A project kick-off. How to save time and increase success of software development projects?

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For whom is this post? If you are a Founder, who wants to understand the first crucial steps of product design to later save their resources in the process – this content is for you. If you are a Project Owner both on the product development team and customer side, you obviously need to coordinate the software development process smoothly. And be prepared for any challenges specifically in the project and – let’s face it – in reporting and communication with your board or other superiors. This content is also for You. Check out how we help in Inwedo our customers’ priorities.

What will you learn from this article? Some table of contents

  1. What are the most common pains from a Founder’s perspective?
  2. What exactly is kick-off in software product development and why it should be a must-do.
  3. What are the benefits of implementing project kick-off procedures into your product development process steps?
  4. How to design the kick-off process, step by step.
  5. A Project Owner’s kick-off checklist of potential problems and how to solve them.
  6. Tips from our team on handling potential problems. 

What are the most common pains of software development from a Founder’s and Project Owner’s perspective?

Let’s have a quick look at what we have learned throughout the years of listening to our customers:

  • TIME → do I have enough time to get involved in the process?
  • RESOURCES → will everything go as planned – time and money-wise? Am I sure I will not run low on resources? 
  • KNOW-HOW → do I have enough knowledge to work with a software house, to verify what they tell me? To make informed decisions about their recommendations? 
  • SECURITY → I heard so many stories of projects going wrong, my experience is also varied – how will I know this time everything will be ok?

 

So how can we make sure that your goals are met?

We have identified a few critical points:

  • Workshops organizing the process of development – so the whole process is agreed upon and clear for both sides.
  • A project kick-off – the role of this step is especially important in the product development process, as Krzysztof stressed at the beginning. Why? Because it gives us the space to have planned touchpoints between the development team and the customer. This allows us to share information on product development and knowledge, which in turn gives us predictability, so welcome by both sides. 
  • Good communication so customers understand, feel informed, and secure.

Last, but not least, a project kick-off allows the PO and QA person to take responsibility for software development and co-create the product. This gives the customer a sense of security, a buffer protecting the Founder’s time, and positively influences the quality of the whole development experience – both of the product and service.

OK, we have already told you quite a bit about why kick-off is important, but do you actually know what it is about?

What is a project kick-off?

In most simple terms – it is the starting point of the software development project. It’s the first time the team has a meeting with the client, when important decisions are made that will influence the direction of the project. In terms of goals, the aim is clarity and a shared understanding amongst team members. 

 

What are the benefits of such an approach?

According to Krzysztof Karolczak, Founder & Head of Growth at Inwedo, a well-designed kick-off will minimize risks and uncertainty, which are bound to appear:

chris-karolczak-inwedo-explain-how-can-project-kick-off-save-the-money

Software development is an iterative process –it is important not only to know where we are going, but also where we begin. Spending time to figure out the starting point is probably the single most important thing to minimize uncertainty. At Inwedo, we have a culture of asking questions and challenging each other to always think about a broader context. We want to be sure all important issues are answered and addressed.

But there is more to kick-off, as Marta Walasek, Head of Projects at Inwedo explains:

A Kickoff in fact is an investment. If as a Founder you make the decision to start co-operation with a software house, the better the process of product development is described at the beginning, the better results we will have with cost optimization. In other words – money will not go down the drain and we will not burn the project’s resources. That is why an IT project needs to have priority in the organization for a while.

The role of a project kick-off in the software development process

Why spend time and energy on adding another element to the software development process? Because a well-designed kick-off will structure knowledge and provide a smooth transition from the sales to the development team. A kick-off is also the first moment when the team responsible for developing the project will sit together to talk about the whole product context over. We will meet the customer’s team also for the first time, give each other a chance to understand one another, and develop a good relationship. 

But there is more to kick-off. Communication-wise, it gives a chance for effectiveness. This is when we agree on what meetings will look like and who will be responsible for the particular stages. For the team on the customer’s side, it is a perfect moment to tell the developers more about their product than during their meetings with the sales team or the starting workshop, which at Inwedo we call discovery. A kick-off is also the first time EVERYONE involved in the project will start. 

 

A tip for all, who plans to work this way (including a kick-off with the customer’s team) 

I can say from my experience, that customers often do not realize how much time the project will consume and find it difficult to accurately assess how long their co-workers need to be involved. That’s why I think that a kick-off is also a good opportunity to carefully calculate these resources. The customer will have a clear answer: how much time will I need to devote to this project personally? What about my team?”

Marta Walasek, Head of Projects at Inwedo

 

How do we do it at Inwedo?

We have a strong culture of asking questions. The list of what we want to know MIGHT seem very long at the kick-off stage. However – our Product Owners have mastered the ability to navigate through the checklist efficiently, to make sure we gather as much information as possible within one single kick-off meeting. Often they will be detailed and require gathering additional intel from various people in the customer’s organization, even if they are not directly involved in the software development process but have practical knowledge.

It would be a good idea for the customer to prepare their team and explain what the process will look like. But we never leave the customer alone with questions. Both PO and QA have time and the possibility of taking over this process.

Tip for Founders: what will speed up product development, optimize costs, and minimize the risk of mistakes? 

