Every football or soccer game ever played begins with a kickoff. You don't have to be an expert in either sport to know that a strong, well-executed kickoff not only gets the game off to a good start, it sets the tone and pace for what's to follow.
The same is true for elearning and software project kickoffs, but with one major difference: Your team and the development team you partner with will need to work together to achieve your objectives. That means both teams benefit from the project getting off to the best possible start. Here are four practical tips for how to kick-off a new project effectively and efficiently (although not necessarily in this order)
1. Define the prize.
Both teams need to have a clear understanding and be in agreement with what you hope to gain from your project. Even if this was discussed before the kickoff, it never hurts to reconfirm, especially for the benefit of attendees who may not have been privy to what you agreed to.
When it comes to clarity, the more your goal is tied to measurable results and overarching learning objectives, the better. For example, "We want to have this module ready for launch by June 30" is certainly measurable, but says nothing about whether the resulting module is effective or not. Compare this to something like "Our goal is a 20% minimum reduction in the number of employees injured per year by accidents and unsafe conditions in our labs." You can imagine how much more focused the resulting effort will be with a goal as clear-cut as this.
As you define the prize, it's also a good time to set expectations and give voice to unspoken assumptions. If your development partner expects the project to be a collaborative process while your team expects to simply explain your requirements up-front and receive a perfect product three months later, it's better to discover and resolve this expectation gap sooner rather than later.
2. Define team roles and responsibilities.
Defining team roles and responsibilities goes beyond simple introductions of each person's name and job title. It should explain what each person will specifically do to support the project. Stakeholders – team members who have a fundamental interest in the success of the project and whose support is essential – should state exactly what this interest is. For example, the team's legal counsel might be most concerned that any and all performance claims have been vetted and supported by clinical evidence. The Chief Learning Officer, on the other hand, might be more concerned that the modules are consistent with the look and feel of the new learning portal.
3. Discuss the game plan.
A project differs from everyday administrative tasks (such as reading and replying to emails, for example) in that it allocates limited resources (people, time, and money) to accomplish a specific goal. Once that goal is accomplished, the project is complete. This means that even if the basic process is the same, each project has its own unique set of resources and constraints. You'll therefore need answers to questions such as:
a. What sort of information and support does each team member need to best support the project?
b. What is the best way to communicate, individually and as a team? Phone? Email? Web conferences?
c. How often will you meet? Weekly? Biweekly?
d. How will you monitor progress, costs, billings, and deliverables?
e. What are the key deliverables? What are their due dates? How realistic and firm are they? Is there a critical reason why the project must be done by a certain date?
4. Be up-front about project challenges.
There are almost always a few issues or constraints that have the potential to throw sand in the gears of your project. Some are minor, some major, but all real and won't disappear if you just ignore them. The best way to mitigate these challenges is to acknowledge and address them head-on. For example, your development partner needs to know if your review cycles are likely to be closer to two weeks than two days, or if live access to the software you want them to develop training for is only available on-site. Likewise, your development partner should tell you how such delays and limitations might affect the timeline and what your mutual options might be to minimize them.
At this point, it should be obvious that what all four of these tips have in common is the need for open and direct communication, especially when it comes to mutual needs and expectations. By the end of the project kickoff meeting you and your development partner should know exactly what the next steps are, who will be doing each task, why, how, and when. If both teams leave the meeting excited, energized, prepared, and committed, with no questions left unanswered, then you will have had a perfect kickoff and a promising start to your project.
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