Whether you have done a SEKE module or not, you may be wondering how to get started with your external organisation (the client) after you have been assigned to a project or task.
It can be challenging knowing what order to do things in, and keeping a record of progress. This tool will help you prepare for and conduct your initial startup meeting with the external organisation, and so help your project get off to a good start.
The tool is a form of checklist that covers: preparing for the initial meeting, tips for how to run the meeting, and next steps.
The tool is typical of the process that professionals go through when starting a new project. You’ll find that this tool helps with the overall project management process, and building a relationship with the client.
It is important that you are fully prepared for your first meeting with the client.
Be a professional
As well as this checklist, there are a number things you may need to consider when conducting yourself in front of your client.
- Be punctual with your communications and attendance
- Present yourself appropriately
- Demonstrate active listening
- Ask appropriate questions
- Your University may also have a Student Charter or Code of Conduct that addresses some of these points
- Be aware of cultural differences in greetings conventions, both that of face to face meetings and in an online setting
Preparing for the meeting
The first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that you, or your designated team leader, has set up a shared drive such as Google Drive, MS Teams or OneDrive, and created a folder which contains the module checklist (and worksheet templates) .
Next, you’ll want to consider creating a shared calendar amongst your team members, or you can choose to share your personal calendar with each of your team members - whatever works best for your team.
Sending an introductory email to your client is a great thing to do to introduce them to you and your team. Your email should offer dates of availability and a place to host the initial meeting, if face to face. This all shows professionalism and engagement with the project and sets the tone for the initial meeting.
Once you have received a reply from your external collaborator confirming their availability to meet, disseminate this amongst your team and commit it to a calendar invite, ensuring everyone has been included.
Carry out background research
You need to know your client or customers, so you will need to do some background research. For more detail on doing the background research, visit the Researching an Organisation tool. An extract of key points from that tool is below:
Check out the client’s website
Visit the client’s/external collaborator’s website to get a good idea of their values and ethics from their branding, marketing and the organisation’s history. The client may not have a website, so look at the other sources of information, such as social media.
Check out the client’s social media
It’s worth checking the social media accounts of the client and others in their organisation to get some initial insights. Look at both LinkedIn and other social media sites available for the organisation.
There is a whole range of sources you can look at, such as using your university library; where you can find out about the industry, sector, and trends.
Finally, it’s important to demonstrate an understanding of the problem or challenge of the organisation and showing an interest, empathy or understanding can help you or your team to build a good relationship with your client. Clients do expect some basic background research to have been done, in order to get you up to speed with the organisation.
During the meeting
It’s a good idea to have an agenda, to help manage your time. Otherwise there may not be enough time left for important items, such as agreeing the next steps.
Whether the meeting is formal, or informal, introductions are needed, so come ready to say a bit more about yourself than your name, and the course you are doing.
Send the agenda in advance to allow people to prepare. At the start of the meeting, agree and, if needed, adjust the agenda with the client.
After the introductions, a typical sequence might be something like:
- The client introduces the project and gives further background. There is then some discussion, clarification or Q&A.
- Then you can agree or confirm the project aim - this can always be changed later if the client gives you a broad scope and asks you to come back to them with a revised scope or a narrower aim.
- In some cases, you may not feel in a position to ask questions, or may be confused about the project and what is being asked of you. Similarly, clients can often be unsure as to what the students are capable of, and what level of challenge to ask of the students. This is all part of building a relationship, and over time the flow of ideas and information gets better as the client and students get to know more about each other.
- Relay the project aim and key points back to the client: do this verbally or on screen. This shows the client that you have interpreted what the client has said correctly.
- Next, you all need to agree on the actions from the meeting: e.g. what is to be done, who, deadline date. Try to do this at the meeting, so that the team, client and any others present have all agreed to next steps. If you have an online meeting, one option is type up the agreed actions on screen and agree them with everyone at the time.
- The final actions are to agree on the date, time and location of the next meeting, everyone’s availability, and expected outputs. Some clients may want a regular weekly meeting, e.g. every Wednesday 10-11. It’s a good idea to set these up in your diaries, and these can be adjusted if and when necessary.
After the meeting
Thank the client by email and send out the “minutes” within 24 hrs to all attendees. “Minutes” are a brief record of the meeting, and the most important thing (unless you did this at the meeting) is that the actions should be documented, in the form of: what, who, and deadline date.
Next, get together as a team to review the meeting and its outcomes. Pool and share all your notes and pictures into your shared drive, and/or use a tool such as Padlet, What have we learned? What are the priorities we need to focus on? Add the actions from the minutes to your project documentation, such as an action tracker, or list of tasks.
Click the button below to reveal an example of a checklist. Download the checklist as a PDF version or as a Word version. Copy it into a shared drive, and amend it as needed. Your tutor may have already customised this checklist for you.
Now that you have accessed this checklist, you should now feel more confident in knowing what you need to do for the startup meeting, and to start building effective relationships with your external organisation.