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How to Make Your Next Kick-off Meeting a Huge Success

Great Big Guide to a Fabulous Project Kick-off Meeting

It’s the start of your Project. A great way to set the tone – and to get work done – is to host a Kick-off Meeting.

A Project Kick-off Meeting is one of those things that is easy to do… and hard to do well. On the face of it, all you need to do is gather your team, and conduct a meeting. Simple.

But what are you going to talk about? And how will you facilitate it? These questions are important, and they are what this article will address.

The Three Lives of a Project Kick-off Meeting

Project kick-off meetings are a vital part of the Project Definition stage of your project. They have three lives:

  1. Before the meeting
  2. During the meeting
  3. After the meeting

If you want to get it right, you must attend to all three.

Great Big Guide to a Fabulous Project Kick-off Meeting

Great Big Guide to a Fabulous Project Kick-off Meeting

Before Your Project Kick-off Meeting

You create the foundation for a successful kick-off meeting at preparation stage. It goes without saying, I hope, that you need to schedule it, find a venue, and invite your team along, But perhaps not so obvious is the need to consider carefully the questions when, where, and who. If you get these spot on, it can make a big difference. Yet getting any of these elements wrong can start your whole project off adversely.

The next step is to plan how you will conduct the meeting. What are the components of your agenda that are most important? And how will you conduct the meeting at each point, to get the best outcomes? It is always wise to mix up different formats and styles. So for example, you may have a short presentation covering context, and a facilitated discussion about objectives. You may want to have a whiteboard session to brainstorm risks, and a round robin for everyone to contribute their ideas about key success factors.

Prepare in detail by talking to people in advance. And make sure that, if there are some people attending whom you don’t know, you learn their names and a little about each of them. And don’t forget to prepare the vital little details, like equipment in the room, and refreshments.

During Your Project Kick-off Meeting

Remember that project management consists of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ skills. So, here, again, it helps to think of your project kick-off meeting itself as having three distinct phases:

  1. The opening
  2. The substance of the meeting
  3. The close

Opening Your Project Kick-off Meeting

The purpose of this stage is simple: to get everyone comfortable and ready to contribute. It is a big mistake to rush into ‘the business’ and neglect the social aspects of a meeting. People are social animals. So set a side time for welcoming and introducing team members. You can do this while people are collecting and settling down with their refreshments.

As well as feeling welcome and getting to know one-another, there is one other critical element of this stage of your kick-off meeting. People need to know why they are here, and what  is going on. Set out the context of the project in general and the meeting on particular. This may be an ideal role for your project sponsor, director, or client.

The Substance of Your Project Kick-off Meeting

Now everyone os ready to participate, you can get into the substance of your meeting. There is so much you could do here. So this is why your planning stage was so crucial If you try to do everything you could do, your meeting will be long, rambling, unfocused, and exhausting for your team. If you have selected your priorities, and planned how you will handle each, then you are ready.

Your role at the meeting is to facilitate the process and be 100 per cent present for everyone. Often this means asking other people to take on specific roles, so you have the time and mental bandwidth to listen, think, and respond to what is going on n the room. If you try to take notes, organise refreshments, work the AV technology and a load of other vital but easily shareable tasks, you limit your ability to do what is most important for you to do.

And, by ‘what is most important for you to do.’ I mean:

  • Building relationships with your team
  • Spotting issues and reflecting them
  • Ensuring the meeting stays on topic
  • … yet being flexible to adapt to important shifts
  • Achieving what you need, by the end

The checklist you can download below contains a list of the things to consider for the substance of your kick-off meeting. They split into two broad categories:

  1. Making progress on your Project
    These are things like defining scope, identifying risk, or thinking about stakeholders.
  2. Setting up Team Practices
    These are things that define the processes, introduce the tools, or set the expectations that your team will work to.

Closing Your Project Kick-off Meeting

So, you’ve done the stuff and your meeting is coming to an end. What now.

Close your kick-off meeting with as much style as you opened it:

  • Offer to answer any outstanding questions
  • Sign-post what people can expect next
  • And, critically, than them for their attendance and participation

After Your Project Kick-off Meeting

If you have had a good Project Kick-off Meeting, there will be plenty to do afterwards. And, if you have not; there will arguably be even more to do!

I’ll leave the rescue scenario to another time. Instead, let’s focus on following up a good meeting.

First things first. Always follow-up with a genuine, and motivating, thank-you note. After that, the most important thing you can do is to do whatever you said you would do in the meeting to follow-up. And this is not just about good meeting etiquette. It is about setting the tone and culture for your whole project.

Always follow-up your #Project meetings with a genuine, and motivating, thank-you note. Click To Tweet

You may need to follow-up one-to-one with some people, or just send out some essential materials. But I do have one absolutely ‘top-tip’ for how to send out a large amount of meeting notes in a way that will get people to actually read them, and in a way they will have a big impact. if you sign-up for the Project Kick-off Meeting Checklist below, I will give you that tip in an email.

What are Your Tips for a Great Project Kick-off Meeting?

Share your ideas in the comments below.

Creating a Robust Project Definition

Kick-off meetings are one part of your Project definition stage. You may like our Project Manager’s Project Definition Kit – an innovative course and resource kit, so you can take a jumble of ideas, needs, and requests and turn it into a well-defined project.

About the Author Mike Clayton

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 13 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.

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