Kickoff: Connecting the dots

Arun Nithyanandam –

NetworkingIn this post, we look at some tips and techniques that will allow you to connect with people to conduct a powerful kickoff. During the kickoff, the core project constituents get together and discuss the 30,000 feet level view of the project.

A kickoff event contains both show-and-tell and motivational elements. By the end of the kickoff, you want everyone within the community excited about the project.

Most of the stakeholder and the project sponsor community will be invited to the kickoff. This event provides an excellent opportunity to set the groundwork for the entire project.

Remind everyone that the stakeholders and business users will drive this project and set the functional requirements. You should emphasize that they will be an integral part of this project’s success. Even if you are the greatest project manager in the world, you won’t be able to do this alone. The stakeholders, business users, and sponsor must be engaged in this project.

As project manager, you will perform many roles during the project. You will level-set, manage expectations, and monitor commitments and follow-through. There are times when you will even play traffic-cop to coordinate the community. One of your most important roles is to build consensus. Analogies and stories are often very powerful tools in the arsenal of a project manager.


During the kickoff, analogies work very well with the community. Many people enter the kickoff unsure about the project’s goals or even the process. An analogy can help you create a bond between you and the community. If people feel that you are one of them, the kickoff will be a success and you will be running out of the gate. People will listen to you. They’ll want to help you and cooperate with you. This will make your life so much easier.

Let’s say we’ve traveled from San Francisco to Boston for a kickoff. I built an analogy around that trip for the kickoff.

“I’m sure every one of you has flown. I flew from San Francisco yesterday morning. I know it was San Francisco, because, when I drove to the airport, huge letters on the terminal building said ‘San Francisco International Airport.’ In addition, there were billboards and advertisements that talked about things in San Francisco. I checked in and boarded my flight. The flight attendants gave a destination check and told everyone that we were heading to Boston. Together, the flight crew and the air traffic control (ATC) routed our flight to Boston. When we landed, the flight attendant said we had arrived in Boston. When I exited the airplane, there were signs welcoming me to Boston.

“This project is similar to that. What you see today is San Francisco. That could be:
• The framework of the application
• The starting point
• The out-of-the-box application

“The members of this community are the passengers (users) of the flight. You chose your destination and reserved a ticket. The flight crews are the people in the PMO. The ATC are the project sponsors. Yet, unlike airline passengers, the community actually directs where the flight should go.”

“Boston is where the functional requirements should take the flight to. The flight can go to Boston, or it might go to Phoenix. You, every one in this room, will determine where the flight/project will go. Therefore, you should know the people in the PMO. You have all our contact information, please feel free to ask us any questions that you may have, at any point in this process.

At this point, we could explain a little bit about the people in the PMO, build trust in how much experience, knowledge of the domain they have. We could finish by saying, there is a reason that you should know this information, because, as the passengers, you should have reason to believe that the captain and the pilot know how to fly!

Keep them engaged

You want to get the community involved right at the start. So, during the kickoff, ask them to tell you about the company and process in their own words. As a project manager, you’ll learn how things work from an internal point of view.

Simple questions, such as “what are some of the problems you have faced in the past with other projects?” can produce many insights. You will be amazed at the wide-ranging answers. You might hear people talk about budgets, commitments, time investments, and changes in business goals and functionality. Knowing this information will give you enough input to work on the Change Management and Adoption polices and process. It’s always good to know where others have had problems. You can create plans of action that work from past experience.

A kickoff, when well executed, will accomplish many things:

• Make the user community to get involved in the project;
• Bring out a sense of ownership (they are directing the flight);
• Setup groundwork for the community to buy in, adopt the system, and eventually even become evangelists to others within their group.

Of course, you will have to carry on after the kickoff, and continue to take care of their concerns, but a well executed kickoff will get you ahead of the game. By empowering the users, and making them understand that they are directing the project, you will be seen as a leader who increases their capacities, and who takes care of their concerns.

Next week on these pages: Why are large projects different?
About the Author

arun_nith_blog.jpgArun Nithyanandam is a Strategy and Management Consultant based in Silicon Valley. Arun has managed multiple multi-million dollar IT projects in US and Europe across verticals. His current focus areas are Enterprise Contract Management Systems (deploying Nextance proposal-to-revenue and source-to-savings solutions to help companies improve financial performance and lower risk) and Enterprise Content Management Systems. Arun works with CIGNEX Technologies, a provider of Open Source based enterprise content management solutions.

During his spare time (if any) Arun enjoys hiking and reading.

Arun is currently working on a book (co-authored with Bill Sherman) code named “Managing Multi-million dollar projects” to be published in 2008.

For the collection of all Arun’s articles, please visit Squidoo Lens Arun Says

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