Whether the next project you are involved in is slated to last a single week or multiple years, there is little doubt that the tone and pace of the project is set when the groups involved meet for the first time as a team. This kickoff meeting is the time when introductions are made, questions are asked, and initial plans are set. Once all of these details are hammered out and we know who is going to be doing what, we can finally begin working on our project, hooray!
But what happens if the kickoff meeting isn’t a positive, collaborative information sharing meeting? In the distribution world, we have been through enough kickoff meetings (both good and bad) that we began noting some of the situations that negatively impacted the project. The intent of this post is to bring to light some of the issues that can negatively affect your kickoff meeting by identifying them and helping you remedy them.
The Kickoff of the Kickoff
What is the first thing that a third party consultant team is greeted with when they arrive on site for a new project? The front desk of course! While we would never complain about signing the guest book and donning name tags (rules are rules), we would like to get the ball rolling as soon as we can. It is a good feeling to finally meet the person you have been communicating with, through phone calls or e-mails, in person. What happens when that wait goes from a few minutes to 15 or 30? Wasted time can give the appearance that the project is not a top priority. Obviously, things do come up last minute and there is no need to push other obligations to the wayside. Instead, have a second member of the team start the kickoff process so there isn’t too much unnecessary downtime. Of course this applies to the consultant team as well – the project sponsor would have a hard time justifying their expenditures if the third party team members were the ones showing up late or being ill prepared. If you think you will be running late (travel mishaps do happen), be sure to pull that cell phone out and give your contact a call. Punctuality is an attribute that can derail a meeting before it has (technically) started.
Now that we have the whole team together, let’s get this meeting started! Choose project team members carefully. You should include all of the people that are going to be involved with and affected by the project. There have been far too many times when we have sat across from a single person during kickoff meetings, which can cause problems because this meeting is the perfect opportunity for everyone involved to learn about the process and ask any questions they may have. How can the initial goals and expectations for the project be set in the meeting if the entire team isn’t in attendance? More importantly, how can these goals be achieved without buy-in from those involved? With both sides of the project team present, the necessary information and answers can be acquired quickly and with little opportunity for communication mix-ups. For kickoff, attendance should be more inclusive. For subsequent meetings, invite attendees on an as needed basis.
We know how you feel during the meeting “Alright, sounds good. Let’s do this!” The thought of changes and improvements can be exciting, but there is an important part of these meetings that was mentioned before – questions. What do you think about our methods? How about our deliverables? Silence can be cause for alarm. It is important for the project team to have as much information as possible and all be on the same page to ensure success. If there is no buy-in or support from the management team, there won’t be support from the workers on the floor either. If we make suggestions for improvements (moving pallet stacks, reslotting, etc.), it should not take weeks to implement because agreement around the value of these improvements has been agreed upon during kickoff. Ask questions about why, we are more than happy to answer them. We want you to feel comfortable with our work so that we can make our recommendations with the confidence that they will be implemented, if not at least considered. As always, the same expectations on your team apply to the consultant team. No one has all the answers before the project has even started, so there should be questions from the consultant team. It is a red flag if your consultants don’t ask you about the particulars of your warehouse/situation, as you are the people that know it the best!
Learn with Us
Kickoff meetings are crucial to setting the tone of the project, as the ‘minor’ issues with the meeting can lead to major consequences for the project. Be sure to start the project off right and everyone can (usually) learn something new. Just as we will be learning about your warehouse/office/site’s processes and operations, we also want you to learn how we look at problems and offer solutions. Right from the beginning, that extra bit of effort to have everyone involved, asking questions, and bought-in can create a sustainable operational improvement process for your supervisory and management teams. Never be afraid to ask “Why?,” as the methods we use to look at operations and processes can be used by everyone to better assess how their business is being run.