Planning Your Kick-off Meetings

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 1 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to agree to the success criteria and major constraints with the customer, in writing.

Croft recommends Project Managers (PMs) facilitate two meetings with the project stakeholders to come to this agreement. Many projects will have multiple stakeholders involved, each with their own vision of the project. It’s important that the PM and the stakeholders come to an explicit, detailed agreement about what they want from the project.

In facilitating meetings, I like to think about Desired Outcomes. Meetings are a process to get from point A to point B, so meetings should ideally state their desired outcomes up front.

As Croft describes it, the Desired Outcome of the first meeting is to reach a shared understanding of the broad outlines of the project. As he puts it, “OK, guys. This is the plan I’ve come up with. What do you think?”

Once there is agreement on the basic idea, he recommends the PM then work their way through steps 2-8 of his 12-step process:

  1. Define the project
  2. List the tasks
  3. Estimate times and costs for each task
  4. Add up time and cost
  5. Shorten your project plan
  6. Draw a Gantt chart
  7. Calculate resource requirements over time
  8. Assess risks and prepare action plans
  9. Monitor progress
  10. Monitor cost
  11. Reschedule
  12. Review: learn and praise

The PM then brings this work back to the second meeting, perhaps even offering two different versions of the plan.

The Desired Outcomes for the second meeting are to:

  1. choose a plan among the options offered
  2. document ideas on how to improve the plan
  3. secure agreement to pursue the plan as amended.

In my experience, groups often get stuck when they ask themselves “Are we all in complete agreement about this plan?” It’s too high a bar for a group of people with diverse perspectives to reach complete agreement on anything.

Rather I pose questions such as “Would anyone object if we move forward with this plan as proposed?” If there are objections, you solve for them if at all possible. Then you ask the question again until you reach a plan that everyone can live with, even if it’s not their first choice about how to proceed.

How do you reach consensus in meetings? Share thoughts in the comments below.


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