As an executive, you are ultimately responsible for how the projects in your organization are managed, from the planning effort, through control, to close-out. This is a long, precarious path to reach a successful conclusion. The better the project begins, the better probability of success at the end. This article addresses the “launching” of the project: specifically, how to conduct the initial meeting.
A Project Launch Meeting is conducted for three reasons:
- To educate project team members and project managers, and to assign the responsibilities to the project team
- To establish the assigned project manager as the focal point for communications
- To prepare the first cut of a project plan as the tangible deliverables.
This meeting is an essential part of the process to successfully develop an integrated project plan. The project manager (possibly along with a trained project management facilitator) conducts the meeting with all members of the project team present. Prior to the meeting, the project team members will be provided with a clear statement of goals for the meeting, some reading materials and some specific assignments. The reading materials are:
- The Business Case that initially justified the project
- A statement of work defining the goals and objectives of the project
- The first level of the work breakdown structure as a “strawman.”
Before attending the meeting the project team members will be requested to accomplish the following:
1. Review the Business Case and the written statement of project objectives
2. Document their role in meeting the objectives
3. Isolate the Level 1 work efforts in which they see themselves involved, and develop a Level 2 breakdown of their activity list.
The project manager is strongly encouraged to distribute appropriate information prior to the Launch Meeting to ensure the most productive use of meeting time.
The meeting itself is broken into two parts: positioning the project and planning the project.
Positioning the Project
The initial discussion in the Launch Meeting should address project objectives and goals. These objectives should be reviewed thoroughly by the members of the project team regardless of whether they have been distributed and read prior to the meeting. The facilitator should ask for comments and questions concerning the project objectives. The scope of the project should then be discussed. At this point, the facilitator (who may be the project manager) will focus upon those specific elements that are a part of the project and those items that have been excluded.
The Launch Meeting should proceed to a discussion of the strategy to be used to meet the project objectives. In each project situation there are a number of ways in which the objectives can be achieved. The facilitator should present the method selected and elicit input regarding strategy from the members of the project team.
There should then be a discussion of restrictions and risks associated with the project. In this part of the meeting, the facilitator presents such items as budgetary constraints, restrictions relating to conditions in the marketplace, and any other circumstances that affect the manner in which the project work is to progress. If the project is to have a series of go/no-go decision checkpoints, the facilitator should discuss these decision points, with a complete description of the criteria to be used to make each go/no-go decision.
All of the assumptions that have been previously made should be presented and discussed with the project team. This is also the appropriate time to initiate a discussion of the course of action that might be appropriated if a particular assumption proves to be unfounded.
Finally, quality assurance, financial philosophy, priority of this project and change control can be briefly discussed.
This effort concludes the positioning of the project and provides for a strong foundation upon which the project plans can be built.
Planning the Project
The facilitator explains the top level of the work breakdown structure with the members of the project team and then works with the project team to reach agreement upon Level 2. Small subgroups are then created with two assignments: to generate a Level 3 task list, and to determine the person (or department ) that will become the task owner.
Project Launch Meeting Agenda
Positioning the Project
1. Review of project goals and objectives
2. Determination of project scope: inclusions and exclusions
3. Strategy to meet project objectives
4. Restrictions and risks
5. Go/no-go points
6. Assumptions: What will occur if assumptions are not correct?
7. Financial philosophy, quality assurance, priority of this project and change control (as appropriate)
Planning the Project
8. Explanation of top level of work breakdown structure
9. Gain agreement on Level 2
10. Subgroups develop a Level 3 to include task list, task owner and deliverable(s).
11. Read consensus on Level 3 task by:
- Reviewing each Level 3 task for clarity and appropriateness
- Obtaining buy-ins and acceptance of the task owner
- Expanding the responsibility matrix to include those people (groups) who will support the task owner
- Detailing the deliverable(s) with a standard of performance criteria upon which it will be measured
- Logging any assumptions, constraints or risks associated with each task.
12. Fun exercise to change pace and rejuvenate energy
13. Determine sequence of tasks
14. Determine time estimates of tasks. If there is disagreement as to duration, assign task owner the job of decomposing the task to a Level 4, reevaluate the duration, and get back to other support members for consensus.
15. What's next.
The entire project team reconvenes and:
- Reviews each Level 3 task for clarity and appropriateness
- Buys-in to the responsibility assignment of the person (or group) accountable
- Expands the responsibility matrix to incorporate those people (groups) who will support the task owner on each task
- Details the deliverables(s), with a standard of performance criteria upon which it will be measured
- Logs any assumptions, constraints or risks associated with each task.
After some fun exercise, which the facilitator devises to rejuvenate the group's energy and sense of humor, dependencies and time estimates are determined. Writing the tasks on Post-its and moving them around on a wall may be the most stimulating and productive way to determine the sequence of tasks. The facilitator should start the process and then get everyone up and moving the tasks on the wall while maintaining control over the process at all times.
The final job is the time estimating effort, which may be done in the Launch Meeting or as an assignment. This decision should be based on the energy level of the group. If it is decided to do the time estimating in the meeting, go to each task and ask for an estimate. If the estimates provided by the interested and knowledgeable parties are close and agreement can be reached, give the task owner the assignment (after the meeting) to break the Level 3 task to Level 4 subtasks and to rethink the estimate. Then go to the people supporting the task and obtain concurrence of the estimate before submitting it to the project manager.
The Launch Meeting should be ended with a discussion of What's Next. The facilitator reviews the Action Item list that has been generated during the meeting, includes the people responsible and a timetable for completion. The facilitator discusses what is next in the planning process, such as how this data will be produced onto schedule charts, if and how resource allocation will be performed, how status will be tracked, when status meetings will be held, etc.
Break the effort into three single-day sessions:
- Day 1: Positioning the project. Assignment before next meeting: Develop Level 2 WBS items.
- Day 2: Planning the project through Level 3 with task owner and deliverables. Assignment before next meeting: Confirm completeness of WBS at Level 3.
- Day 3: Planning the project through Level 3, with time estimates. Assignment for the project manager: Resolve any open items, such as unresolved time estimates.
If a project management scheduling package has been chosen, enter the data into software as the planning process proceeds.
Suggested materials required to conduct a Project Launch Meeting are flipcharts and easels, different colored thick and thin magic markers, masking tape, large Post-its, pads of 8 1/2 x 11 lined paper, and lots of sharp pencils.
Joan Knutson is president and founder of Project Management Mentors, a San Francisco-based project management consulting and training firm.