Posts Tagged ‘project meetings’

Project Leadership #1: 7 Ways to have a kickass kickoff!

by Himanshu Jhamb on October 4, 2010

“I promise that I will produce a kickass kickoff for the client”.

Repeat this to yourself at least a hundred times before you go for the next project kickoff meeting.

I have been through many projects – some of them as a team member and some as a project manager (please picture me as ashamed and trying to hide behind my chair at this very moment) – where the kickoffs were either for namesake or worse, were non-existent. The projects just started automatically – no memo, that’s it. I just found myself in the midst of a project already underway. PS> These projects did not do well.

For a long time I tried to demystify why my projects got delayed, got derailed (had enough of the de’s?). I would lock myself in my office (it was a cubicle, really) and try to figure out what was going on – why I could not control my schedules and how come I found myself struggling with just organizing the project in manageable chunks of work.

This post is my humble attempt at sharing what I found I was doing wrong (or not doing) to find myself in this position time and again.

The problem, it turned out, was that I was trying very hard to be a good project manager. In doing so, I was missing out on the fact that what the project really needed was a leader to guide everyone through the project with CLARITY. This last word is perhaps the most important… It is the project leaders’ job to continuously be in the quest for CLARITY on the project. Clarity comes when everyone involved in doing a particular task as well as everyone impacted by the task are in agreement over a number of attributes. The project kickoff meeting is a golden opportunity to get this CLARITY and champion the project. A well organized, planned and delivered kickoff meeting gives huge returns whereas a poor one (or none) haunts the project right till the end of the project (and beyond).

Here are a few tips on how to have kickass kickoffs!

  1. Say No to Remote kickoffs: There is yet to be a technology that replaces the handshake. Put yourself in front of the client – it is a future declaration that you are approachable and reachable and goes a long way in building a relationship with the client, and it will come handy when things are not going as planned on the project (and they won’t!).
  2. Prepare relentlessly for the kickoff: Know your audience. Know the material and make sure it speaks to their concerns, not only to what you are offering. You might be ready to promise them the stars and the moon whilst they might just be looking for a way to look at the stars and the moon.
  3. Declare (through a presentation or whatever suits your purpose) what you stand for in the project & how you will run the project: This is not for the weak of heart. You need to state what you stand for, what you expect from them as much as what you commit to. The presentation is not fluff for killing time & checking off a task in the kickoff meeting with pretty bulleted slides; it should set you up for delivering very important messages, in your meetings after the presentation.
  4. Meet with the stakeholders: The fun part begins here! Make sure all stakeholders are there. This includes people who will lead the team from the client side as well as the people who are impacted by the project.
  5. Ask lots of questions & listen for agreements: Firstly, you don’t have to know the answers. This is really important (It took me about 2-3 years to learn this one). You just have to ask the right questions & listen the people in the room arrive at agreements on stuff like goals, roles, responsibilities, success criteria, processes (and many other things that I cannot put here lest I will be writing a book instead of an article!).
  6. Jot down agreements and follow-up with confirmations by exchanging notes.
  7. Clearly communicate next steps to keep things moving forward and in the direction of the project goals.

How do you know if you have had a kickass kickoff meeting? Don’t worry about that part… your project will tell you that!

Have fun!

PS> Both Guy & I were recently interviewed for our book, #PROJECT MANAGEMENT Tweet on Blog Business World by Wayne Hurlbert. Wayne asked a number of thought provoking questions on Project Management that both Guy & I did our best to answer… for those interested, you can find the interview here. Disclaimer – it is a 1 hour interview… you have been forewarned.

Check your ego at the door!

by guest on August 12, 2009

check my ego at the doorWhen I look back over all the important lessons that I have learned during and related to my career, some of the most important came before my career even started.

First, some background:

I had the distinct advantage of being an engineering intern at a large aerospace firm while I was a sophomore in college. It allowed me a unique viewpoint in that I was surrounded by exciting technology and incredibly accomplished people (and I knew I couldn’t be laid off, which was a plus). I viewed this time as an opportunity to learn about careers in advance of starting my own. The world was bright and full of possibilities. I soaked up as much as I could about the profession, about corporate America, and about careers in general.

It was during this time that I experienced one of the most important lessons that I have ever learned – to check one’s ego at the door.

One afternoon I was asked to join an engineering review meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to review the progress and share ideas for improvement of the 8 major components that comprised the device we were making. Each component was represented by the lead engineer. In addition, there was a project manager and myself. The 10 of us entered a conference room at 2:00PM for a 2 hour meeting.

What ensued was a lesson that I still reference today.

The engineer of component #1 stood up, gave his progress report, and stated some of the challenges he was experiencing and how he planned to solve them. The other 7 engineering leads then suggested alternative solutions and constructive criticism (and the suggestions were quite good). Upon each suggestion, however, the lead engineer of component #1 immediately shook his head and responded that his solution was superior and that there was no need to consider alternatives. The other 7 engineers became agitated that their views were not being fully considered. But the engineer of component #1 concluded his presentation and sat down. Following his presentation, the lead engineer of component #2 stood up, gave his progress report, and stated the challenges that he was experiencing. Again, the other 7 engineering leads gave suggestions and alternative solutions, but they were similarly dismissed by the lead engineer of component #2. Again, the other 7 engineering leads became agitated that their solutions were not being considered. The lead engineers of remaining 6 components, in turn, gave their presentations, listened to the suggestions and criticisms, and dismissed them. And in each case, the 7 other engineers were agitated that their views were not being considered.

In all, the “2 hour” meeting took 6 hours to complete, primarily due to the length of time that each engineer took to refute the proposed suggestions. In each case, the lead engineer expended immense effort to prove that his ideas were superior to all the others. And in each case, the other 7 engineers expended immense effort to prove that their alternative solutions were worth merit. But in each case, the engineers were willing to provide criticism but not receive it… or one could also assess that each engineer was capable of talking, but none was capable of listening!

As an intern, I found myself amused and chuckling quietly to myself. If this had been a graded exercise for one of my engineering laboratory classes, we all would have failed because while we would have succeeded in communicating ideas, we would have failed in sharing and accepting ideas for improvement. What I didn’t immediately understand was that if I, a sophomore in college, could perceive the problem, why couldn’t the lead engineers? What was the specific problem that was preventing them from learning from one another?

What was the source of the problem?

And then it struck me!

It was not about the problem or the best solution anymore… it had become all about the egos! Each engineer had committed the same mistake of allowing their ego to interfere with the exploration of a better solution. Their egos were preventing the learning process from occurring.

It became clear to me, at that point, that the key to a successful meeting (and career) is checking your ego at the door so that your mind is open to other possibilities. Leave your ego outside the conference room (or office building).

I am so glad that I learned that lesson during that day. At each stage of my career following that meeting, I have allowed for the possibility that – “for every solution I have conceived, there may be a better one.”

The biggest takeaway for me:

I have recalled this lesson time and again and it has helped me to NOT avoid criticism. In fact, I have learned to seek criticism and feedback, whether it be good or bad, at all times. For if I reach the point where I think my solutions are the best to the exclusion of all other possibilities, then I have reached the point where I can no longer learn. And if I cannot learn, then I cannot progress as a person.

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mike markey outside cropped Michael Markey has 16 years of engineering and software experience in various areas including aerospace, military, and commercial sectors. He currently leads a team of consultants that specialize in access control and commercialization of online content.