Learning & Development

Getting Big Projects Started Off on the Right Track

Initiating a big new project can be exciting for the person or team running the show. But it can also be a daunting task, and too often, projects with a lot of potential get derailed and are set up for failure from the very beginning.

project

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Common logistical problems include failure to communicate goals, failure to set milestone dates and other key deadlines, and failure to clearly define team roles and responsibilities. Additionally, projects often struggle for interpersonal reasons: clashing personalities, lack of team cohesion, and team leaders or managers simply being unfamiliar with the personalities and work style of team members.

All of these problems are symptoms of a group project that wasn’t properly initiated. Here, we’ll talk about the benefits of and best practices for an effective project kickoff.

Benefits of an Effective Kickoff Process

The kickoff process is more than a quick meeting to brief the group on the task, or tasks, at hand, and when carried out effectively, it has numerous benefits to the success of a project.

Team buy-in. It would be great if companies could count on the unwavering obedience of groups organized for projects. But even in rigidly hierarchical organizations like the military, it’s necessary to instill a sense of value and purpose into a team’s activities.

Even when a team is superficially committed to a goal, boosting that sense of value and purpose can go a long way toward promoting engagement and commitment above and beyond nominal participation.

Laura Handrick, an HR Analyst with FitSmallBusiness.com, agrees with the value of a formal kickoff process for team initiatives and notes that “some projects kickoff with a statement or video from a top executive, selling the rationale for the project and lending it their support.” It’s important, she says, “to create a value proposition and a case for change to cascade to the organization to get buy-in.”

Team development. Many projects are put in the hands of teams that don’t normally work together. Team members might be from different departments or even different organizations. It’s the responsibility of the team or project leader to quickly take that group of individuals and transform them into an effective team.

Although there may be competing interests and conflicting personalities, the team needs to work together effectively on a professional level, even if they aren’t necessarily going to be best friends.

Teams go through an evolutionary process as they come together to work on any project. The stages of teambuilding are widely recognized as forming, storming, norming, and conforming. Recognizing that each of these stages exist—and managing them effectively—can lead to a successful initiative.

Clarity on logistics. You don’t want to be a week or a month into a project and have team members who are unsure about where to access key resources, what the major deadlines are, or who is responsible for which aspects of the project. One of the key functions of a project kickoff is clearly establishing these and other logistical items.

Best Practices

We spoke with some industry experts on best practices in project kickoffs, and their insights can help any team get off to a solid start.

Nate Masterson, Director of HR for Maple Holistics, says the kickoff process should take place a week or even a few days before the project begins. “It gives the team members a chance to focus on the goals of the project at hand, as well as come up with ideal outcomes to gauge how effective they would be in meeting the requirements of the project.”

Having regular meetings that make use of clear, concise visual aids before the start of the project itself will also allow team members to come up with a direct visual simulation of the project’s end goals and how they will be achieved, he says.

“This period also helps to define each member’s role in the project, lessening the chances of conflict or disagreement once the project has started,” says Masterson. The kickoff process provides an opportunity for team members to voice any concerns they may have with their duties or project goals.

Get social! You shouldn’t view the kickoff process as all work and no play. Remember that “forming” is the first stage of an effective team. Forming can be enhanced by helping team members get to know each other. This can be accomplished through social gatherings, as well as through the use of assessments such as Myers-Briggs or the DiSC Profile.

“Kicking off the project team is different from kicking off the project,” says Gina Abudi with Abudi Consulting Group. Ideally, she says, the team should be physically together during kickoff. But, if this is not possible, a virtual environment will do. This time, says Abudi, should be used to:

  • Tell the team about the project.
  • Focus on the reason the project is being accomplished—the big-picture view.
  • Discuss the key stakeholders and objectives of the project.

During this phase, Abudi says she likes to share something personal with the team and ask them to do the same. “The more you know about others, the stronger a working relationship you build, and the more commitment each individual has for the team as a whole.”

Another important point to remember is that, as team membership changes—and it may as a result of team members’ leaving and new members’ joining—this socialization process can be a good way to help the newly formulated team achieve cohesion.

Rinse and repeat. Depending on the length of the project and whether team roles change, it may be necessary to revisit the kickoff process as the team evolves. Teams don’t move linearly through the forming-storming-norming-performing phases; taking time to reboot can ensure that even dynamic teams remain focused, on track, and committed.

A successful project needs to be well structured and well planned from the very beginning, and getting off to a good start is crucial to setting the tone for success. Neglecting the project kickoff process is one of the biggest and most easily avoidable mistakes many project teams and their leaders make.

Team leaders play a very important role in ensuring that project implementation teams are initiated and managed effectively. There are a lot of moving parts to consider and multiple communication touch points. Following the strategies above can ensure a successful project completion.