Chapter Four – The Kick-off Meeting

1.1    The Budget Looks Good

According to the Our Company’s ISPO-2000 procedures, the entire Senior Management team was required to approve the Project Plan.  A Project Kick-off Meeting was convened.  For if you accept the notion that the Project Plan is the first breath of life for a newborn project, the Project Kick-off Meeting is the first opportunity for the trained professionals on the Senior Management Team to count its fingers and toes and pronounce it fit for a life-cycle.

“The budget looks good,” said the VP of Finance at the kick-off meeting.  He knew the budget was hopelessly inadequate but he didn’t want the GM to find out that Sue low-balled the bid in order to make a car payment.  The VP of Finance could easily slide expenses incurred this year over into the following year if necessary.  As long as the company continued to grow, even a little bit, it was relatively simple to create the impression that it was also profitable.  The plan to sell out or go public in a few years was looking mighty good.  It might just be time to issue more stock options to the Senior Management Team.

“The schedule looks good,” said the VP of Operations at the kick-off meeting.   He hadn’t read the Project Plan but he had two guys sitting around on overhead and he needed to keep the factory busy.

The Manager of Human Resources wasn’t invited to the meeting but the conference room was being painted so they were using her office.  She pretended to study the Project Plan but she no idea what she was looking at.   She returned to her knitting and started to snooze.

Bid Review

“Can you win this one for the team, Jimmy?” asked J.F. Goodhair.

“Yes, sir,” said the Project Manager.  “But it will be tight.  I’ll need the best people we have.”

“No problem, Jimmy,” said J.F.  “Since the last layoff, all we have left are the best people.  Is there anything else?”

“I’ll need the full support of everyone on the Senior Management Team.”

“That goes without saying, Jimmy,” chided the V.P. of Finance.

And thus did the age-old dance between senior management and project management begin.  The Project Manager never managed to extract an actual commitment of support from senior management.  After all, senior managers don’t get to be senior managers by accepting responsibility for stuff.  The V.P. of Operations assured the Project Manager that the best people available would indeed be assigned to the project.  That’s a pretty big loophole since the best available people usually need to be syphoned from the muddy bottom of the personnel pool.  Additionally, the V.P. of Finance assured the Project Manager that their commitment for support did not even require a discussion.  “What the heck is that supposed to mean?” thought Jimmy.  Why there was more tap-dancing going on in that room than you’d see in a twelve-hour Fred Astaire movie marathon.

On the other hand, Jimmy McCrusty didn’t make much of a commitment to senior management.  Project managers don’t survive long as project managers by accepting responsibility for stuff either.   Jimmy McCrusty never said that the Garden Shed Project could not be done.  After all, why should management bother keeping someone around who has that kind of loser attitude?  On the other hand, the seasoned project manager will never stand up and proclaim that a project can definitely be completed on time and within budget.  That would be lying.  What the seasoned project manager will do instead is state the conditions under which a project could be completed successfully knowing it’s highly unlikely that Bill and Monica will be getting back together anytime soon.

Figure 4‑2 – Sorry to lose you, Peggy

Did you spot the subtle difference between the responses of these two Project Managers?  Peggy told the truth and said that the project couldn’t be done.  Peggy is now unemployed.  We’re not even going to bother showing you her company badge or making up a last name for her.  It’s almost as if she never existed.  Now Jimmy, on the other hand, made no commitment either way and the General Manager stopped listening after the first condition for success.   Jimmy McCrusty will live to fight another day.