We asked the project management community: How do you ensure team members have a firm grasp on strategic alignment and key objectives at kickoff?
Getting in Line
Organizations have room for improvement with strategic alignment. Here's how project professionals rated their organization's alignment:
Proportion of project professionals who cited an inadequate vision or goal for the project as a primary cause of failure
Source: Pulse of the Profession®, PMI, 2018
CONDUCT A Q&A
“Kickoff is one of the best opportunities to invite the full participation of all the stakeholders and get everyone on the same page. I start by outlining the project objectives by sharing a slideshow or emailing documents to the team. During the kickoff meeting, I ask the forum for any questions or clarifications they require. There might be questions around the exact scope, support after go-live or resources who would be supporting the project. On some occasions, people have asked cybersecurity questions, which we checked and got fulfilled, for example, in terms of certifications for cloud projects.”
—Sagarika Basak, PMP, transformation project manager, Alshaya Enterprises, London, England
“Ideally, strategic alignment is established before kickoff. But for organizations that might still be maturing, projects might lack that initial alignment. For those organizations, it's good to ensure the critical stakeholders—those people who own and can speak to strategy, the project's objectives and expected results—attend the kickoff meeting and have a prominent place on the kickoff agenda. Include adequate time for a Q&A. I like Warren Buffett's Q&A approach at his annual meetings: answer questions until there are no more questions. It's essential that everyone has a clear understanding of project alignment to strategy, and sometimes, project kickoff is when that happens.”
—Jan Schiller, PMP, partner and chief project officer, Berkshire Consulting LLC, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
“I use the kickoff meeting as my best opportunity to align the stakeholders and team to the project's goals. Depending on the size and complexity, I may hold two kickoffs—one with the stakeholder group, such as functional managers, department heads and such, and one with the project team doing the work. The goal is to talk about how the project aligns to organizational goals and how each person's role contributes to success. If possible, I'll ask if a sponsor or executive can also say a few words. After the kickoff, I keep the end goal front and center in communications and team meetings.”
—Jason Orloske, PMP, vice president of operations, ImmunoPrecise Antibodies Ltd., Fargo, North Dakota, USA
SHOW THE CONNECTION
“It's good practice to have a slide in the kickoff deck that shows the relation of organizational or divisional goals to the project that people are being asked to work on. I often ask the executive sponsor or most senior leader available to come in the first few minutes of the kickoff and talk to that slide. It informs or reinforces the importance of the project to the team and helps them understand the value of their contributions to the organization. It also ensures that the sponsor or leader becomes the face of the project, which is important for communications and accountability. I sometimes keep that slide around for a few team meetings—both as a reminder and as a way of bringing new team members up to speed.”
—Kevin Morgan, senior program manager, University of California at San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA
GET A HEAD START
“For me, getting a firm handle on the mission, objective and scope—or MOS—of the project happens well before any kickoff. To make sure I'm crystal clear on understanding the requirements and scope, I ask a few questions, like: Why is this project important? How is it going to help the organization? What is expected out of the project? During kickoff, project managers should take the opportunity to introduce and set common expectations across the entire project team, including alignment of the project and its objectives. Getting all stakeholders to sign off on the MOS during kickoff is the first ingredient of project success.”
—Rajesh Rajpal, PMP, project manager, project management office lead, innovation and technologies, Jet Airways India Ltd., Mumbai, India
“Before kickoff, I try to determine the ‘why’ of the project. Why does the client have a need for it? Why now? Why for this group? Once we know the context, the whole team can use it to ensure, at an early stage, that we are meeting the client's needs, which undoubtedly links to the overall company strategy and vision. This context doesn't only allow the project team to plan accordingly but, in my role, it also allows the wider team, including consultants, to build the product. By having context in mind, we can mitigate risk by already having a view on the long-term objective. But we also can use it as a starting block for how we will build our plan and allocate resources, creating an insider's view into the end user.”
—Ashley Atkins, senior project specialist, DDI, London, England
What steps do you take to keep team members motivated to do their best work?
Email responses to [email protected] for possible publication in a future issue.