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Complete Guide to Project Kickoffs + Starting Projects Right

By 22/02/2021 10 Comments

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New projects can sometimes start off a bit wonky because we dive straight into the project without getting to know the client or truly understanding some of the tacit, latent, and informal requirements which might not have been recorded, but without which we don’t fully understand what needs to be done to succeed.

The project kickoff is an opportunity to establish common goals and the purpose in completing the work, whether the project is an external project or an internal one. A kickoff is critical when starting any project, whether complex and multi-faceted or simple and straightforward. Fundamentally, it’s about alignment.

This guide, along with the other articles in our series, will help you navigate the various parts, processes, and aspects. You can find the other articles here:

What Is A Project Kickoff?

The project kickoff is part of the project initiation phase of the project lifecycle. It’s a critical project management activity that involves preparing the team members and the client team on expectations, communication, and collaboration for the project.

It informs the project planning phase of the project, and also allows your team and the client to iron out and finalize details such as project timeline, project management methodology, success measurement, and more.

Most kickoffs require a series of meetings, both internal and client-side. If your project doesn’t have a client, kickoffs are still necessary and should involve all project stakeholders and project sponsors.

You probably know about client kickoff meetings (which we’ll cover later in this article). They’re pretty ubiquitous. But what about internal kickoff meetings?

Internal Project Kickoffs (A.K.A Team Member Kickoffs)

You might think of an internal project kickoff meeting as being a quick 10-minute chat with the internal team in the meeting room just before the client walks in. If you’ve been managing projects for a while, you’ll know that this is not an ideal scenario.

The purpose of an internal project kickoff is to bring the project team up to speed and properly prepare them for the official kickoff meeting with the client. As the project manager, your job is to educate them, bring the team together, set expectations for the project, and ensure a clear understanding of the project among all team members (and yourself!).

There’s a lot that goes into an internal project kickoff meeting. You’ll need to prepare an agenda, gather information and details about both the client and the project, and put together some initial thoughts on collaboration, communication, teamwork, and more for the team to discuss.

Read our full guide to internal project kickoffs (and download our internal project kickoff meeting agenda template) here!

Once you’ve got the internal kickoff out of the way, the client project kickoff meeting is next.

The Project Kickoff Meeting

You can think of the project kickoff meeting as having two parts — a pre-client kickoff meeting, and a client kickoff meeting.

Here’s a little secret: you don’t want your first meeting with the client or key stakeholder to be the official kickoff meeting with the full client team and full project team. Instead, hold a pre-client kickoff meeting first — this is worthwhile for a few reasons:

  • You’ll be able to nail down the project approval process without other attendees chiming in and claiming they need to be involved. If you speak with the client one-on-one, you’ll be able keep the project approval process streamlined.
  • You’ll be able to confirm the statement of work and scope of the project. If you leave this discussion to the official kickoff meeting with the full client team, they’ll inevitably try to include or exclude parts of the scope or deliverables that were already previously agreed upon, forcing you to change your project plan.
  • You’ll be able to establish a positive relationship with the client right off the bat, setting the tone for a good rapport and working relationship as the project progresses.
  • You’ll be able to iron out a few other important details in advance, such as collaboration tools, what assets will be needed, and the kickoff meeting agenda.

Once you’ve had the opportunity to have a pre-client kickoff meeting, you’re ready to move on to the official project kickoff meeting. Of course, there’s a lot that goes into this too. In our guide to project kickoff meetings, which you’ll find here, we’ll cover the following, and more:

  • The purpose of the meeting
  • What to cover and discuss in the meeting
  • A template and sample agenda for project kickoff meetings (both pre-client and client meetings)
  • How to create a presentation or slide deck for the project kickoff meeting
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

Project Kickoff Email

Once you’ve met with the client for a pre-kickoff and prepped your agenda for the client kickoff meeting, you’ll need to send out that all-important project kickoff email announcing when and where the meeting will be.

During the pre-client kickoff, it’s a good idea to get an idea of the client’s schedule for the kickoff meeting. Every project manager has their own strategy for scheduling meetings, but getting an idea beforehand doesn’t hurt, as you can use this to your advantage in your email.

Here’s a quick overview of what you should be including in your project kickoff announcement email:

  • Quick recap of the pre-client kickoff meeting
  • Date and time (don’t forget to send a calendar invite as well!)
  • Location (or video meeting link)
  • A list of items the client will need to prepare
  • Any remaining questions on the project team’s end that will need to be answered before the meeting

Try to send out the project kickoff email in advance, to ensure you leave the client with enough time to prepare the content and items that you asked for. Also, keep it fairly high-level — you don’t want to overwhelm the client with a lengthy email (they might not even read it!).

Don’t forget to follow-up again after the kickoff meeting with an email. This one should include:

  • Recap of the kickoff meeting
  • List of next steps and due dates
  • List of any remaining questions or concerns on your end or on the client’s end

What About Agile Project Kickoffs?

Many agile enthusiasts question the value of project kickoffs for projects conducted using agile methodologies. But if done correctly, agile project kickoffs can add a lot of value and provide clarity to the team for projects that are using agile methodologies such as Scrum.

The general purpose of an agile project kickoff is the same as the purpose of a project kickoff:

  • Introduce the team
  • Understand the project background and the purpose of the project
  • Understand what a successful project is
  • Understand what needs to be done
  • Agree on how to work together

But trying to conduct an agile project kickoff in the exact same way that you would a regular project kickoff won’t be valuable. You’ll need to adjust your regular project kickoff meeting agenda slightly to account for this.

However, there are some additional reasons why you might hold an agile project kickoff:

  • Get a sense of how the team likes to work in terms of workflow, and what the team members’ strengths and weaknesses are. Most agile teams don’t know exactly what they’ll be working on for a project until the sprint has been planned, so having a sense of likes, dislikes, strengths, and weaknesses will help with assigning work when the time comes.
  • Decide on Sprint length, limits to work-in-progress, defining “done” for deliverables and specific tasks, and other team norms.
  • Decide on what tools will be used for managing communication (ex. Slack), tracking bugs (ex. Jira), and project management (ex. Microsoft Project).

What’s Next?

You can follow the links in this article to all our other articles on this topic — dive in! There’s lots to learn when it comes to project kickoffs.

If you’re looking for even more in-depth information on project kickoffs, check out our masterclass on the subject here!

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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.

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