The Kickoff to Success 

Well-executed kickoff meetings are an easy, cost-effective solution to one of the biggest challenges the marketplace faces: miscommunication over contract and scope of work.

By Joe Caruso, PG, M.SAME 

    


 

Delays, unexpected issues and scope miscommunication can often be traced back to a project’s first kickoff meeting.

Don’t believe it? How many times have you been on a project where the client “assumed” that you were going to complete a certain task—even though it was not outlined in the scope of work? How many times have you prepared to begin work in the field only to find that there is an issue with bugs and bunnies or a logistics problem with moving equipment from one point to another? How often have owners and project teams looked past a contract or scope of work that outlines vague activities such as “conduct groundwater sampling at 12 wells” or “excavate a 5-acre site”?

With the demands of aggressive schedules and tight budgets, defense clients and their consultants often talk past each other during early project kickoff meetings, missing a valuable opportunity to identify and resolve potential problems. Without comprehensive upfront coordination and planning, the customer risks having projects significantly over- or under-engineered—leading to increased risk, higher project costs, and extended schedule delays. 

The kickoff meeting is the time to define and communicate consultant and client expectations. A well-executed kickoff meeting could be the difference between a successful, quality project that leads to future work and a project fraught with problems that leads to strained relationships. 

 

Carlsbad Desalinzation Plant

Carlsbad Desalination Plant, under construction in Carlsbad, Calif. PHOTO BY KLEINFELDER


 

A QUALITY KICKOFF

The most important element of any well-executed kickoff meeting is participation and conversation. It is imperative to encourage widespread attendance.  Some kickoff meetings include representatives ranging from the fire department to executive administrators for a seemingly simple environmental cleanup. Invite everyone who is in any way connected to the project. This includes field leads, all stakeholders, project managers and subcontractors. The more that attend, the better chance you have to minimize risk. Remember, it is better to have a three-hour kick off meeting than endure relationship and profit damaging schedule delays and budget overruns.

Once at the meeting, encourage everyone to ask questions. A kickoff meeting should be an open dialogue, not just a quick summary of what the consultant is going to do.  It should be a discussion. Take the opportunity to define the scope and how it will be achieved in greater detail and seek out potential problems. You will realize the benefits immediately.

 


Without comprehensive upfront coordination and planning, the customer risks having projects significantly over- or under-engineered—leading to increased risk, higher project costs, and extended schedule delays. 


  

SCOPE OF WORK

On one recent project, our team was tasked with excavating a contaminated site and to haul the materials to another location. The excavation subcontractor attended the kickoff meeting and fortunately asked a question about truck staging areas near the site. As it turned out, the base had not considered the need for haul trucks to get to and from the site via a 1-mi long, one-lane dirt road in a timely manner to meet the compressed schedule. By asking the question, the subcontractor was able to have the group look at the site map for possible resolution. As a team, we were able to locate a turnout large enough to accommodate end dump trucks on the side of the haul road that could be used as a passing lane, resolving a potential scheduling issue. 

On another environmental cleanup project, the scope of work did not call for biological monitoring. However, at the kickoff meeting one attendee noted that the site is known for a particular species of nesting birds. Any biological monitoring requires pre-field observations by a professional biologist. Since we caught this in the kick off meeting, we had the opportunity to procure a subcontract for a biologist and still meet the protocols and expectations of the initial project scope of work and schedule.

Had this not been brought up in the meeting, the entire project would have been delayed at least a month. This not only would have impacted the schedule of deliverables, but adversely affect the budget as well.

 

TALKING SUCCESS

Understanding stakeholder expectations with regard to project progress reports is crucial to a successfully executed project. 

At the project kickoff meeting, find out your client’s preferred way for routine communications (emails, voicemail, text messages, written reports) and how often they want to be updated. Some clients do not want or need to hear anything as long as everything is on schedule, within scope, and on budget. Others want weekly updates about all three elements. It also is a good time to set up a system for recordkeeping to store all scope, schedule and budget conversations and documentation throughout the project. 

 


Had this not been brought up in the meeting, the entire project would have been delayed at least a month. This not only would have impacted the schedule of deliverables, but adversely affect the budget as well.


 

Finally, follow up the project kickoff meeting with precise and accurate kickoff meeting minutes that cover all questions and answers. It is important to get concurrence on the kickoff meeting minutes from your client to assure that you are all on the same page.   

A well-executed project kickoff meeting is one of the easiest, cost-effective ways to avoid problems during a project. As the adage goes: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. In our world, a few hours of time upfront is worth months of headaches later on.

Take the necessary steps to minimize risks down the road—invite everyone to the meeting, encourage open dialogue, and distribute comprehensive minutes to all attendees. You and your clients will realize the benefits and increase the chances of a successful, quality project, establishing the foundation for a long-term working relationship.

   


 

Joe Caruso, PG., M.SAME, is Project Manager, Kleinfelder. He can be reached at 619-694-5502, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..