9 Questions to Ask at Project Kickoff

Seasoned instructional designers know projects can get derailed for a variety of reasons, such as changes in scope, unstable content, and shifting deadlines, to name a few. However, some obstacles can be detected early by simply collecting the proper information at the beginning of a project. Use, and expand upon, this checklist during project kickoff to ensure you have the information you need to identify—and mitigate—potential obstacles in the project before they mushroom out of control.  
  1. What is driving this project?
Before you can ensure a project is a success, you first need to identify critical success factors, as defined by your project stakeholders. To do that, ask discovery questions that drill down to the business purpose of the training. Furthermore, find out if this project you’ve been assigned to fits in a larger picture that is spanning multiple initiatives across the organization, and—if so—how you can collaborate with other teams to ensure you’re preparing messages for your learners that are consistent with messages they will be getting elsewhere. The driving force behind your project should also clue you in to what is driving your project deadline, and whether you have flexibility there.  
  1. What do learners need to do differently to fill the gap?
Most projects are created out of necessity. Someone, at some point, identified a gap big enough to warrant a solution, and so a training project was born. However, unless you know what the training should be designed to do, the training—in and of itself—will not close the gap. A project kickoff, or a subject-matter expert (SME) interview shortly after, is an appropriate time to drill down to what learners need to accomplish through this training. What specific attitudes, knowledge and skills need would help close this gap? What does that look like in the context of learners’ jobs? What resources are available to help them today, and what about them is not working well? If you can envision the ideal state first, you will be in a better place to design training that helps learners get there.  
  1. What are the learning audience’s design and delivery needs?
Discuss the training formats and methods that have worked well in the past for this learning audience. First, who are the primary and secondary audiences? How much time do they have available for this training? What are they sacrificing to attend training, and what impact does that have on the business? How can that risk be mitigated? What are their current abilities in this area? What technology and tools can they use to access the training? What performance support do they need?  
  1. What learning assets are in scope?
Most project kickoffs are centered around this one question, so you are probably in good enough shape here. If not, you could ask how many learning assets are needed, what their estimated training times are, and how these estimates were determined.  
  1. What is the preferred training development approach?
Some clients prefer a linear development approach, while others thrive when working more iteratively. Identify the approach at kickoff. Remember to note any learning asset types (e.g. video) that require a prototype before developing all learning assets of that type (and, sadly, discovering they missed the mark). Also collect any templates, project-specific style guides, or visual asset libraries that need to be used. Finally, determine how long stakeholders and SMEs need for each review, and who has the final say for each learning asset.  
  1. Where is the training content coming from?
Even the most instructionally sound training program can be compromised if the training content itself is in jeopardy. As a result, during a project kickoff, you must identify the state of the content. For instance, where is the content coming from? Can existing materials be leveraged? How likely is the content to change (e.g. due to new regulations, policies and procedures, changes in technology), and how will those changes be handled? Furthermore, what evidence suggests this content will help address the organizational pain points that are driving this project? What SMEs will be involved, and who will provide “one voice feedback” to ensure conflicting opinions or inconsistencies in messaging are resolved?  
  1. What technology and tools are available to learners (and facilitators, if applicable)?
Whether you are developing classroom or online training, learning technology is nearly always part of the equation. Get a feel for what technology and tools learners—and, if applicable, their facilitators—have available. You should collect end-user specifications, identify the learning management system (LMS) to be used, and ask whether the course needs to meet compliance requirements (e.g. ADA, 508). You should also identify any limitations regarding file size, interactivity, audio, and video streaming.  
  1. Who is on the project, and what are their roles?
The key players on a project generally attend the kickoff meeting, but often secondary stakeholders and SMEs (or perhaps the Legal department) check-in later in the project—and that often causes hiccups. Identify during the kickoff everyone who has the potential to sway the project and determine when to involve them. Generally speaking, if the person has enough sway to trigger large changes in the design or the content, they should be involved early in the project. You should also identify when the team will meet, how often, preferred contact methods and availability hours for team members, and who will serve as your primary point of contact.  
  1. Are we on the right path?
After collecting the above information, or as big red flags go up during the meeting, take a moment to ask, “Given what we have discussed so far, do you still feel we are on the right path?” It is important to sanity check the project in the beginning because information collected via the questions above can raise concerns or other solutions that may be a better fit than what is currently in scope.

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