Are you curious about perfecting the project kickoff meeting so that you ensure the success of your project? Then, you've come to the right place!
New projects sometimes don't start on the right foot because you dive directly into the project without understanding the project's goals and objectives. Or, maybe you haven't aligned everyone on what's in scope versus what's out of scope, resulting in scope creep in the later stages of the project. Or, maybe you don't have a rapport with the client or stakeholders yet, which results in mistrust.
There are a variety of reasons why your project isn't successful. However, the project kickoff meeting is an opportunity to level-set all stakeholders on the project's purpose. Whether the project is an external client-facing project or an internal project, it is critical to ensuring success and that you meet the intended goals and objectives.
What exactly should you cover, and how should you prepare for the meeting in such a way that everyone will assume you've been doing this stuff for years?
Here is a step-by-step guide on running a first-class project kickoff meeting that will impress your team and the stakeholders. It will also demonstrate your experience and commitment to the project.
Below is everything we will cover. Feel free to skip ahead.
- What is a project kickoff meeting?
- Types of project kickoff meetings
- Why do you need a project kickoff meeting?
- Example meeting structure
- Typical attendees
- The perfect project kickoff meeting length
- Planning the meeting
- Conducting the meeting
- Follow up with action items
- Meeting minutes
- Project documentation
- Project kickoff meeting do's and don'ts
What is a project kickoff meeting?
The project kickoff meeting is the first formal meeting that happens within a project. There may be informal meetings leading up to a project kickoff. However, it is the kickoff that indicates the official start of a new project.
This kickoff meeting happens in the first phase of a project, sometimes called the project initiation or project launch.
It's often the first time a project team and a project manager will get together in a formal meeting. There may be other attendees too, and we'll cover that in more detail later in this guide.
Types of project kickoff meetings
Different project methodologies (for example, PRINCE2, Waterfall, Agile) have kickoff meetings. Here are the most common meeting formats.
More established project management methodologies such as Waterfall and PRINCE2 will follow a project kickoff meeting's traditional format.
Since these methodologies are sequential, the project kickoff typically sits at the very start of the project. This happens after the project manager has done the initial planning but before any work begins.
Agile is non-sequential and Agile projects are iterative. Each Agile project has multiple discrete production phases, each with its planning and definition.
There will be a new project kickoff meeting at each new phase of a project in Agile projects.
Client meetings versus internal meetings
A project kickoff will also include the project manager and the most senior members of the project team. Sometimes, it will also include stakeholders.
These stakeholders might be internal to an organization. A Finance Director or Operations Director are good examples of internal people who sit outside of a project but have input.
Project stakeholders can also be external. They might be third-party contractors, suppliers, or customers.
It's common for internal stakeholders to attend a kickoff meeting for small or in-house projects. However, if the project has external parties, it's often sensible to have two separate project kickoffs, one internal and one external.
Separating the two meetings allows a project team to be more open and honest about the risks and issues. It is easier for the team to do this in the absence of the presence of the customer.
Why do you need a project kickoff meeting?
Project kickoffs are fundamental to a well-run project. Here are some of the main reasons why:
- They allow the project to be openly communicated to the full team right before any work starts
- They help ensure every team member has the same understanding of the project requirements and deliverables
- They are an opportunity for the team to meet in person and begin to build a relationship
- They are an opportunity to iron out any issues or risks which may stop the project from launching
- They signify the official launch phase of a project
- When clients and other stakeholders are part of these meetings, it helps build confidence in the project and what the team are doing
Never skip the project kickoff meeting if you want a project to succeed. Even if you are short on time or budget, a quick meeting is better than none at all.
Example meeting structure
Here is what a typical project kickoff meeting includes:
- Meeting purpose
- Introductions and the project roles of the attendees
- Project success criteria
- The project plan
- Key milestone dates
- Next project steps
- Follow up actions
You can use this structure to create a broad agenda for the meeting. Don't forget to add the agenda items that are relevant to your specific project.
A typical project kickoff meeting will usually include:
- The executive sponsor
- The project manager or program manager
- The technical lead
- The working team members or senior team members depending on the size of the project
- Key third parties: contractors, consultants, lawyers, bankers, suppliers (optional)
- Internal stakeholders such as department heads (optional)
- Customers (optional)
Aim to keep the attendee numbers to under twenty.
If you invite too many people, it is unlikely that all attendees will have the opportunity to input into the project. Where a project is large, opt for one representative from each team area.
The perfect project kickoff meeting length
On small projects, you can complete kickoff meetings in only 10-15 minutes. For most projects, you'll want to allow for 1-2 hours or even longer for complex projects.
For large projects or where attendees have far to travel, you might want to consider an all day working session for a project kickoff meeting.
In these circumstances, try and plan for spin-off meetings on some of the more technical topics. Getting specialists together to debate specific issues is more productive than in a larger get-together.
By doing that, you'll avoid having a full-day meeting that involves large numbers of people, which are often unproductive.
Planning the meeting
It usually falls to the project manager to plan the project kickoff meeting. Here are some of the arrangements you'll need to plan to help you run the project efficiently.
As early as you can in a project, look at who needs to attend a project kickoff. You should split the list into two: mandatory attendees and optional attendees.
