When our projects are complete, our clients and our organizations are well-served. That’s the message we need from beginning to end.


Carl Pritchard, PMP®, PMI-RMP®, is an Apex Systems Contributor and an internationally recognized author, lecturer and trainer. He is the author of seven texts in project management, and serves as the U.S. Correspondent to the UK Project Management magazine, Project Manager Today. He produced the Audio PMP Prep: Conversations on Passing the PMP® Exam with Bruce Falk (just released for PMBOK Guide 6th Edition). And he’s hosting Seminars at Sea, sailing from Baltimore October 2018. He welcomes your feedback at carl@carlpritchard.com. Follow him on Twitter at @carlpritchard and @pmpprep

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