Project Initiation: Done Right!

Starting up a brand new project is one of the most exciting times for a project manager… second only to completing one!

Once we’ve been tapped on the shoulder to take on our next project, there are a few important steps to take leading up to and including the cross-functional kick-off meeting. By taking these steps, we’ll get things started on the right foot by ensuring a consistent understanding of, and alignment to, the project and its charter. Otherwise, we’ll witness and have to deal with ongoing team member and stakeholder disarray.

There is a MUCH better way!

To get a project kicked-off on the right foot, follow these simple steps:

  1. Initial framing of the project
  2. Engage team members
  3. Schedule & conduct the kick-off
  4. Follow-through

Initial framing of the project

The first step is meeting with the project sponsor (typically a senior executive) and/or key stakeholder(s) who have ordained the project to:

  • Review / obtain the project charter (assuming it exists) which will include at least:
    • objectives – what are we doing and why (expected outcome(s))
    • scope – what is included and specifically NOT included
    • risks, assumptions and constraints that we must be aware of, monitor and/or mitigate
    • budget and anticipated timeline (see post: There is no launch date until the PM says so!)
    • team members (functional areas and/or subject matter experts)
  • Confirm sponsor has obtained cross-functional commitment to assign resources

Depending on the maturity level of the organization, the project charter may or may not exist at this point. If the project charter is not yet (fully) defined, the project manager can help the sponsor pull this together. As such, after the initial meeting above, the PM will take the input received, draft (or finalize the draft of) the project charter and follow-up with the sponsor to confirm we’ve “got it.”

Engage team members

Once the project sponsor has confirmed that the project charter is solid AND they have obtained cross-functional commitment to assign resources, it is time to reach out to our team. Depending on how far the conversations have gone between the project sponsor and the functional areas involved, we may be meeting with functional leaders who will be assigning resources to the project, with resources who have already been assigned or a combination of both.

I like to hold these initial conversations on a 1-on-1 basis because I’ve found people will often say more in this setting than they will in a group meeting. As a result, I am more apt to find out what people REALLY think and feel about the project so that I can take these perspectives into consideration as things get underway.

The goals for these meetings include:

  • reviewing the project charter to ensure clarity
  • capturing any questions, issues, risks, assumptions and/or constraints
  • identifying the “big things” to be addressed within scope of the project as well as any key dependencies

Invariably, as a result of these 1-on-1 meetings there will be a need to “potentially” update the project charter based on feedback received. Doing so will require a review and discussion with the project sponsor. Depending on the nature of the feedback we may realize that an immediate discussion is needed to address any glaring risks, issues or questions that would seem to have a dramatic impact on the project. Alternatively, if the feedback is relatively benign, we can wait until we’ve met with all our team members prior to following up with the project sponsor.

Our objective in meeting with the project sponsor at this stage is to review the charter (specifically, any potential edits based on feedback received) to confirm it clearly provides an overview of the program (considering the questions, issues or risks identified by the team). Once finalized with the sponsor, it is now time to schedule the kick-off meeting.

It should be noted that an additional objective and outcome of our meetings with the project sponsor is developing a solid working relationship. This is absolutely crucial since we’ll want to be “attached at the hip” with our sponsor through-out the course of the project. For more on this, see the prior post on Ensuring project success, tips for engaging leadership.

Schedule and conduct the kick-off

In advance of sending the meeting invite I like to communicate with the team (via email) to provide the agenda and set expectations with regards to the kick-off. That is, it will be scheduled at a time that “seems” to work for the most people. This includes reinforcing the importance of participation from each respective area (indicating that if someone cannot make it, it is expected they will send a decision-making delegate).

While I also include the above info within the meeting invite, I send this email in advance because I’ve found people can miss content within the body of meeting invites as they “primarily” focus on whether the appointment fits into their busy schedule or not.

Building on the above, as we prepare to schedule the meeting, we must realize that we will likely NOT find a time when everyone is available. Instead, we simply need to identify a time that seems to work for the “most” people while prioritizing the “most important” players we really need in the room (e.g., project sponsor, key stakeholders and/or subject matter experts).

During the meeting we’ll want to:

  • perform introductions ensuring everyone has met one another
  • review and confirm the project charter including the identified “big things” and key dependencies
  • agree on the ongoing meeting cadence; at the beginning of a project this is typically weekly or every other week
  • request key information from team members including:
    • contact info (mobile # and email)
    • vacation / away time & their backup (decision-making delegate)

During the meeting, we’ll want to take notes on:

  • participants (who did / did not attend)
  • team input (key learnings, questions, issues, concerns, ideas, decisions, etc.) and any resulting updates to be made to the project charter
  • next steps (specific action items, break-out sessions, next meeting, etc.)

Click here for additional guidance on effective meeting management


As soon as reasonably possible after the meeting it is important to clean up and publish our project charter (with any agreed upon revisions) and meeting notes (together).

In addition, at this stage I like to setup:

  • an email distribution list including all team members and stakeholders that I will be communicating with through-out the course of the project.
  • a Sharepoint (or similar, online document share) site to store ALL project-related artifacts, including:
    • Project charter / overview
    • Meeting notes
    • Progress updates
    • Project plan
    • RAID (Risks, Actions, Issues & Decisions) Log
    • etc.

Now that we’ve effectively kicked-off our latest project, it is all about defining the detail level plan (the topic of our next post) through execution!

In closing, if you are looking to improve PM capabilities in yourself, or organization, feel free to reach out so that we may discuss how I can help.

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