Project Kickoff Workshops

Gateway to Project Success - 1987



Revenue - The amount of revenue would have to be sufficient to justify the assignment of a Project Manager and/or additional project management resources.

Complexity - The complexity of the project in terms of technical aspects, as well as the number of interfaces, that would need to be involved would also play an important role in the criteria for a dedicated project management resource. The following is an example of a technically complex implementation in an AT&T environment:

AT&T would typically implement a new product offering with what we call a “CI” or Controlled Introduction. These CIS often required a dedicated Project Manager in order to minimize the risk involved with introducing one of these new products or services.

Dan Ono, AT&T, and Russ Archibald, Archibald Associates

Within a company the size and scope of AT&T, with annual sales of $34 billion of diverse products and services, there is a wide variety of projects of all sizes, degrees of risk, complexity, and character of the end result. This article deals with projects in which AT&T has agreed under freed-price contract with companies, institutions and agencies that it will design, manufacture hardware, develop software, install, test and cutover into operation complex, high-technology voice/data telecommunications and related systems. Such projects usually must be completed within a few months to perhaps a year, although some multi-project contracts cover several years.

Such projects must be executed so that the new facilities are in place and tested to enable a rapid cutover from the old to the new, usually over a weekend, with minimum disruption to the on-going operations of AT&T‘s customer.


A dedicated-full-time-project manager is assigned to a project when its value exceeds $3 million. In some cases a project manager is assigned for smaller contracts if the project is unusually complex, either technically or organizationally. Other exceptions are made for smaller projects which are parts of a larger program.

The AT&T project manager operates within a classic matrix organization, usually as a one- or two-person project office, but using specialized staff support as required. In very large projects, the project manager will have several people on his or her direct staff. Many different parts of AT&T must contribute to each of these projects: several engineering and technical disciplines, purchasing, manufacturing, field installation and test, provisioning and logistic support, software development, training, and various other services and operations departments. For instance, key persons contributing to a project in Southern California may be located in Denver, Oakland, New Jersey, and elsewhere in the country.


The Director of Projects for Southern California and Hawaii identified a need for ways to accelerate the planning, learning and team-building processes which take place on every project. He saw this need within his own project managers as well as the functional managers who carried out the specific tasks on each project. Very importantly, he also saw the need within the customer's people who were involved with the project.

Typically, after a new project had been under way for a few months, good teamwork emerged. The Director of Projects wanted to achieve that teamwork in a few days or weeks, due to the short duration of many of his projects.


In mid-1987 the Projects Director decided to initiate project kickoff workshops on his new projects to see whether these needs could be met in this manner.


A three-day start-up workshop format was designed. The first two days, spaced at least a week apart, involve only AT&T people. The third day, following the second day by at least a week, includes the customer people who are involved directly in the project and also senior customer managers


The kickoff workshop objectives are:

  • To apply proven project management methods to the project, and develop-as a team–jointly agreed project plans, schedules and control procedures.
  • To assure good understanding of the roles and responsibilities of all AT&T and customer project team members, thereby enhancing effective teamwork.
  • To identify additional steps needed to assure project success.

While team building is not stated specifically as an objective, it obviously is one of the most important results to be achieved.


Emphasis throughout the workshop sessions is on the deliverables to be produced by the team. These are:

  • List of key concerns and major open issues.
  • A well-defined project/work breakdown structure (PBS).
  • A task/responsibility matrix, based on the PBS.
  • A list of key project interface events, linked to the PBS and showing the initiator and receiver(s).
  • A project master schedule, based on the PBS, reflecting the key project interface events, and based on the consensus of the project team on the overall allocation of time.
  • Agreed procedures for project monitoring and control, including dates for periodic project review meetings.
  • Action items resulting from the kick-off workshop discussions, with assigned responsibility and agreed due date for each.


The workshop sessions are the responsibility of the assigned project manager. The PM plans and prepares for the sessions, with the assistance of an outside consultant or the appropriate project management staff. Most of the kickoff workshops held to date have been with the assistance of an outside consultant.

For each topic listed in the agenda, the consultant briefly presents the underlying concept to be applied. Then the project team members roll up their sleeves and create the deliverable items for the project the PBS, task/responsibility matrix, key project interface event list, and project master schedule.

Some of these items, especially the PBS, matrix and interface event list, are usually developed by breaking into five or six person teams, with each team covering assigned parts of the project. These small teams then report their results back to the full project team (usually 15 to 20 people), to assure total team buy-in of the plans.

In this process, the consultant acts as a facilitator, assures that the overall process is adhered to, and is a source of industry-proven project management knowledge.

One of the overall objectives of the kickoff workshop is to position the project manager properly in the eyes of the other AT&T team members, and also of the client team members. The project manager thus must be seen as basically running the kickoff workshop sessions, with the assistance of the consultant or staff facilitator.


The most direct indication of the overall benefits of using a well-organized process for starting up projects is that the system cutovers-project completion–have been on schedule and with better quality on projects using this approach compared to the projects that did not.


The kickoff workshops get the project team started quickly, with a good understanding of what needs to be done, who does each of the many tasks, and when each must be completed. This approach gets all of the functional organizations thinking about what kind of planning is re-quired-before getting into the thick of the action. Previously, some functional managers would leave the planning until the last minute, or would not do any planning at all.


After the kickoff workshops, all project team members use the same semantics and planning terms. By jointly working through the planning deliverables, good teamwork is achieved much earlier on each project. This joint planning shows each team member that everyone on the team has important tasks to perform, and how these tasks interrelate. There is a better realization that they all need to be involved in the planning effort to ensure project success.


There have been very positive reactions from customer team members and higher management to the kick-off workshop sessions and the resulting deliverables. AT&T marketing managers have given similar positive reactions, and point to the fact that the workshops provide a vehicle for the AT&T team members to work closely with the customer team members very early in the project. This has avoided the adversarial attitudes which have previously been experienced on some projects. An important result of the third-day session with the customer team members and managers has been quick escalation and resolution of open issues which threaten to delay the cutover.


The kickoff workshop process described here has produced beneficial results by bringing the project team members together early, and by concentrating intensively on a few basic fundamentals of effective project management. AT&T is committed to continued use and improvement of these project kickoff workshops, and has made them an integral part of its Project Management Process.

Political Ramifications - On a number of occasions, it would be very prudent for AT&T to place a dedicated project management resource on a project because of what could be classified as a political requirement. These types of placements were made in high visibility client groups such as the media, i.e., radio, TV, and motion picture studios, major newspapers, etc.

National Defense - Dedicated Project Managers would often be requested for projects involving the military, which in some cases included ramifications related to national defense.

Future Business Opportunities - Marketing would identify projects that could have a potential bearing or

October 1990



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