Make project kickoffs a big deal

If you want to be a bad product manager, treat the project kickoff as a formality that gets in the way of starting the project. Just schedule a meeting, review the Gantt chart, and then start working on the first thing on the list. If you can’t find a time when all of the right stakeholders are available, just email notes from the meeting to those who were unable to attend. If there are people on the periphery who might be interested, don’t worry about including them as they’ll eventually find out about the project in due time.

If you want to be a good product manager, build enthusiasm around the project kickoff and carry it through the entire project. Starting a new product development effort is a major milestone and an opportunity to create a shared vision. Setting expectations and establishing a common understanding up front will make the rest of the project much more smooth and successful.

On event: the development kick-off, Bob Corrigan notes:

We celebrate product launches. We stage elaborate meetings at customers for product training. We hold focus groups and beta summits. But do we get the team together at the start of a development process to share the “why” of a release? Do we bring in customers who really need what it is that we’re planning to build, so developers and production teams can see them and hear how their work will change based on what we’re building?

You should be doing these things. Rather than assuming everyone is as intimately aware of the reason for a project, or assuming that they do not need to know, you should make sure there is universal understanding among the team around why you are proceeding with a project.

Release kick-offs are a great time to have your entire team — everyone from the business analyst and user experience designer to the database architect and technical writer — meet real customers, interact with them, ask them questions, and get to learn more about their needs and goals. Make a day out of it. Make a week out of it. Though it might seem like a long time to spend on the start of the project, the more time you invest up front, the fewer problems you will have later and the more the product will be in line with customer needs. For many members of the team, this may be the first and only time they have ever actually interacted with customers. The will remember their experiences from the kick-off and refer to that interaction with customers to guide tactical decision-making throughout the project.

Product management is responsible for understanding the needs and goals of the customers and also making sure that everyone on the product development team understands those needs and goals. Take time to thoroughly review the purpose of the project and ensure that the team understands what work is to be done and agrees with why you are doing it.