Everybody loves a good kickoff meeting and a lot of planning goes into making them go well. I agree…a great kickoff meeting gets everything moving in the right direction. However, I think the process should actually be backed up a step. Many times before starting an engagement I will ask for a Pre-Kickoff meeting. The purpose of this is threefold:
- Facilitate discovery – How many times have you started working on a project only to find that you left a critical stakeholder out of the first three meetings? Ever discover that the solution you are working on fixes the problem at hand but exacerbates a problem somewhere else? A good Pre-Kickoff provides enough free flowing dialog to help capture these types of scoping issues.
- Determine the appetite for change – Every transformation is going to have real and perceived winners and losers. This is a fact. You can sugar coat it, but doing so doesn’t make that fact go away. Having an open forum helps you understand where people feel they fall. Once you get a sense of where people are actually going to fall or perceive they are going to fall in the “Winners → Loser continuum” you can work to address that perception or reality.
- Gather the stuff – Yep…you can’t have transformation without stuff. The bigger the effort the more stuff that is usually involved. Creating an inventory of helpful materials can be a key step in ensuring that your project isn’t a net new effort. Getting the reports people are using to manage the business today, process models, system diagrams and other items helps you to get a jump on your project. It also sends a signal that you value the input of the existing stakeholders and the effort they put in before you showed up.
Pre Kickoff Homework
I admit it, I am a pretty informal guy. I like my pre-kickoff meetings to be pretty informal events, but a little structure isn’t a bad thing. Here are ten things I ask people to bring to my pre-kickoff:
- Your existing reports and management tools. This helps us understand how you are managing your business today so we can help facilitate this in the future. Discussing a particular spreadsheet can often uncover the manual, multi-system processes lurking beneath a management approach.
- A conceptualization of the role your organization, group, etc plays in the overall value chain. Organizational transformation needs to happen in the context of the big picture. Your Pre-Kickoff should play a key role in helping people think about it in those terms.
- Your stuff. Got process models, system diagrams, etc? Bring them. No matter how rough they help us get insight into how you are thinking about the As-Is and To-Be environment.
- Your questions. If you don’t come into this meeting with some burning questions something is wrong. If you are at the meeting you will be affected by this…if you don’t ask questions I can only assume you aren’t doing your homework.
- Your listening ears. I try to focus on the quiet folks in my Pre-Kickoffs because they are typically being underserved. I always ask participants to remember that multi stakeholder projects require everyone’s participation to be successful and that means listening to others input in addition to providing your own. Projects too often serve the squeaky wheel.
- Your own voice. On the other side of the folks who can’t say enough are those who aren’t saying anything. When you are contemplating doing something,new asking questions is a natural part of the process. Verbal participation is a must.
- Someone who actually does the work. Pre kickoff meetings and planning meetings tend to be dominated by managers who are often not quite as up to speed on how things actually work as those in the trenches.
- One person instead of two. Every time you add a person to a meeting it becomes less productive. Nobody knows why but it just happens. So keep it at a minimum. I know I just said to bring more people in number seven, but really less is more so choose wisely.
- Food and beverage. I always get a laugh out of this because of my size, but I hate breaking for lunch during a day long session. It destroys the whole flow and many times the best bits of the meeting happen over a sandwich tray in the meeting room.
- An open mind. The whole point of a Pre Kickoff is to get a level set across all parties and kick the tires on the way you are thinking about potential solutions. Nothing kills this faster than someone whiteboarding the solution end to end in the first 30 minutes of the day.
In the end Pre Kickoffs are about sharing perspective, finding the gray spaces and ensuring you understand the complete problem statement. Sure that includes talking about solutions, but don’t try to “get ahead” by getting a jumpstart on the solution or you may find you’ve missed the value of the Pre Kick Off completely.
At the end of the day a successful Pre-Kickoff may leave you with more questions than answers but that is a good thing. One of the major goals of the session should be to leave knowing you have uncovered all of the questions and identified the gray spaces so that you can plan your kickoff and project to address them.