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The Project Kick-off Meeting: Setting a Stage for Success

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Project Management

Date: July 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

This is the tenth in an ongoing series of organizational project management maturity articles by InfoComm University™ senior instructor Brad Malone.

After submitting a well-structured scope of work, whether in response to a request for proposals or via direct sales, an AV firm often gets good news: Your company’s proposal has been accepted (follow the advice of earlier articles in this series to see your rate of acceptance grow).

Now comes a disciplined transition and the clear communication of expectations and requirements. It’s time to transition the project from sales to implementation and from implementation to on-site work, with all the responsibilities that requires. In other words, it’s time for a couple of important projects kick-off meetings.

These two kick-off meetings, while sometimes onerous, neglected or poorly executed, are essential to the ultimate success of a smooth-running integration project. Let’s start with the first kick-off meeting, which covers the post-win transition to implementation mode.

Following a pre-determined checklist, this first kick-off meeting is an internal affair and should lead to a series of subsequent project transition meetings, often conducted on a regularly scheduled basis (typically weekly or bi-weekly), depending on the AV integration company’s size, win rate and project cycle. The meetings can last 15 to 30 minutes per project, based upon each project’s complexity and the AV company’s familiarity with the client.

An internal kick-off meeting should take place before the start of every project’s implementation. It can be formal or informal, depending on scope, and it should be driven by a project manager but include representatives from sales, engineering and procurement. You want to come away from the internal kick-off meeting with the following:

  • Contact information (including key client and general contractor stakeholders)
  • An understanding of relevant project documents (scope of work, RFP, prints, addenda)
  • Delivery expectations
  • Material lead times and handling requirements
  • Engineering requirements
  • Submittal requirements
  • Resource requests
  • Project timelines (proposed or constrained)
  • A plan for coordination among different companies
  • A list of potentially significant risks and issues (owner-furnished equipment, etc.)

Straight-forward enough? Too obvious to bother with? Yes and no. In my experience, once an AV integrator’s internal team becomes disciplined about internal transition meetings, a whole lot of potential drama seems to evaporate. Salespeople who foster these kick-off meetings are usually mature team players and see the value of their integration team as part of the larger client relationship. On the other hand, salespeople who say they don’t have enough time for internal kick-off meetings are usually trying to cover up potential pitfalls or unrealistic expectations that they’ve communicated to the client. Sometimes, those people without time for a kick-off meeting will end up blaming the integration team for an unsuccessful” project implementation. (“I sold it right, you guys messed it up again.”)

Meeting On-Site

The second kick-off meeting is preferably held at the client site, with all of the key parties in attendance, including the AV integration project manager, design engineer (if required), facilities manager (or client project manager), key subcontractors (especially if they’re provided by the client), IT (if required), etc. For a large AV integration job, this meeting is essential and is designed to accomplish multiple objectives: clarify expectations and validate responsibilities; convey the project management process and important client sign-offs; and obtain a collective understanding of the job site from the installer’s perspective.

If possible, part of the face-to-face kick-off meeting would include a field verification audit, which would validate the site conditions, especially if a pre-bid site survey was not conducted. The meeting should also cover the project administration process, including billing procedures, change-order processes, and training and commissioning. Too often, these important project elements are not conveyed to the client’s representatives — neither during a kick-off meeting nor via the sales process. Therefore, the client is often surprised (or at least acts like they are) when change orders are raised during the installation phase of a project.

If you were to type up an agenda for this client kick-off meeting and field verification audit, it might look like this:

Initial Coordination (clarifying expectations)

Contact Introductions/Introduction to Associated Trades

Project Scope Review

  • Scope of work and prints
  • Schedule and key milestones
  • Responsibilities/key hand-offs/coordination

Project Administration Process

  • Billing
  • Field change order/contract change order management
  • Progress reporting
  • Deliverables
  • Training
  • Commissioning/final sign-off preparation
  • Transition to service (if purchased)

Field Verification Audit (site evaluation)

  • Verify access requirements
  • Identify safety hazards
  • Acquire details for final bill of materials
  • Determine tool requirements
  • Verify key deliverable dependencies

On smaller jobs (hang-and-bangs) or smaller out-of-town jobs, the client kick-off meeting can be conducted by phone, with the project manager leading the call and establishing their role and value in the job. The lead technician, upon arriving at the site, would conduct the field verification audit with the client representative.

These two kick-off meeting meetings pay on incredible dividend to the AV Integration company, despite the effort required to coordinate them. Companies that have made these meetings a general practice experience a boost in client satisfaction, retention, and referrals. They also enjoy an increase in valid change orders, a less chaotic commissioning and final sign-off process, and a subsequent growth in profits.

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm University™ senior instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, an organizational excellence and program management consulting company serving multiple industries. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.