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5 More Questions To Ask During Your Project Kickoff Meeting

(This article is part two of a two-part series outlining key questions a leader should ask during a project kickoff meeting to head off costly confusion and risk during the life of the project. Review questions 1-5 here.)

Project kickoff meetings can be a powerful tool for establishing a strong foundation for your project. Don’t make the mistake of sending a few emails in lieu of a formal kickoff meeting as the kickoff meeting provides a valuable opportunity to get everyone on the same page, build critical relationships and ultimately begin to establish team culture.

Here are five more questions leaders should pose during project kickoff meetings to increase their effectiveness.

6. What are the project risks?

Virtually every project carries risk, but too often we document a plan, then dive into execution assuming all will go according to plan….yet it rarely does. Take time during the kickoff meeting to brainstorm potential risks and assess anticipated probability and impact for each potential risk event, then develop mitigation strategies and backup plans to address the highest severity items. Documenting and quantifying potential risks doesn’t just better prepare the team to face what may come. It also creates a bit of a bonding opportunity that can help foster critically important relationship building.

7. What are the key project deliverables?

Deliverables are tangible work products that are often generated during and/or at the end of a project. Since much of the team’s energy is focused around producing high-quality deliverables, it’s important to take some time during the kickoff meeting to explore and define what those deliverables will look like, who will produce them, what platform or applications will be used, etc. Too often team members start working on a deliverable (e.g. requirements document, product design, communication plan, business case, etc.) operating from a set of assumptions, and they don’t find out until much later that their assumptions may not have been valid. Avoid that costly mistake by proactively discussing the project deliverables during the kickoff meeting.

8. What are the project success criteria?

Dr. Steven Covey advises, “Begin with the end in mind.” In that vein, it’s important during the kickoff meeting to actively discuss what success looks like. As a team retreat facilitator, when clients call to inquire about my services for their team retreat, I often ask them to finish the sentence, “I will consider this retreat a success if…” While they sometimes don’t have an immediate response, it’s important for them to take a few minutes to think through that so they can clearly define and convey their real priorities. This feedback allows me to be able to focus on those elements of the highest importance to them. Unfortunately, when we don’t consciously define what success looks like, we’re much more likely to ultimately miss the mark.

9. What are the triple constraint expectations?

Project managers have often defined three primary, inextricably linked project constraints—cost, time and scope—that combine to impact quality. It’s important for teams to understand which constraints are highest priority – lower cost, higher quality or quantity of requirements addressed? Furthermore, since changes are so common throughout the project life cycle, it’s important to recognize that those changes typically create tensions among those constraints. If a client or executive wants to move up the due date, for example, that will undoubtedly impact project scope and/or cost. Or if funding is reduced, that might necessitate a change in timeline and/or scope. The team is better prepared to address potential changes when they’ve already reached consensus on expectations and prioritization of the project constraints.

10. How will we communicate project status/updates?

Project success is highly dependent on a team’s ability to communicate and collaborate effectively and efficiently, and that doesn’t happen without careful intention. Take time during the kickoff meeting to actively discuss how the team will share status updates or address issues that impact others. Does the team prefer quick daily standing meetings or half day war room sessions? How much detail is expected during status meetings? Will project status be communicated to external stakeholders? How often? These are all issues to be discussed early on to ensure communications are effective and consistent with the personality and culture of the team.

As projects become more and more complex and teams become more diverse and oftentimes remote, project kickoff meetings have become more important. This is the leader’s opportunity to bring the key stakeholders together to confirm project goals, discuss timeline, scope and other important elements to ensure everyone is on the same page. This establishes a strong foundation for the project and provides an important opportunity for the project team to begin building critical relationships. While it can be tempting to just email out a project document to kick things off, don’t make that mistake. Remember that the project kickoff meeting is a critical first step for project success.

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