Always have only one decision-maker on your side. This will definitely shorten the decision process. 

 

The kick-off meeting, step by step  

kick-off-gives-us-an-opportunity-to-understand-the-client-perspective-so-whats-why-we-organize-an-internal-kick-off-first
In Inwedo we try to understand the client perspective and then create a software development process.

#1 Agreement & other formalities – PO and sales team

This is a step to make sure all legal and formal grounds are prepared before the team starts actual work. It is important to have order in the project, so there will be a source to turn to in case of doubts.

WHY: To set the formalities straight before actual work begins.

WHAT TO EXPECT: a checklist of important questions, like:

  • Who will be the Project Owner and who should act as her/his proxy? 
  • Is the agreement signed and accessible to the PO? 
  • Who is on the team?
  • What is the timetable and where can I find it? 
  • What is the form of cooperation between the software house and the client? 
  • What is the budget (hourly, fixed fee in agreement)? 
  • What is the scope of work and where can I find it?

There are also less obvious issues that should be settled, which if answered now will save a lot of time later, like e.g. will there be an acceptance report signed? Is it formalized? What are the agreements on technical documentation? Will onsite visits to the customer’s office be required? And many more….

TIPS for Project Owners: include questions from team members, especially those concerning areas for improvement which were noticed in other projects. 

 

#2 Internal kick-off meeting – development team and sales. Lead: PO

A meeting during which we take a closer look at the client’s context. The team meets for the first time in order to share their knowledge about the project and organize their work around it. This knowledge is often “dispersed” before the meeting. The PO knows a lot, so does the Sales Team as well as other team members who attended workshops (for example UX). But there surely will be people for whom parts of this knowledge will be new, so at this stage, it is worth consolidating what is known, so everyone has the same picture.

WHY? So the team is prepared to meet the customer and be on one-page with all the details.

WHAT TO EXPECT: answering questions like:

  • Where is the project description available for the team?
  • Is the project background clear to everyone? 
  • What are the customer’s profile and business model? 
  • What problem led to this project? 
  • Who are the key people on the customer’s side and their contact data? 
  • What do we want to achieve and where exactly are we now?
  • Who are the stakeholders (users, audience, investors)? 
  • What are the criteria of success and how will we measure them?

 

TIPS for Project Owners: You can prepare a “good-to-know” list, to quiz your team if their knowledge about the project is complete and unified. This is also a good opportunity to help your team grow. Ask them at the beginning of the project what personal goals they plan to achieve while working on this project and check if they are possible to obtain. 

 

#3 UX/UI design, also part of an internal kick-off – development team & sales. Lead: UX 

WHY? Because the UX/UI design takes an app. 20-40% of the product development process and is tightly intertwined with other parts of the project. This is a crucial part of the development process, as UX/UI design is in fact what users see of software products. It has a direct impact on the user’s experience and therefore success of the project. Doing this right from the beginning may save a lot of time and misunderstandings in later iterations.

WHAT TO EXPECT: agreeing internally on issues like:

  • Where do we keep the updated versions of mockups? 
  • Does the customer have their own style guides or are we to prepare it?
  • How many hours of UX/UI design are contracted?
  • What does the team expect from UX/UI design?

TIPS for Project Owners: consider using product development software tools when working with the customer. There is a bunch out there, tools our teams find useful are i.e. Figma or Zeplin. You can also read more here:

3 tools to help map and improve processes in your company.

#4 Organisation of the project, continuation of internal kick-off – development team. Lead: Technical Lead

WHY? To set the IT environment of the project.

WHAT TO EXPECT: These are just a few of the issues we address during our kick-offs:

  • How are we going to manage our backlog?
  • How do we describe tasks, the definition of done, the definition of read? Where will we find this information?
  • What tools are we going to use and need to be installed?
  • Do we support mobile? If so, which system versions?
  • What coding standards will we follow in this project? Where will we keep them? How will we update them? Who will be responsible for this?

Our list covers close to 50 points. We believe that proper planning and preparation will save time and stress during the implementation phase.

TIPS for Project Owners: only when you have done your homework well on organizing the project are you ready to meet the customer for a session of kick-off. This is also a good moment to agree on a sprint schedule (dates, time and length) and also the first scope and goal of the first sprint. 

 

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This is a part of our project road map written in Asana. Source: Inwedo.

#5 ToDos Post Internal Kick-off Meeting

WHY? This may be also seen as the actual laying of foundations of the project. We go from planning and agreeing to do. 

WHAT TO EXPECT: this is the moment to:

  • create a project in your task management software – we use JIRA
  • establish channels of communication (eg. Slack, Mattermost)
  • invite the team on the client’s side
  • create your rep
  • set a date for kick-off meeting with the customer.

TIPS for Founders: This is a part that will set the first meeting. As a Founder, you can also have an internal kick-off meeting on your side, to prepare for the first time both sides will sit together. Think of your expectations, questions, must-haves and also what you want to avoid.

 

Want to know more about how to use specific tools to increase efficiency in your project?

Read our blog post “4 examples of problem-oriented software solutions“.

