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All projects start somewhere. But how you start them can often dictate how the rest of the project or client relationship will run. Run a client project kickoff meeting well and the rest is much more likely to succeed. Run it badly, and you can find a project or relationship going backward before you’ve even started.

This guide will cover how to lead a project kickoff meeting properly so that you and your team members can get the answers you need to complete a successful project. I’ll explain the purpose of a kickoff meeting, why you need to have a “pre-kickoff” meeting, what to cover in the meeting, tips for leading the meeting, what to include in your opening speech, and important questions to ask.

But First, What Is A Project Kickoff Meeting?

A project kickoff meeting is the first meeting between a project team and the client or sponsor of a project when kicking off a new project.

It’ll take place after contracts have been signed and there’s agreement on the statement of work (SoW), project charter, costs, and project timeline, although sometimes with new clients this paperwork may not be finalized. By this point, you’ll likely have started the project planning phase of the project lifecycle.

The client project kickoff meeting is an opportunity to hear from the client and their project team, as well as other key stakeholders, about the project and get a broader understanding of the project background and business drivers that led to the project being initiated, review the project brief, and discuss how to make it a success.

A Note On Scope:

The kickoff meeting shouldn’t be a discussion about project scope. Rather, it’s an opportunity to level set with the project stakeholders and discuss expectations around milestones, rounds of review cycles, and how the approach can be streamlined.

Try and steer it away from being purely about project management – with lots of people in the room, you want to avoid any conversations where you could be pressured into extending the scope of the project.

But before you start thinking about the client project kickoff meeting, make sure you’ve taken the time to have a proper internal project kickoff meeting. It’s also important to have an initial, pre-kickoff meeting with the client before the real client kickoff meeting with the full team.

The Pre-Kickoff Meeting

If at all possible, find an excuse to meet up with the client before the kickoff meeting to catch up with them. This is a simple way to help improve the chances of the project kickoff meeting going well, and make sure that the ‘real’ kickoff meeting with their stakeholders and team is as fruitful and efficient as possible.

In an ideal scenario, you’d do this meeting in person over coffee or lunch but in a pinch, the catch-up can be done by Skype or phone too. The purpose of connecting and meeting with the client before the ‘real’ kickoff meeting is to level-set expectations outside of the context of the potentially much more political ‘real’ kickoff meeting. It’s also an opportunity to:

  • Establish some rapport with your client
  • Communicate essential project and team information
  • Get as much relevant information as possible prior to the kickoff meeting to refine the agenda

The discussion should be focused on how you’re going to work together and as much as possible, set and align expectations.

It’s an important meeting to have so that you can cover off project management aspects of the project without a huge audience of stakeholders who might complicate the discussion!

What Is The Purpose Of The Client Kickoff Meeting?

There are a few purposes to the project kickoff meeting. The main one is getting the project up and running and ensuring clarity on what needs to be done to get things moving. You also need to:

  • Introduce the client and project teams and their roles and responsibilities
  • Make sure everyone understands the project background
  • Make sure everyone agrees on what a successful project looks like
  • Make sure everyone agrees on what teamwork looks like

Essentially you want to get all key stakeholders and attendees, including your own team, on the same page. Read more about the purpose of a kickoff meeting and specific objectives here.

What To Cover In The Meeting (+ Agenda Template)

Once you’ve defined your objectives for the kickoff meeting, work on developing an agenda which allows you to meet those objectives. After your agenda is ready, don’t just sit on it and feel smug. Send it in advance to your client and get feedback, ask them what else they want to discuss, and begin a dialogue on the meeting content before the meeting happens.

When creating a kickoff meeting agenda, keep in mind these basic questions that you’ll want answers to:

  • Why – Why are we doing this project in the first place? What business need does it satisfy? What are the business and user goals?
  • What – What’s the solution or deliverable? What are we going to do or make? What project process are we going to use? What are the requirements?
  • How – How are we going to work together to make the project happen? What’s the communication plan? How will risks, issues, and change management be managed?
  • When – When are we going to do it? What is the timeline?
  • Where/Who – Where is the starting point for kicking things off? Who’s going to do what?

You can download a template agenda and sample agenda for a kickoff meeting here. It’s a bit more structured that simply echoing the questions listed above. Make sure to check out our companion article to the agenda, which goes more in-depth on what you need to cover. Follow along while creating your own agenda.

It’s also a good idea to prepare a presentation slide deck for the kickoff meeting. More on how to do that here!

On-demand Mini Course

Looking for Kickoff Meeting Agenda samples & templates with a video lesson?

In our Project Kickoffs crash course, you learn everything you need to kickoff successful projects. Plus, you can get:

  • Kickoff Checklist
  • Kickoff Agendas
  • Rules of Engagement
  • Email Template
  • Kickoff Meeting Exercises

This template is exclusive to DPM Pro Members!

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What’s Next?

Once the project kickoff meeting is out of the way, you and your team can get started on the project, assuming you also have all the info and assets you need. In some cases, you may need to finalize the project plan and any other project planning activities before moving on to project execution.

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Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and founder of thedigitalprojectmanager.com. I've been in the industry for more than 15 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from film to CMS', games to advertising and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

2 Comments

  • Avatar Dasha says:

    I’d compare a project kickoff meeting to how an orchestra gets tuned before a concert. If a pitch is set wrong, even the simplest song will awry. With a project team, some confusing or clumsy thing said at the beginning of a new project might get the workers discouraged and demotivated. I totally agree with all the “do’s” you described here. In our recent post, we analyzed some “don’ts”. To be more precise – we investigated what phrases workers hate to hear at a kickoff meeting. I thought I’d drop a link because the topic correlates a lot with yours: https://www.wrike.com/blog/02/28/2013/10-Phrases-That-Can-Ruin-Your-Project-Kickoff-Meeting

    Another thing that I wanted to add is the importance of kickoff meetings for _distributed_ teams. I know some cases when team leaders introduced remote workers to new projects in personal conversations, rather than a virtual get-together of the whole team. But I guess getting everyone in sync with the goals and expectations is twice as important if workers are spread all over the globe!

  • Avatar Eric says:

    Thanks for sharing. For Number 5, I find a good project kick-off slide template can go a long way. Here is one I made: https://www.hitdocs.com/project-kickoff-presentation-pptx/

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