Our Guide to a Successful Project Kickoff

A lot of organizations think that finding the perfect consultant is the hardest part, but we all know that it’s only the beginning. Like any relationship, a smooth start doesn’t always mean a smooth ending. 

We’ve been orchestrating how organizations and consultants collaborate on tailored projects for years now through our project matching process, and we have learned there are some important things to keep in mind about what makes a project work once the match has been made.

Setting the Stage using the Five C’s 

We believe that the key to a good partnership starts with the Five C’s: context, content, cadence, culture and contingency. By focusing on these Five C’s during the kickoff phase, you set the stage for a trusting, efficient, and results-oriented partnership. 

Not familiar with them? Here’s a breakdown: 

  1. Context:  Since every organization has a unique identity and history that shapes the way they operate, the kickoff’s an opportunity to share critical insights about your organization with your provider to deepen their understanding.
  2. Content: Sharing information relevant to the project – strategic plans or existing data – allows your provider to hit the ground running and deliver the pointed support the work calls for. 
  3. Cadence: While communication expectations are one of the easiest things to set up, they can also be the first to go to the wayside. Set-up when, how and why you’re going to communicate on the front-end, including everything from milestones, check-ins and participants. 
  4. Culture: Your team’s culture is an essential part of the collaboration. Establish norms around communication, feedback, and, importantly, values, especially regarding equity. Sharing individual user guides can provide invaluable insights into working styles and preferences. This helps the provider get to know your team better, fostering a more harmonious and effective relationship.
  5. Contingency: As no project is without potential challenges, discussing potential setbacks during the kickoff is a proactive approach. Consider what might go wrong and how you’d address these issues. This conversation ensures everyone is prepared, and if a significant scope change arises, the groundwork for contingency plans has already been laid.

Avoiding Common Pitfalls

Following the Five C’s isn’t a guarantee that things will always go smoothly. Projects are still people, and people are complicated. But starting right can help you avoid some of the common pitfalls that emerge during projects.

Scenario 1: Calibrating the Crowd: You’re excited about the work and confident in your chosen provider, but not all your team members are on the same page. Some are unsure about their roles in the project.

Things to do during the kickoff to avoid this situation:

  • Do a kickoff with your team as well. Share the rationale behind the provider’s selection and the problem the project aims to solve. Explain what success looks like.
  • Use a decision-making framework (e.g., RACI) to clarify team member responsibilities and participation.
  • Solicit feedback and address questions from involved and affected team members.

Scenario 2: Two Ships in the Night: Your provider is not meeting expectations, but seems to be frustrated with you as well. Communications with them has become sporadic over the course of the project.

Things to do during the kickoff to avoid this situation:

  • Agree on your communication practices and norms, including communication frequency, formats  (email, meetings, etc.), and roles (i.e. note-taking and minutes).
  • Set time to share with each other what’s going on.
  • Develop norms around giving and receiving feedback. Dedicate specific points of the project for feedback (e.g., midpoint and endpoint).

Scenario 3: Changes in Scope: Things have changed during the project, but you don’t know how to approach the changed scope.

Things to do during the kickoff to avoid this situation:

  • Discuss how you’ll navigate potential risks and unforeseen challenges, including changes in project scope.  
  • Create a shared place to document changes and decisions for reference.
  • Talk through what kinds of changes will impact the project plan and budget.

The Key Takeaway

Effective communication is at the heart of a successful project kickoff. By discussing roles, expectations, and potential challenges, you can avoid many common pitfalls.

If you need support on your next project, let our team of Capacity Advisors do the project scoping and provider matching for you. 

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