Project perspectives: starting with your team
In this article I will consider the first of the quartet of milestones that we looked at previously: start off, repetition, evaluation and completion. We frequently come across all four phases, but often we blend them together, or we do not devote sufficient attention to them and, by extension, proper care. Let’s look at how we can manage these processes successfully.
This article follows on from my previous article, describing the importance of ensuring your team is engaged in the project and subsequent controls using “checkpoints“.
If you said the phrase “project start“ to several people and asked what it meant to them, each would tell you something different, depending on which role they have. A salesman will say that the project start is the first meeting, an accountant will say first payment kicks off a project, the developer will say it is when the environment is created, and so on.
Whatever the answer, there can be more than one start, but this is not the most important aspect of the project life cycle or as the case may be the solution. So what exactly is the project start and how do we perceive it? The answer is as a gradual process.
Starting the project with a team
What exactly is the start? It is not the first payment, certainly not the first line of a programme code and neither is it sitting with the client for the first time in a meeting room. The jobs that have been prepared are, in their own ways, starts, but this is not how we understand the project start. We call the project start the internal kick-off. It includes, in particular, bringing together all of the interested parties. Understandably, before this stage the dealer following the offer through with the sales manager does a lot of work. Ensuring the materials, documentation, etc. for the project start.
Why does the internal kick off happen only after these important preparation stage jobs? In the previous article I focused on a key aspect of managing the project and its success – the more people are interested in the project, the more likely they are regard to as “their babies“. It is internal because everything is more or less resolved with the client, who also communicates with the project manager throughout the production process.
Features of the internal kick-off
Everyone who will be involved in the project, whether sooner or later, will participate in meetings. In addition to establishing the project team, the meeting is focused on the following important issues:
- Why is the client doing the project and what benefits should it bring.
- What are the future plans, with regard to progress and development.
- What the project means for us
- Technological points
- Approach to work
If external people are part of the project, their participation is discretionary, depending on the extent to which they are involved what roles they play in the project. And a Skype conference is better than email!
Whatever they do in the project, all team members must know why they or what they are actually doing. The worst thing you can do is assign tasks but not tell staff why they are doing them! On the contrary, with the goals in mind, different team members can help with issues that you did not expect; above all, the team members have an interest in the right result. In addition, ideas for improvement or further project changes can emerge.
In addition, the proposed work process and a rough timetable gives team members an idea of when they will be needed in the project. In discussings about the timetable the whole team is informed about the cooperation with the client, and possible additional steps needed. Therefore, everyone in the team can prepare the necessary questions or materials that will be required.
At this meeting possible dedicated project roles are assigned, such as chief developer, delivery manager and similar responsibilities. As a result, all team members know who to refer to, and the project manager does not need to be the information gatekeeper. Neither does information need to be obtained in an underhand way over a coffee, as is sometimes the case. It has been shown that when others are present, the main development will be the overall responsibility of this person because s/he has the experience. Or the person meets the work specifications and was involved in such projects before and they were successful. When the person appointed is publicly told about the appointment motivations are much higher than if s/he had been told in the corridor or, even worse … by e-mail! Telling him or her personally and publicly is the right way to go about it.
The internal kick-off is also an informal, live discussion about the project, and an opportunity for anybody to ask about anything regarding the work, client, project or any other issue they would like to know about. An informal meeting diffuses work tension, and at the same time people absorb vital information in another way.
The goal has the aim of initialising the team, so that it works like a team, not an individual. You should therefore devote appropriate attention to the “first“ milestone.
This meeting need not be essential for actually starting the work, and further may stages may occur, such as on the client’s part, or for capacity or priority reasons the client starts the work later. Therefore, the aim is not that after kick-off everyone drops everything and starts on the project under discussion! Rather, the kick-off sets the conditions for a smooth start to the work of the whole project team, and any delay in the project start does not detract from the key issue: to inform people who are interested in the project. They know why the project why the project exists, their expectations of it, who should carry out which tasks and why, who should do what, how it should be done, and above all when and why it should be done.
The kick-off is not the end of the project but just the beginning. Achieving the milestone is significant from several perspectives, especially the internal. This may not be of much interest to the client, but you should definitely not disengage from an internal culture just because it is of little superficial significance to the client; it is only you know the culture. Set aside time regular time for your team, particularly informally, so that at a formal level you can resolve familiar things, and situations, and so that there are no skeletons in the cupboard to give you a nasty surprise.
Starting the project is just one of its internal milestones. In the next article you will learn about meetings, again from a personal perspective of course.