I often find that the most undervalued portion of most projects is the kick-off, that time allotted at the very beginning of a project to get the facilitators and client team together. The purpose of this time is to bring everyone up to speed on information about the product/initiative and brief the client team on the process the facilitators will follow.
Unfortunately, rather than a dedicated time for everyone to get in sync and move smoothly into the routine, it generally goes like this: Everyone shows up 5 minutes late, jogs out "for 1 minute" to get some coffee, checks email for 30 min and suddenly your 90 minute kick-off (prep for synchronized swimming) is now a 25 minute turbo-brief (the fast and furious 100 meter freestyle). While it may not doom the project to failure, this kind of behavior can prevent your team from performing at their peak. Here are a few common kick-off planning mistakes and some techniques to prevent them:
Presentations as Preparation: The "kick-off" is simply a presentation about the product/initiative that the team observes, possibly asking clarifying questions. The presenter assumes that simply providing the team with copious information will prepare them for the work that needs to be done.
The Fix: Involve the entire team in the creation and presentation of the information. Have a few team members present different portions of the data. Schedule a few 5-10 minute working sessions during the presentation with exercises that ask the team to use the information being presented to start working on a project related task.
Data over Information: Teams often mistake quantity for quality during the kick-off brief, presenting slide after slide of data without giving context.
The Fix: When pulling together information for a kick-off, focus on what the data says about the life of the consumer, the choices people are making, or the real world.
Skipping the Warm Up: Information presented, dive right into the work! The team is thrust into the work session without any sort of mental warm-up to help them shift from their day-to-day mindset to the mindset necessary to contribute their best material during the work session. Think about how different the actual work of a creative session is compared to everyday tasks:
Generating new ideas vs. reacting to 100 different things every hour.
Working face-to-face in a group vs. working mainly through email.
Offering up new ideas vs. discussing the same thing day in and day out
The Fix: Set up a few practice exercises using topics that have nothing to do with the project or work. This will let the group focus on the exercise and their mindset without the risk of offering up work relevant ideas that will be judged by the group. This will not only help people get into the right mindset, it will also break down some of the social and political barriers that might prevent team members from participating fully. The group will get some experience working together, making it that much easier for them to tackle the project as a team rather than as a bunch of individuals.
These tips, tricks and tools will set you up for an effective kickoff—which in turn leads to a valuable session with richer content.
Greg Cobb is an Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.
Greg Cobb is a Creative Process Designer and Facilitator as well as the creator of Ideas To Go’s Inspire® visual survey platform. Greg has a BA in Sociology from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining Ideas To Go in 2011, Greg led the US consumer division at a leading global market research firm. Facilitating innovation sessions and moderating consumer interviews and groups since 2007, Greg has worked extensively in most consumer categories as well as pharma, B2B, and automotive.