The Power of Powerful Beginnings

Anyone who has worked with me will tell you, “Gretchen loves a good, meaty kickoff.” In fact, I love kickoffs so much, I have an internal team kickoff and a client kickoff.

I’ve always known the importance of a clear, powerful start of a project in my gut, but Daniel Pink shares fascinating (yes, I am a geek) research in When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing that explains why. He says, “Beginnings have a far greater impact than most of us understand. Beginnings, in fact, can matter to the end.”

You can read the book to see all the ins and outs of the research, but he boils it down to three principles: Start right. Start together. Start again. Here’s my spin on each and how it shows up in our work at Hartke Designs.

Start right. Our team kickoffs ensure we all:

  • Understand the project and the expectations around quality,
  • Are comfortable with the timeline,
  • Have considered potential risks and determined, together, what we can do from the start to mitigate, and
  • Have established clear communication protocols with one another and how we’re going to communicate with the client team.

Our client kickoffs include all the stuff above, and a little more… We talk about opportunities.

I usually start by asking, “If this project is successful, what does that look like on the other end?” This question elicits the stuff you’d expect… “that people learn what we’re trying to teach,” and  “employees behaviors are different in “these specific ways…”

But, then we dive deeper and ask, “What does this mean for you, personally.” That’s when we hear things like, “I know, if we succeed here, it means a likely promotion for me.” and “My bosses’ neck is on the line. If we don’t pull this off, I am not sure she is safe.”

It’s that last part where sh*t gets real. And that is what I want my team to know we are working for…

Start together. In most cases we have our whole project team in on the client kickoff (most attending virtually). I’ve noticed a lot of companies only include the account and project managers, but I am a big believer in having my whole team (developers, too!) in on the conversation. I think this is important for two reasons.

First, I want the client to see that it’s a whole team of people working for them and the success of their project. One of our principles is that we are people working for people.

Second, and most importantly, I want my teams to hear first hand from the client what’s critically important for making their project successful. This becomes important down stream in the project when our project managers are working with the team to implement change requests. I want my whole team to understand the context in which we’re working and why the heck it matters.

Start again. Often we are brought in when a larger initiative is already inflight. So, from the client’s perspective, they’ve already kicked off. Because of this, they don’t always see a benefit to having a kickoff. To them, understandably, it just feels like another meeting–groan.

In these instances, we still try to have a meeting where we cover the same things, but we just call it something like, “the learning workstream launch.” Or, we add the critical path agenda items to an existing meeting. It does not really matter what we call it, it matters that we get alignment.

And, in some cases, even if a project has been going for awhile, sometimes to have a mid-point or new phase kickoff, can help re-energize a project.

The Brothers Grimm were on to something. Once upon a time…



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