LOS GATOS, Calif. December 30th, 2015 - You’ve been handed a big project for a critical project customer. This project is priced and $1.2 million, is important to the company, important to you career, and extremely important to your CEO. All eyes are on you. The CEO stops by your desk and asks how, when, and where the project will kickoff and when he should get his plan tickets and itinerary ready. You say, it’s scheduled for next Friday from 1:00 – 1:30pm in the video conference room and you watch as his face slowly turns red. Small streams of smoke start to escape from his ears – not too unlike the legend of Blackbeard and you sense he might be upset with you. Thirty minutes? By video? What? Think you’re CEO would be upset with this scenario? How could you convince him this is a good route to take? Do you think it is? Let me make my case – then please provide your own thoughts/comments.
I've always been a proponent of the formal kickoff meeting complete with an onsite customer visit and probably a 1-2 day stay. The meeting may only be 2-3 hours, but a tour of the client facility, and dinner with the new client, maybe a presentation by one of your corporate VP's about your past history of successfully delivering on critical projects for other project customers and possibly even some next steps strategy sessions while still onsite would be in order. I still think those types of formal kickoffs have their place – especially for the needy client or one who as ok'd a budget high enough to pay for such a planning session. However, cost is always a concern, and if there is any tightness in the budget – and there nearly always is – you can turn that $15,000 kickoff meeting into a $500 kickoff video conference very easily.
To pull off the cost saving 30 minute project kickoff meeting, you must...
Identify the need to cut costs on the project.
Let's face it. Customers and execs like formality. They like the dog and pony show. I'm all for it, too. However, if you can show justification that you are concerned that the proposed budget or timeline is in any danger of being met at the outset – before the kickoff – then selling the 30-minute project kickoff call as a cost-saving venture on the project should be easier. You'll need to sell your executive management and you'll need to sell the customer. The customer may be the easy one – especially if they have shown signs of being frugal. I made fast friends with one client who was extremely concerned about the budget when I suggested sending just my tech lead to a meeting onsite with them and having myself and two others just stay behind and participate by phone. I saved them several thousands of dollars on the project budget by doing so and the budget stayed on track. Your executive management may be the harder sell on this concept as it is usually their chance to show up and impress the client with information, dinner and drinks. I call removing this – when budget is a concern – cutting the fat.
Discuss with the client in advance.
As I said before, some clients will never go for this and may even be offended. I think future kickoff meetings will always go like this as technology improves and as cost savings become even bigger issues on the projects we manage. However, until this is commonplace, you must understand your client well and figure out if you should even present this type of kickoff option. If you sense they won't be open to it, don't even suggest it. But if you have any perception that cost may be a major concern for them, you may win them over quickly by explaining the cost savings that will be realized (and be very thorough and detailed in presenting this information) and by showing – in a detailed schedule – how this will help jumpstart the next activities on the project.
Do everything else you'd normally do for a formal kickoff.
Finally, make sure you do everything else that you'd normally do for the formal client kickoff. Prepare a detailed presentation deck that you'll run through on the video conference. This deck should focus on running through details of the statement of work (SOW) and confirming dates and milestones, explaining how you'll be managing the project and handling change orders, and what resources will be available for delivering on the project. Whether it's a 30 minute video conference or a 3 hour onsite formal face to face meeting, the goal of the project kickoff will always be the same – set accurate project expectations, make sure everyone starts on the same page, and that the customer walks away with a high degree of confidence in you and your project team's ability to successfully deliver on the project.
About The Author
Brad Egeland is a Business Solution Designer and IT/PM consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Creative Design, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Visit Brad's site at www.bradegeland.com .