Business, Columns

Back To Work, Part 4: Tips For The Kick-Off Meeting

meeting with a large group

This is Part 4 of a series.

Welcome to Part 4 of my several-part series on getting back to work. In this series, I’m offering reminders for, tips on and thoughts about each of the seven stages of a project. I hope to make this a worthwhile read by bringing something to the forefront that you either didn’t know or long ago forgot.

This month, we’ll be covering the kick-off meeting. I’ve been to many, many kick-off meetings—some better than others. (The worst is when they don’t even happen!) First, I’m going to get into some of the general requirements for a good kick-off meeting. Then, I’ll delve into some of the nuances that can arise depending on how your company does its engineering.
The kick-off meeting is where the account manager hands off the project to the assigned team. It’s when the project moves from a pre-sales status to a post-sales status. It’s when the team is made aware of any updates or changes to the project, including changes to the original sales documentation.

Preparing Project Assets

One of the greatest frustrations during the kick-off meeting can be whether documents, pictures and the like are readily available and updated for all to see. Believe it or not, the kick-off meeting lead is sometimes not prepared for the meeting. I won’t name any names, but I’ve personally heard, “I thought the pictures were in the folder. Someone must have moved them.” I’ve also heard, “Sorry…I was busy. I forgot to upload from my laptop.” Be prepared and be respectful of others’ time!

That leads to my next pet peeve, and it involves the project folder. I cannot even begin to tell you how many issues there are. The location of the folder, what’s in it, how it’s labeled, whether it has been updated—the list goes on. This is where I say, “Keep it simple!”

Easily Accessible

Many separate out—and often even have different dedicated drives for—pre-sales and post-sales project folders. Many have others handle the folder creation and the moving of content to the appropriate location for them. Often, problems go unnoticed until you’re all in the meeting, you go to the folder where all the relevant documentation should be, and there are no pictures. (Alternatively, when you open the folder to view the proposal, the account manager might say, “That’s the old one!”) As the engineer, this is very frustrating, to say the least. So, to repeat: Be prepared and be respectful of others’ time!

Also, be wary of using dedicated software for your proposals, which might entail having necessary permissions to view and/or access folders. Often, they’re difficult to access and problematic to navigate and update, despite the fact that all the software manufacturers tout theirs as the best and easiest to use. Personally, I’ve never come across one of these programs that entirely did what it said it would do. Just remember that many different folks have to access the folder to get current information and/or work on the project. If you must use dedicated software, make sure everyone has the necessary permission to access the files.

Picking Personnel

Moving on! So, who should be in the kick-off meeting? Of course, different companies have different styles of work. To me, however, these are the parties that must be involved: the account manager, the sales engineer (either dedicated for the duration of the project or just pre-sales), the project engineer, accounting, shipping, the project manager, a dedicated programmer, IT, the lead installer, lighting and the operations manager.

This meeting is where the rubber meets the road. As much as possible must be hashed out before things go astray and cause disruption and delay, leading to stress and a reduction in profit on the backend. Remember: Do it right the first time! This is a very important step, and everyone must attend!

Communication Is Key

Are you quibbling with some of the people on my “must” list? For example, are you asking, “Why does shipping need to be there?” Great question! Let’s say you’re planning to use a particular equipment rack in each of 20 classrooms. All was good when it was priced, but months have passed. Now, it turns out there is a three-month delay due to some unforeseen manufacturing problem with that particular rack. Shipping was informed, but never got around to spreading the news. So, the problem could go unnoticed if a representative from shipping wasn’t there!

If shipping does attend the kick-off meeting, however, as soon as the team goes over the bill of materials (BOM), shipping can bring up the fact that the rack won’t be available for at least three months and a replacement will be needed. Believe me that you don’t want to find this out a few months down the road or, even worse, when you’re getting ready for the install! To be clear: Something like that shouldn’t slip through the cracks in the first place. But having shipping there for the kick-off meeting is just another precaution to prevent mishaps. Shipping can also detail other issues with manufacturers represented on the BOM that might not have been disclosed.

Varying Processes

Last, but not least, let’s talk about challenges emerging from how companies do their engineering. Many firms now have two engineers—one dedicated to pre-sales and one dedicated to post-sales (i.e., the project engineer). Other firms have one engineer carry the project from beginning to end.

I’ve found the pre-sales-engineer model problematic. Whether the pre-sales engineer reports to the sales manager or the engineering manager, the problem is typically the same: His or her job is to design the project to 85 percent and then move on to another, and another, and another, thus keeping the proposals moving. Unfortunately, this leads to errors and omissions. As a result, you don’t typically receive a project at 85 percent completion; often, it’s far less. Sometimes, it’s cut and pasted from another job—with equipment that’s not even made anymore!

Building Rapport

Sometimes, the pressure from sales is very intense, so I don’t blame the pre-sales engineer who feels it necessary to take shortcuts. The solution here—what has worked for me, at least—is to develop a good relationship with the pre-sales engineer. That way, when you find discrepancies, he or she will be willing to backtrack and work with you if you need input on the changes that often have to be made. In lay terms, take the pre-sales engineer out to lunch…and respect his or her time, recognizing the crunch he or she is experiencing!

By contrast, if you’re the engineer on the project from the start, be prepared for the meeting, but don’t be cocky, as if you know it all. Practice humility and kindness. Listen to all the other team members’ concerns, think before you speak and work together to try to get it right the first time.

Five Simple Steps

I can assure you that following these simple steps will help ensure project success:

  1. Knowing where everything is
  2. Verifying before the meeting that all current documentation is in the folder
  3. Ensuring everyone has access to the folder
  4. Making sure permissions are given
  5. Ensuring team collaboration among all parties

The keyword is “success.” Later in this series, I will discuss what that word means for us as an industry and as individuals.

To all, stay safe! Let me know if you have any questions, comments or stories you would like to share. Please email me at dkleeger@testa.com.

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S&C august 2021 digital edition
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