Kicking Off a Technology Project Right

Taproot Foundation president Aaron Hurst has written a fair amount, including a whole book, on managing pro-bono projects. Last year he posted a pretty interesting idea about “Pre-Mortems”.

His basic premise is that it can be useful to have a full team meeting prior to the start of the meeting, to discuss:

"Assume that, six months down the road, everything that could go wrong on this project has gone wrong. What went wrong? And why?

Focus on the three to five most likely reasons that the project could fail or go off the rails. Then map back how you could have prevented these meltdowns. Finally, incorporate those changes into your project plan before you actually get to work."

I love this idea. It’s a kind of fun way to brainstorm possible risks and risk mitigation (and it’s a pretty unusual day when you get to put “risk migitation” and “fun” in the same sentence).

I’d add to it a really powerful tactic that I was trained in back in my consulting firm days. We would include a roundup of project goals in our kickoff meetings—all goals, everyone’s goals. So not only the overall goal to create a great website for a client, but also the firm’s goal of using this project to get more arts clients and the hope that we’re able to create a show-stopping portfolio piece. And then each of the team member’s goals. So the assistant assigned to the project may want to get more experience working directly with clients, while the graphic design wants to work on finding the right balance between work and getting home at 5:30 for her daughter. The web designer may really want to build a website using a particular technology.

It’s unusual that all those goals can actually come to fruition on one project, but it’s really useful to have them out on the table, especially from a project management perspective. You can keep an eye on them, to try to help fulfill those that make sense based on the project, and if you can’t make a goal happen, at least you have in mind that you’re violating someone’s hope for the project—which can help you understand why they seem to be lobbying in an odd direction, or to make it up to them later, on a different project.

What project kickoff techniques have you used that have worked well for you?

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