Management

Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Success

11 Jun, 2014 By: Robert Green

Establish ground rules and responsibilities before a project begins to minimize managerial challenges along the way.


© iStockphoto.com/33ft
© iStockphoto.com/33ft

In the past three editions of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I've focused on how technical trends such as portable computing devices and cloud software services have changed how CAD managers and users do our jobs. In fact, the degree of change I've observed in the last few years is staggering.

What amazes me, though, is how many CAD managers have become so wrapped up in new technology challenges that they've forgotten about an old-fashioned secret weapon that can tip the managerial balance back in our favor: the project kickoff meeting. In this edition of the CAD Manager's Newsletter, I'll focus on how you can use this classic technique in new ways to help manage tough new challenges in your environment. Here goes.

Too Busy to Be Organized? It seems as if everyone is so busy running around trying to execute projects that few of us take the time to get those projects started correctly — a mistake that can cost us as projects get rolling. There's an old axiom that asks, "Why do we have time to do things twice, but not right the first time?" Perhaps you've even asked yourself this question! The project kickoff meeting helps you do things right the first time, and I submit that the need for project kickoff coordination today is far greater than it ever has been.

It used to be that our CAD tools were a given and the main challenge of any project was getting everyone to agree on project standards. Now we have to think about much more, such as:

  • remote offices,
  • traveling and mobile workers,
  • cloud-based IT issues,
  • file format issues for viewers, and more.

Simply put, a lot more variables are involved today in executing a CAD project than there were just a few years ago, so starting out organized is more crucial than ever. Put another way, the price we'll pay for being disorganized is now much higher than it was just a few years ago.

Project Kickoff Defined

Whether the project kickoff meeting is conducted by a project manager (with you attending as the CAD manager) or whether you run the kickoff meeting, your goal is still the same — to understand how the project will work from a CAD point of view. Whenever I attend a kickoff meeting, I always strive to get answers to the following questions by the end of the meeting:

  • What are the CAD deliverables? Which software will be used and which version? Will a filing structure (parts to assemblies, building information modeling (BIM) discipline coordination strategies, xrefs to master drawings) be used? Which 2D geometry and plotting formats will be used (DWG, DGN, PDF, hard copy, etc.)? How will we track who has which file version?
  • Which CAD tools will be used for this project? For the most part, the deliverables defined will dictate the tools used on the project.
  • What is the timeline? When are deliverables due, and to whom?
  • Who's on the team? Who is involved in producing the deliverables in your company and the client's company (if applicable)? Will everyone on the internal team have the same project manager? Will all parties at the client company have the same project manager? In other words, will everyone be on the same page or is there potential for managerial confusion?
  • Who's in charge? Should things go wrong or need updating, who will do that?
  • What is the role of the CAD manager?

By pursuing these lines of questioning, I'm trying to establish not just technical ground rules for the project, but clear organizational and time ground rules as well. I need to know what must be done, but I also need to know who sets the rules as the project unfolds.

In addition to addressing these questions, I insist on a kickoff meeting to get everybody thinking about the project before the work starts. Why? Because in the long run, a project generally will progress more quickly and easily if it's organized from the start than it is if you try to organize as you go. Once people start the work, it can be hard to pull them back.

 

Your Leverage

Don't conclude the meeting until everyone is in agreement as to how the project will be conducted. At this point, you have a very powerful piece of leverage in your possession: managerial approval! Now anyone who tries to deviate from project procedures is not just making your CAD management job tougher, they are actually trying to rewrite management's approved approach for the project — thus potentially compromising deadlines or causing unforeseen technical issues.

Following are a few examples of how team members might digress from project rules. When dealing with such cases, you'll want to restate the project standards as defined at the kickoff meeting and point out that the team member is deviating from them.

Problem 1. Engineer A wants to use the a new iPad app we'll call CADCloud 1.0 to edit project electrical DWG files, even though the project instructions clearly state that AutoCAD Electrical is the software required for client deliverables.

Explain: We don't know that changes made in CADCloud 1.0 will be compatible with our component databases in AutoCAD Electrical, nor do we know what the filing format is from a version control standpoint.

Problem 2. Architect B wants to use his personal Dropbox folder to share BIM files with other branch offices even though project instructions clearly state that all work files must be stored on secure company servers.

Explain: We should never have project data floating around on unsecured personal accounts — ever! This creates a danger of exposing client information, for which we could be held financially liable.

Problem 3. Project manager C is in a hurry to get something sent to a contractor and instructs the CAD personnel to "forget doing this in BIM — just do it in AutoCAD so we can get it done now," even though other project team members are designing exclusively in BIM tools.

Explain: While the desire to get things done quickly is understandable, bypassing our BIM tools can open the door to coordination problems and simple errors that would otherwise be caught in a coordinated BIM environment.

I think you can see my approach: Use the agreed-upon project standards derived in the kickoff meeting to keep your project on track and your project tools consistent.

Summing Up

As technology and tools change, you might feel powerless to control it all. However, by using a project kickoff meeting framework to agree on tools and methods early on, you'll establish the authority needed to reduce project variables and risks.

So, remember the secret weapon — the project kickoff meeting — and use it for every significant project you start. Until next time.


About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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Comments

Re: Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Su...
by: cmwade77
on:
June 11, 2014 - 1:45pm
A good set of CAD Standards and strong IT policies should eliminate most, if not all of these issues. For example, by using Remote Desktops we are able to have one single set of CAD files for all offices. This also solves remote and mobile users. This also lets us ensure that all CAD systems are up to date and running on the same version. Our CAD Standards specify what file format everything is saved in. Our IT policies state that no software is to be used without being first tested by the IT Manager (in our company that is also me, the CAD Manager), but this eliminates can I use this product without prior testing? The answer is no, I need time to test and make sure it is compatible. I am not saying a kickoff meeting isn't a good idea, although in our company that would be impractical for every project, we honestly wouldn't get anything else done especially on weeks that we have 10 or 15 projects starting.
 
Re: Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Su...
by: jmaeding
on:
June 11, 2014 - 1:47pm
I agree on the kickoff idea, its just that on medium to large projects, there are many efforts starting and ending, and once teams get in a groove, they don't need to be walked through procedures again. Then someone, or a whole team, gets put on the project who is not in the groove. Then things get missed. Bottlenecking everyone through some doc mgmt. system has not proven profitable for us, so you cannot use that to lock people out that do not know standards. The overall problem is a robust policing system is not in place. That is probably because we don't know what needs policing at a given moment. Some decent standards checking tools would be of use, things that would help with folder structure and base file naming.
 
Re: Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Su...
by: jmaeding
on:
June 11, 2014 - 1:53pm
CMWade: "A good set of CAD Standards and strong IT policies should eliminate most, if not all of these issues." Yes, if they are followed and if your users understand why the standards are there. Things like base file setup and so on do not have one solution for every project. Users have choices that all fall within standards. Once files are set up and xreffed everywhere, you cannot easily change things so rely on people to get things right from the start.
 
Re: Project Kickoff Meeting: Your Secret Weapon for Su...
by: mikepo
on:
June 11, 2014 - 2:31pm
Very timely article! I couldn't agree with you more. This is ESPECIALLY important when trying to use a client's CAD standards, as I have been made painfully aware of the last few months.
 
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