Scheduling a time and date
If you have senior stakeholders or team members, you might find it takes several weeks to agree on a time and date that all your mandatory attendees can make.
If it isn't possible because of prior commitments or vacations, ask if each has a representative or deputy who can attend in their place. Send out invites via email and track acceptances and declines so you can move the meeting date if needed.
Deciding on the location
If you have the budget, it's often worth going off-site for a project kickoff.
That stops attendees from getting pulled into urgent in-house work and having to leave the meeting. It also gives the team more opportunity to connect and talk.
Writing the meeting agenda
It's worth getting input from other team members when writing your project kickoff agenda. There may be critical issues or questions they want to raise in the meeting.
Always send out the agenda in advance of the meeting.
If you have people dialing into the meeting remotely, plan the meeting technology you'll need. If you can, test the technology in advance of the meeting, especially if you are running the meeting off-site.
Conducting the meeting
The project kickoff meeting is a cornerstone of a project, and you only have one opportunity to get it right. Here are some guidelines on how to properly conduct the session.
Don't forget introductions
Likely, the project team hasn't met before. Even when the team members have met, they might be unfamiliar with the project role that person has.
Spend time introducing people and explaining how that person will be involved in the project. Specify what their specific role or title is within the project if they have one.
If you're conducting an all day working sessions, you can do a team building activity to help motivate and inspire the team.
Stick to the time
People are busy. Respect their time by keeping to the scheduled meeting time. Assign yourself or someone else to be the meeting timekeeper, and move on with the agenda if the team spends too much time on a particular topic.
Long meetings on complex topics take energy. Make sure you add in plenty of refreshment breaks for the team. It will help everyone stayed focused and engaged.
Ask all attendees for their input
Sometimes, the quietest meeting attendee is the person with the most insightful input. Take time during the meeting to go around the room and give each person a chance to speak.
Assign a notetaker
You must note down any important point or decision raised during a meeting. These will become your meeting minutes later on, and the information will also be useful for your project documentation.
Following up with action items
One or two days after the meeting, take the time to follow up with attendees and thank them for their input.
That is also an opportunity to ask people if they have anything important to add that they might have forgotten about during the meeting or not have the chance to say.
Turn your meeting notes into formal meeting minutes soon after the project kickoff. Doing this within a few days will ensure the information is still fresh in your mind and help your notes stay accurate.
Sometimes, it's worth reviewing the minutes with other team members before you distribute them. That helps ensure the points are accurate and thorough.
Sometimes technical detail might need clarifying before adding to minutes, but never add or change decisions in the minutes from what was discussed and agreed in the meeting.
All meeting minutes form part of the documentation of a project.
What if the team makes any decisions during the meeting? You will need to transfer these decisions into the relevant project documentation, such as the project brief or the project plan.
Likewise, you must transfer problems or risks raised during a project kickoff meeting to the issues and risk register.
If critical points from the meeting need sign-off from stakeholders, the project manager must raise these separately. Never rely on stakeholders implicitly agreeing to something simply because it was in the minutes.
Project kickoff meeting do's and don'ts
A good project kickoff can demonstrate project leadership and set a strong impression for a project team. Here is how to make sure these kickoff meetings work for your project and not against them.
Do send out information in advance.
If you have project documentation that you'll be covering in the meeting, send this out in advance to give your attendees time to review it. Don't present it for the first time during the project kickoff. That wastes everyone's valuable time.
Don't ignore difficult stakeholders.
Sometimes, a project will have difficult stakeholders with objections to the project approach. Involving these people by inviting them to project kickoff is the best way to get them on board.
Do the fun stuff too.
A project team might have to work together for weeks or months at a time. Relationships are critical to the success of the work management of any project.
Take time to build a strong team rapport at the start of a project kickoff and keep the tone friendly and upbeat.
Don't make assumptions.
Assumptions are lethal in a project. When you conduct a project kickoff, ask people what they know about the project. Don't assume people are aware of what you are doing or agree with it.
Do encourage people to air their concerns.
Never brush issues under the carpet. The project kickoff is ideal for people to speak openly about reservations or 'red flags' they spot on a project.
Create a project culture that invites and rewards this honesty and this level of critique, and you'll have a more successful project when it is complete.
Don't take things personally.
Projects are often political. If your project planning is criticized during a kickoff meeting, there may be many good reasons for that criticism.
It is vital you are open to new ideas and new ways of looking at your plan following a project kickoff meeting, even if it means going back to the drawing board.
Do communicate outside of the project kickoff meeting.
If your team only hears about a project for the first time when they receive an invitation to a project kickoff, then your communication has failed somewhere.
Don't wait until a meeting to communicate. Ongoing discussions with your project team before and after a project kickoff are crucial to how effectively your team works together.
Getting project kickoff launches right
Project kickoffs might be just an innocent-looking meeting, but how well they go can set the course for the rest of your project.
It is worth planning your project kickoff meeting well. Help make sure the meeting time is as effective and professional as possible. Do this, and it will help bring respect to the rest of the project that lies ahead.
If you are new to project management or want to improve your project management skills, browse through our best practices on project management now and use these to guide your upcoming project to a memorable success.