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

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

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.

Or is it?

There is a lot you could achieve at you Project Kick-off and your first task is to determine your priorities:

  • What do you need to achieve?
  • Which tasks will you focus on?
  • What topics are you going to talk about?
  • Which aspects of Project Management will you kick-off?
  • And how will you facilitate your meeting?

These questions are important, and they are what this article will address.

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

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 of them.

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
  • invite your team along

Where, When, Who… and Why?

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.

So, before you think about where, when, and who, start with ‘why?’ That is, what is the purpose of your meeting?

Yes, I know it is to kick-off your project. But what are the things that really matter in kicking-off this project?

You Cannot Do Everything in One Meeting

We can easily make a long-list of things you could achieve at your project kick-off. But there is no way you could achieve all of them. Examples include:

  • familiarization/orientation
  • risk management
  • stakeholder identification
  • team-building
  • ideas generation
  • team-working
  • scoping
  • planning
  • and so on…

But there is no way you can do all of this. You need to prioritise and determine what is most important. That will help you find the right time, place, and attendance.

However, because it is a project kick-off meeting, your default here should be to invite your whole team (at the time).

Stakeholder or No Stakeholders at Your Project Kick-off Meeting?

This is an important question. The presence of stakeholders from outside of your project team will change the nature and dynamic of your project kick-off.

They turn the attention to the users of what you will be delivering and therefore the ‘what’ of your project, rather than the ‘how’.

Both approaches work well, but you must make an informed choice of which you want. Of course, there is no rule that says you cannot have one of each – with very different agendas.

However, that throws up another question: which order?

  1. Team Kick-off meeting first allows you to introduce the project to the team and the team to one another. That will help the team prepare for the stakeholders’ kick-off meeting and make the best use of the time.
  2. Stakeholder Kick-off meeting first will place the focus on them and then allow you to use what you all learn at that meeting as valuable input to your project team kick-off.

The Reason for Your Project Kick-off: Special Circumstances

Sometimes a project kick-off is just a project kick-off. But, sometimes, there are special circumstances that make it doubly important you get it right.

Two specific examples are taking over a project from another Project Manager and turning around a failing project. If your project fits one of these cases, do take a look at our detailed articles:

How

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.

Preparing for Your Project Kick-off: Valuable Skills

Here are some useful resources to review before your Kick-off meeting, to sharpen your skill-set:

During Your Project Kick-off Meeting

Big fleas have little fleas upon their backs to bite ’em;
And little fleas have lesser fleas,
And so on, ad infinitum.

Augustus De Morgan, from his book A Budget of Paradoxes, 1872,

Once 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. You have two primary objectives in opening your meeting:

  1. Creating a social link to and between the people who are present
  2. Establishing why we are all here

It is a big mistake to rush into ‘the business’ and neglect the social aspects of a meeting. People are social animals. So set aside time for welcoming and introducing team members. You can do this while people are collecting and settling down with their refreshments.

The Reason Why

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 is 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 in Leading Your Kick-off Meeting

Your role at the meeting is to facilitate the process and be 100 percent 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 in the room.

If you try to take notes, organize 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.7
  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.

The Substance of Your Project Kick-off: Specific PM Topics

In our checklist, you’ll find ideas for some of the real work you may want to do at your kick-off meeting. For many of these things, we have specific articles that will help prepare you. They will remind you of the basics of that discipline

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
  • Signpost what people can expect next
  • And, critically, thank 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.

Thank you

First things first. Always follow-up with a genuine, and motivating, thank-you note.

Follow-up

After your thank-you, 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.

Crucially, you do need to hold people to their commitments. We have two videos that can really help you with this:

  1. Meeting Actions: How to get People to do Them
  2. How to Get People to Do What You Ask Them to Do?

Communicate

Your project kick-off meeting is, first and foremost, an exercise in communication. So do not squander any good will you built up at the meeting. Afterwards, communicate out any valuable information to the people who can benefit from it. This includes:

  • your sponsor, client, or boss
  • the Project Board or Steering Group
  • your stakeholders (those who were not there)

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.

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

Share your ideas in the comments below.

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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 14 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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