Kick-off meetings are a part of every consulting engagement. It’s generally the first meeting between a consultant and a client once the contract has been signed and can set the tone for an entire project. Every kick-off meeting will be different, depending on the consultant, the client, and more importantly, the size and nature of the project. The types of assignments I work on don’t usually necessitate major project management with sophisticated Gantt charts and proprietary software. Instead, a typical kick-off will involve me sitting down with one to three individuals from your organization and discussing the following points:
1. Review of the proposal to ensure that it is still relevant and everyone is in agreement with the scope, approach and outcomes.
I have actually had clients who never read the proposal and still signed the contract. The kick-off meeting is the first time they fully comprehended the scope of the project. This is a great time to emphasize critical success factors.
2. What is the best way to communicate with you? Phone, email, text, carrier pigeon?
There are numerous other tools consultants can use to manage projects and share information, if the client feels comfortable with them. I use Basecamp, Producteev, Skype and Dropbox frequently but learned early on not to impose my technology on those not comfortable with it. Even email can go ignored by clients who don’t check it frequently. I also ask the best way to schedule meetings. I like to use Gmail/Outlook calendars but find that clients with Mac email clients often do not receive meeting invitations in this format and I have to send regular emails with the relevant details.
It’s during this conversation that I get a good understanding of work styles.
3. Establish a work plan with assigned responsibilities, including actions required by you and your team.
This work plan may also include milestones and how they will be measured and reported. We generally discuss the project and I follow-up with a written document later. At this point I also discuss Status Reports, what they will include and frequency (usually monthly, accompanying an invoice) and ask if the client would like me to supplement this formal report.
4. Present a Terms of Reference.
For large projects that involve a large project team, I will often develop a Terms of Reference (or more than one if there are multiple projects within one contract). This incorporates much of the information contained in the proposal but is presented in a format that is more appropriate for a project team rather than decision makers. It breaks down the project more specifically, outlining the objective, assigning a project champion and stakeholders, support required from the client and a work plan.
5. Information gathering.
Unless the project was won in response to a Request for Proposal, much of this information will have been obtained in the lead up to proposal presentation. It’s difficult to craft a meaningful proposal without first understanding your needs! However, in the event that some of it was missed, this is the time to collect:
- Company background (i.e. financial statements, report, organization chart, marketing materials)
- Special considerations or conditions (i.e. security clearances, holiday schedules, accessing client networks)
- Current sensitivities impacting the project, including resistance from stakeholders
6. Discuss conflict resolution procedures.
Our proposals state, “All variables, nuances and refinements cannot practically be addressed at the proposal stage. As such, project success will depend on ongoing and effective communication between [client name] and Omni MCA, candidly discussing expectations, concerns and scope changes in a timely manner. Your total satisfaction with the consulting engagement is our ultimate goal“. This is a good time to emphasize that statement and call for open and honest communication if you are unhappy at any time. It’s much easier to address issues as they occur, than deal with an unhappy client.
7. Understand the client’s billing procedures.
Cash flow is crucial to any business. At Omni MCA we often advise client’s on how to manage it better so of course we follow this practice ourselves. It’s important for us to understand who to send invoices to, what approvals are involved and how often cheques are cut or transfers made. It’s also the time we may collect a deposit cheque as well.
For consultants, the key to a successful engagement, beyond delivering great work, is managing expectations through communication. A successful kick-off meeting addressing these points can go a long way towards ensuring you remain a happy client.