The Chaos Manifesto by The Standish Group identified that in 2012 18% of all projects fail (are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used) and a further 43% were challenged (late or over budget). Often the reason why projects fail or become challenged is time is not taken up front to think about what the project is trying to achieve. There is so much enthusiasm at the start and people rush into the project. What then happens is the project stops because of a multitude of reasons from building the wrong thing through to being completely unrealistic about what could be achieved.Projects often fail because time is not taken up front to think about the project legacy. Click To Tweet
In this article I outline how I make sure all of my projects get off to the best possible start by having a project start up meeting. I break down each agenda item from my project start up meeting and explain why each part is important.
If you follow the agenda items that I use in your next project, you will dramatically increase the chance of your project’s success. You won’t end up getting stopped before it has finished.
How Not to Start a Project
A great real life example where a project was not fully thought through at the start is the Olympic stadium in London. The stadium was built for the London 2012 Olympics and was considered a great project success. The stadium was completed on time, under budget and to a high standard.
In March 2011 the following was said:
Just over 5 years later West Ham United Football Club moved into the stadium and immediately there were problems. Due to the way spectators of rival teams were closely located there was crowd trouble between groups of fans. With the stadium having a running track spectators were too far away from the pitch so struggled to see what was going on. This also led to crowd trouble as some people would stand up so they could see which would impact the view others would have.
Paul Fletcher is someone who as been involved in the construction of over 30 new stadiums and he said “You must design a football stadium that converts to an athletics stadium for two weeks of its lifetime. When I build my football stadiums, my number one concern is the spectator. What they’ve done is tried to convert an athletics stadium into a football pitch and, in my opinion, it doesn’t work. Something has to give. If you want to satisfy spectators the only way to get those spectators near that pitch is to knock it down and start again”.
This is classic example of not thinking through the project. When it was started the only thoughts were about hosting an athletics event for 2 weeks not what the stadium would used for years later. Had this been done at the start of the project then it would have been a long term successful project. As it is costs have spiralled as work continues to turn it into a football stadium that does not suit the spectators.
It is important to think through the project beyond the completion date as a project that is not used is a waste of time and money. Below I set out how to run a project start up meeting so your project stands a chance of being a lasting success.
Use This Agenda For a Successful Project Start Up Meeting
This is the agenda I use in my Project Start Up Meetings to get my projects off to a great start.
Objective – Kick off the project (name of the project) and a brief description of the project. The purpose of this agenda item is so everyone knows why the meeting is required and set the scene for the project.
Expectations – This is where you ask each person what their expectations are from the meeting. Write these down and revisit at the end of the meeting to check if expectations were met. By doing this people will feel part of the meeting and that their views matter. The result is the attendees are likely to feel more engaged.
What is the Problem– Define and gain agreement on what the problem is that the project should address. This may be an opportunity that the organisation wants to take advantage of, in which case this statement should address the problem/s of why the organisation is currently unable to take advantage of the opportunity. This should be a high level statement and not include too much detail. What you are looking for here is an agreement that there is a problem that needs fixing and everyone agrees what the problem is.
Who is Affected– Include the organisation areas and sub-areas that are affected by the problem/s stated above. It should also include any customers that are affected by the problem. This will help later on when you come to do your communication plan as you will know which people to talk to.
The Impact of the Problem– include details of how the problems identified impact the organisation for each area and sub area mentioned above. This will aid the understanding that the problem will affect people differently. This means you will know who will have the biggest interest in your project and who you will need to communicate the most frequently with.
A Successful Outcome Would – what outcome is required at a high level in order to resolve the problem/s above? There should be an outcome for each impact mentioned. Make sure there is some quantifiable information, e.g. the process will be reduced to 2 days. This is a very important part of the agenda. This is where if you were building the Olympic stadium someone is likely to say and it will need to be a football stadium long term. This dramatically changes what the project will build. Get this bit right and you could save a lot of problems from occurring at the end of the project.
Benefits of the Project– What are the benefits of undertaking this initiative – the return on investment. This a high level estimate at this stage but also ask for how the estimate is calculated. For example benefits could be financial cost savings, costs avoided, time saved, additional income, customer service improvements and/or risks avoided through completing this initiative. Ultimately someone will have to give you the money to fund the project. Having this information will make getting funding approval easier.
Justification – Is there a reason for doing the project and soft benefits that cannot be measured but still make the project worth doing. For example morally the right thing to do, something that customers expect to have. This along with the benefits will help get the project funding approved.
Strategy –How does this project support the strategy of the organisation? Every project should support the strategy of the organisation as that is the reason why projects exist. If it does not support the strategy then there is a strong possibility that this project will be cancelled so resources/money can be assigned to another project that does support the strategy.
Stakeholders –Who is the project sponsor? Who is the project champion? Who are the other specialists that need to be involved with the project? Like the who is affected part of the agenda this helps with the pulling together of the communication plan. The difference with this part is these people are likely to be the ones who have the most interest in the day to day running of the project and will therefore need frequent communication and involvement.
Next Meeting– Schedule it in the meeting to gain commitment before people leave the room. This is a little time saving trick that I have picked up over the years. With everyone having packed calendars it can be hard to find a slot that works for all. By talking to everyone you will be surprised with how flexible people can be when everyone is looking at them. Gain agreement before everyone leaves the room to save time for yourself later.
Benefits– What did people find most useful from the meeting. The purpose of this part is to learn the lessons, what went well and you should repeat on other project start up meetings.
Concerns– Does anyone have any concerns from the meeting? These need to be in the form of a question in order to drive actions. For example How To? I wish I knew? This will help form the agenda for the next meeting. Doing this will demonstrate that you are in control of the project and will increase the confidence others will have in your ability to deliver the project.
Actions –Review of actions taken in the meeting. Make sure each action has one person reasonable for completing it and that there is a due date.
Expectations –Have everyone’s expectations been met? Have expectations been aligned or are there differences of opinion that need to be resolved? If there are any differences then these will need to be added to the agenda for the next meeting.
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