Welcome to part two of the Aidpreneur.com training on the kickoff meeting for RFAs, RFPs and RFQs. In this section will be discussing the essential information you need to cover with your client in the kickoff meeting. I will be covering five main topics: the scope of your work, your work plan, the resources you will use to deliver the work, financials and administration.
First, I always like to start the kickoff meeting with the discussion of the scope of work. This offers you the opportunity to “tell the story” of what the work will accomplish and how your technical solution is designed to accomplish it. While your client staff will be very familiar with your technical solution (and if they’re not, make sure you absolutely take the time to ensure they are), two things I make sure to spend sufficient time on our assumptions and the specific deliverables. Every project is designed in a vacuum. Because of this, the technical solution in the work plan are built around a number of assumptions ranging from the availability of logistical necessities to the ultimate political stability of the area you’ll be working in, and everything in between. It’s a good idea to discuss these assumptions with your client at the outset, and what will happen to the project if one or more of the assumptions proves to be untrue.
Here’s an example from our work over at ISG. We perform evaluations as a large part of our portfolio. Usually, these evaluations require travel to the place where the project is being implemented so that our evaluators can gather information, conduct interviews and see the project action. Recently, I was a part of the field team of evaluators that was on a two country trip. We first stopped in the Maldives to perform data collection and then we were supposed to move on to Indonesia. However, while we were in the Maldives, a hurricane hit Indonesia and we were unable to perform our data collection because of security concerns. Our evaluation was built on the assumption that we would be able to visit each of the countries and perform in person data collection. Because this wouldn’t be the case, we had to immediately renegotiate with our client about how we would collect data from that country, or if we would perform a different trip, or some other scenario.
When it comes to discussing specific deliverables, I always make sure that I have a clear understanding of what needs to be done to satisfy the client. If you’re building an infrastructure project, or delivering a technology, your deliverables may be a little bit more simple to define. However, a huge chunk of the work done in development and humanitarian aid revolve around capacity building work, or training, or some other type of intangible. In these cases it’s in your interest to make sure that you remove as much ambiguity as possible about what successful delivery looks like and how you show that you’ve achieved the objectives you stated in your proposal. These discussions can get fairly tedious scratch that and I encourage you to get an extra pot of coffee to make sure you get this part of your project correct. It’s very easy during these meetings, because everyone is so busy, to have a blurry definition of the deliverable. While this may be okay for a short time in your project, I can almost guarantee they will ultimately come back to bite you as you look to achieve milestones.
The second essential area to cover in your kickoff meeting is your work plan. At this stage of the game, everyone around the table should be fairly comfortable with the general parameters of the work plan. The kickoff meeting is the time to look at the nuances of your delivery schedule. I like to focus on two particular aspects related to realism: pace and logistics. By pace, I mean that you should take a step back and really truly consider whether or not you and your team are able to deliver at the pace suggested by your workplan. As I’ve mentioned in other trainings here Aidpreneur, it’s been our experience at ISG that a client normally takes the position that this project you’re working on is the most important one, and it should be delivered yesterday. Because of this intense time pressure from the client-side, I’ve often seen individuals and companies agreed to timing that is simply unrealistic and would require their staff or partners to work abnormal hours, burn the candle at both ends or hire extra resources. Make sure that you create the expectation with your client that you will deliver the work professionally, and in a timely manner but at a pace that won’t break the bank or your neck. The second area of your work plan you must consider during your kickoff meeting are the logistical realities of the calendar. A typical sales cycle for development or aid program runs between 3 to 6 months. By the time that you are sitting at the negotiation table, almost half a year has passed since you originally put pen to paper. Because of this you need to look at the calendar for simple things such as vacations and holidays, major events and just the availability of the resources you promised to bring forth for delivering the project. For example, much of ISG’s work in our early days was based in the Middle East. This meant that we always had to be conscious of the timing of Ramadan, because it’s very hard to get work done during this time. This was made all the more complicated because Ramadan moves from year-to-year. Another example that’s coming up as I record this training is the World Cup. For much of the world, this is the pinnacle sporting event and, when their team is on television, you can pretty much bet that nothing will get done. As such, it’s in your interest to make sure you design the timing of your program to take into account these types of events.
A third area to cover during the kickoff meeting are your resources, and by resources I mean your staff, your consultants, your partners and any other resource you need to bring to bear in order to deliver your project. You need to confirm their availability. Internally, you also need to confirm a number of things with your resources so there’s no confusion with your client. These include: who is responsible for what, the timing of deliverables and how the logistics work – especially travel, for things such as accommodations, airfare and per diem allowances.
The fourth area you want to make sure to cover during your kickoff meeting are your financials. By the time you’ve reached the kickoff meeting you’re not talking about budget negotiations anymore, but rather the practical day-to-day necessities of how financials actually work. For example: how does invoicing work? Is there a specific format, have you provided your banking information, and what is the required supporting documentation for reimbursable expenses? Another key piece to have clear with your client are the milestones that are attached to your payments (and, as described above, how the successful achievement of those milestones will be recognized). The final area to consider is your financial leeway. In my experience, budgets are exercises in irreality. No budget is ever 100% correct, and more often than not they’re usually substantially incorrect. What you need to know from your client is how you are able to shuffle money within your budget and what you need approval for. Internally, you also should consider what happens if you run out of money, but this is a section on contingency planning that I’ll cover in the next training.
The fifth and final area that you absolutely must cover in the kickoff meeting deals with administration. Specifically there are three areas you should consider: communication expectations, approvals and official contacts. Communication is your most powerful tool as a project manager. In my experience, being a good communicator has made all the difference when it comes to foreseeing problems, resolving issues and ultimately getting that good reference we all are looking for. You should discuss you to your client what their requirements are for official reporting about your project – what types of information are required, what format they would like it in, how often you need to report and how it should be delivered: via email, through a conference call, in person or some other format. You should also try to tease out if there’s an expectation for nonofficial reporting. This really is something you need to fill out based upon your relationship with your client and your understanding of how hands-off they would like to be. The second area to understand are the approvals you’ll need from your client. These can be for changing staff, changing budget line items, adjusting your deliverables or any number of other things. In my experience, it’s always a great policy to have that if you are unsure of whether or not you need approval, go get it. Unlike other parts of your life, it’s rarely a good idea to ask for permission from your client after you’ve already or made an action. (The caveat here is that you also need to learn how to be a proactive project manager, et al. discuss that in the next section). Finally, you can’t leave the kickoff meeting without an understanding of who the official contacts are for the project. This is supercritical, especially if you have a number of staff, consultants and partners working on a project with you. Everyone on the project should have a clear understanding of who can communicate with the client and who should not. Over at ISG, we’ve had a few unfortunate experiences where clients have overstepped their bounds and interface directly with the client inappropriately. While even always been able to assuage these situations because we maintain a good working relationship with our clients, it has costs quite a few man days and not a little bit of heartache.
While making sure you cover these five areas at a minimum is essential in your kickoff meeting, there are also a number of best practices you can use to make sure that you are in the driver seat from the very beginning of your contract. This is the focus of the next training in the series. Thank you for watching this session on the kickoff meeting for RFAs, RFPs and RFQs. Aidpreneur. Remember if you have any questions at all please contact us at training@Aidpreneur.com.