How to establish momentum in your project kick-off

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Solid foundations are fundamental to keeping your project on track, writes Scott Fraser

Successful projects need momentum. Projects that lack momentum are usually started poorly; they tend to stall, stumble, go off track and rarely meet their targets without costly intervention.

Establishing momentum is all about starting a project well
It can be helpful to imagine a new project as stationary. You have the team assembled, the resources are on tap and your objectives are clear, but the project isn’t moving. It’s the project manager’s responsibility to overcome the initial state of inertia, get it moving and build the necessary momentum.

The project requirements are conceptually similar to Newton’s laws of motion. It requires force to overcome inertia and gain momentum. Wonderfully, it also requires less effort to maintain momentum once you are rolling. A project needs substantial effort and high levels of time invested by the project manager during the run-up to kick-off, and in the following days or weeks, depending on the scale of your project.

Getting the start of a project right can be tough for the project manager, and they may feel like the mythological Sisyphus perpetually pushing his rock uphill. But if you invest and persevere at the beginning, then your project will gain momentum.

Starting effectively requires a large portion of leadership with a modest amount of methodology
Leadership qualities count, and leadership style and authority become visible in the early days of the project. It’s important that the project manager demonstrates strong leadership and personal commitment. Even in large organisations, where projects are managed in a superficially uniform manner, every project is distinctively marked by the leadership of the project manager.

This is very personal, and there is great value in the project manager understanding their own leadership style and the personal qualities that they bring before kick-off. Commitment is proved simply through hard graft in the early stages of the project life. Don’t expect your team to put in extra effort if you won’t. Lead by example.

The project manager should also understand that their life will become easier in the long run if the project foundations are solid and when momentum is established.

Once a project is up and running effectively, it becomes more about maintenance and issues management rather than continually trying to establish fundamentals that should have been put in place at launch.

10 symptoms of projects that were started poorly and lack momentum:

  1. Persistent time wastage on unnecessary firefighting and remedial work on issues that should be considered project basics.
  2. Unclear objectives after project start.
  3. Unclear roles and responsibilities.
  4. Lack of clarity about project direction and, consequently, a demotivated team.
  5. Initial gate review or intermediate reports highlight significant departures from milestones and stage deliverables.
  6. Poor team cohesion and broad fragmentation.
  7. Poor and inconsistent reporting.
  8. Poor client feedback in the early stages of the project.
  9. Team resignations in the early stages of the project.
  10. Wrangling with vendors and subcontractors because agreements are non-existent or inadequate.

These ailments are avoidable, or can be minimised, if simple steps are followed to establish momentum.

9 suggestions for start-up strategies to ensure you get off to a good start:

  1. 1. Apply elementary project management methodology principles.
  2. Take time to be clear about goals and objectives and how you will verbalise these before unveiling them. When you do, reiterate, repeat and reinforce at every opportunity to ensure that all your team, and all relevant stakeholders, are in no doubt about the destination and direction of the project.
  3. Conduct a comprehensive kick-off meeting with agreed actions to force forward motion.
  4. Make full use of communication tools – Yammer, Teams, etc – to make sure everyone is fully informed and aligned.
  5. Invest time in your new team both as a leader and facilitator to bring them together and form a cohesive group. Social events and team-building workshops can accelerate this.
  6. Develop a positive project culture marked by inclusiveness, receptiveness to new ideas, proactivity and a focus on excellence.
  7. In navigation, a small erroneous deviation in direction at the start of the journey, left unchecked, will lead you to miss your target. It is important to establish a high frequency of reporting at the start of a project to ensure you pick up any deviations early and make necessary course alterations before it’s too late. Once you are fully convinced that you are on target, relax the regularity of reports and meetings.
  8. Acknowledge and accept that during the project start-up phase the demands on your time will be high.
  9. Ensure all the commercial agreements with third-party vendors and subcontractors are buttoned down early.

Establishing momentum is fundamental to good project management. It allows you to focus on dealing with the important stuff, keeping the project moving and on course for success.

Image: rangizzz/Shutterstock.com

Scott Fraser

Posted by Scott Fraser on 26th Oct 2020

About the Author

Scott Fraser is a freelance senior project manager and project trouble-shooter. He began his career as a field engineer in the oil and gas industry specialising in subsea and surface geospatial technologies. He gravitated towards project management and has run projects internationally for 20 years, including six years in the Middle East and four in West Africa. Most recently, he has been involved in automated, robotic and remote technologies in the marine and offshore renewable sectors. He specialises in leading diverse, international, multi-location teams and turning around troublesome projects.

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