 

#6 Kick-off with the customer – PO, dev team & Customer                                                                  

WHY? To introduce the team, the way of working in the project, and to verify if anything has changed in the business environment. Check the client’s expectations.                                                                                                                                              

WHAT TO EXPECT: Apart from your agenda, be prepared for a Q&A session with the customer. A good idea would be to prepare a short presentation explaining the work-flow. Below is a general example of how Inwedo organizes work in their software project development:

how-we-manage-the-whole-process-of-softwa-develeopment-in-agile
Agile software development process in one picture. Source: www.inwedo.com.

 

Don’t forget to go through steps like:

  • the meaning of iteration and the length of sprints
  • user stories, epics and backlog
  • timetable and roadmap
  • criteria of success and how to measure it
  • meetings and their role – daily, planning, refinement, review, demo

TIPS for Project Owners: Explain also the roles of particular team members and their area of responsibility. You can ask the same of your client. This is a good moment to ask the customer to share their doubts, talk about risk, and provide feedback. Don’t forget to agree on reports – how often they should be sent and what they should contain. 

 

#7 ToDos Post Kick-off Meeting

WHY? To make sure all sides have the same understanding. 

WHAT TO EXPECT: This is a standard procedure, with elements like:

  • sending notes after the meeting with the client
  • preparing a summary of key-points
  • starting Sprint #1 on your project management tool

TIPS for Project Owners: We recommend to check one more time if you are good to go and have everything configured with all accesses granted. 

And TIPS for Founders: ask your Team Lead to share with you their summary of the meeting and critical points to follow in the course of the next steps.

 

#8 1st/2nd sprint check [PO]

WHY? Because a well prepared Project Owner should run a check if everything is ready to go.

WHAT TO EXPECT: make a checklist:

  • feedback from client after 1st and 2nd sprint
  • 1st retrospective – should anything be changed in the project’s organization?
  • cross-check the personal goals in your team, – should any issues be addressed?

TIPS for Project Owners: set a reminder in your calendar to check in 2 weeks 😉 

However, even with the most detailed plan and thoroughly prepared checklists, the longer and more complex the software development project, the more problems we can stumble upon. 

 

Potential problems & possible solutions – a Project Owner’s kick-off checklist

Here is a distilled list of the most common challenges Project Owners face and what you can do to avoid them.

Project challenges Kick-off best practices
A crucial moment: passing the project from the sales department to the project team. It is very likely that the project team will have questions, because most probably they need more data and details than the sales team, to fulfill their role. Sometimes doubts may arise at the start of the project, even if it is well described. In other words – the risk of delay appears on the horizon.

1.Discovery workshops or regular workshops, which should show the complexity of the project. This is a pre-start for every new software development venture. At Inwedo, a discovery workshop is a must before we start because software products are too complex to develop only on the basis of a brief. A workshop gives us the necessary insights to make recommendations. When we launch a project, we need an in depth analysis to specify:

2.Is the starting point FOR SURE well set? Our teams have a list of app. 100 questions, which help pin-point bottlenecks and are very helpful in setting the starting point correctly. They also show that we don’t have all the answers from the start, so we need to calculate various risks that may appear. This in turn means:

3.Preparing a roadmap which should reveal those risks. This gives us an opportunity to find the bottlenecks, deepen questions and prepare possible ways to react.

During the project elements appear, which were not supposed to. The complexity of the software development process reveals areas we could not predict. A list of repeated questions that reveals bottlenecks and allows us to build a roadmap of risks.

Also, we check our list of priorities and together with the customer we can think about how to rearrange it. Is the new element so important that we should immediately add it to the roadmap? Or perhaps can it wait? How will this change affect our earlier planned scope of work? We take a look at the sprints planned, so we can also make necessary amendments.

It is common that project development takes more time than was assumed, that more iterations are needed which directly influences costs. Dependencies appear that could not be foreseen earlier, which arise during the product design process. A project kick-off allows us to notice certain dependencies and structure them into a plan. These elements can be i.e. taking into account what markets the product will be launched on so that the specific nature of the environment will be included in the planning process.

Kickoff can also be seen as a guide on our journey of product development: thanks to knowledge gathered during this stage we have a strong reference point to which we can turn if we want to check what goals and possibilities lie ahead of us. When necessary, we can change plans, which is much easier than correcting mistakes. Besides, all parties are on board.

Another example is the precise planning of payment methods for e-commerce. The specific nature of the market may also influence the sequence of actions.

 

Wrap up

As Atspoke points, according to a 2017 report from the Project Management Institute (PMI), 14 percent of IT projects fail. However, that number only represents the total failures. Of the projects that didn’t fail outright, 31 percent didn’t meet their goals, 43 percent exceeded their initial budgets, and 49 percent were late.

Project-Management-Institute-revealed-that-only-half-of-responders-have-a-formal-process-for-transferring-knowledge-in-project
Project Management Institute also revealed that only 46 % of responders have a formal process for transferring knowledge from one part of the organization to another (known as “knowledge transfer”). Source: PMI.

To minimize failure and maximize the chances to meet product development goals, a project kick-off should be an integral part of the creation. Founders will feel more secure, teams will know what to do and Project Owners will have better control of the process.