A kickoff meeting post might not seem like the most likely candidate for winning a popularity contest on The Digital Project Manager, but it consistently comes up in the top list of our most popular articles.
Maybe that’s because the kickoff meeting is such a critical moment in a project; an opportunity to establish common goals and purpose in completing the work. We’ve written about project kickoffs before in our articles on how to run a great internal project kickoff meetings, starting projects right with clients, and how to run great project kickoff meeting but we’ve pulled together this new, Kickoff Meeting – The Complete Guide to Starting Projects Right resource guide, complete with a project kickoff meeting agenda download, to cover all the great content from our posts on project kickoff meetings and more.
The Kickoff Meeting – A Key To Successful Projects
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), costs, and timeline, although sometimes with new clients this paperwork may not be finalized.
The purpose of a project kickoff meeting is to introduce the team, understand the project background, understand what success looks like, understand what needs to be done, and agree on how to work together effectively – it’s a chance to level set and get the team and client on the same page.
For the agency team who are tasked with delivery of the project, the project kickoff meeting is an opportunity to get they key information they need to succeed and demonstrate their enthusiasm and understanding of the project, it’s a chance to instill confidence in the client that they’ve made a good decision in their choice of agency and project team.
There’s no doubt a project kickoff meeting can set the course and tone for the rest of a project. So done right, the project kickoff meeting can contribute enormously to the success of the project itself. And done badly, the project kickoff meeting can destroy any chance of success before the project has even started. But what makes a good project kickoff, or a bad one?
It’s About More Than Just The Project Kickoff Meeting
Fundamentally, a great kickoff is the result of proper preparation. But doing a project kickoff meeting right requires more that just good luck or ten minutes of preparation before the meeting. To give yourself, and your team the best chance of success, there’s much more than just the project kickoff meeting to consider. In this guide (complete with a project kickoff meeting agenda for download) we’ll cover off three steps to doing a project kickoff meeting well – follow these steps to conduct an effective project kickoff meeting:
- Preparing your team properly and arming them with the right tools for success in an internal project kickoff meeting.
- Starting the project client relationship well, and getting the client on-side to ensure you give the project the best chance of success.
- Putting your best foot forward with a highly polished approach for the client project kickoff meeting.
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The Internal Project Kickoff Meeting
As project managers, we can’t stand faffing around and talking about work, when time is being wasted and work just needs to be done. We love getting things started and seeing stuff happen.
But in the case of a project kickoff meeting with a client, it’s critical not rush into it before first prepping properly with an internal project kickoff meeting to come up with a solid plan as to what exactly you’re going to do!
The internal project kickoff isn’t just a precursor to the client kickoff meeting, it sets the tone, style and vision for the entire project. They’re a chance for you as the project manager to properly educate the team and develop cohesion before finding yourselves floundering in front of a client. The internal project kickoff meetings need to get you (and the team) to a place where everyone can confidently say, ‘We’ve got this!’
Plan your internal project kickoff meeting properly
Going into a kickoff meeting with an informed team and a proper plan helps you get the most out of your discussion with the client and the stakeholders. It’s important for the team to know as much as possible about the client and project before they start asking stupid questions in front of the client! It’s also important for the team to work together to come up with a solid plan that’s going to instill confidence in the client, and to collectively make any important project decisions ahead of time, so that valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time aren’t wasted with internal debates with the client watching (and becoming increasingly concerned that the agency team doesn’t really know what they’re doing).
It’s also important for the team to work together to come up with a solid plan that’s going to instill confidence in the client, and to collectively make any important project decisions ahead of time, so that valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time aren’t wasted with internal debates during the meeting with the client watching (and becoming increasingly concerned that the agency team doesn’t really know what they’re doing).
So assuming that you’ve planned ahead and spent some time preparing for the internal kickoff meeting, here’s a sample internal project kickoff meeting agenda. In going through the agenda you’ll see that you’ll need to do some preparation in advance of the meeting. Get cracking!
Sample internal project kickoff agenda
Every project is unique, but there’s value in ensuring that we cover off some of these basics to get our team on the same page:
- Introductions – meet your new best buds (15 mins)
- Client – what’s the background? (5 mins)
- Project – why are we doing this? (5 mins)
- Scope – what are we doing? (20 mins)
- Approach – how are we going to make this happen? (20 mins)
- Roles – who is doing what? (5 mins)
- Teamwork – how are we going to work together? (5 mins)
- Kickoff – what’s the agenda for the client kickoff? (5 mins)
- Next – how do we keep momentum? (5 mins)
- Q&A – what haven’t we told you? (5 mins)
Client: what’s the background?
Start by scene setting to help everyone understand the sandbox you’re playing in. Sharing is caring, so don’t hoard any logins or documentation to yourself. Share everything you know with the team so they can get up to speed themselves and empower and equip your team with all the relevant information they need to digest. To keep the meeting on track, it’s probably worth delaying any Q&A until the end, otherwise, this section of the meeting can end up taking a disproportionately long length of time.
Share how you got to work on the project – was it a direct award from an existing client, is it a brand new client, or is it a friend of the CEO’s? Explain what you’ve done in the past with the client – or with different clients but similar projects and help the team understand who you’re working with.
Project: why are we doing this?
To further help put the project into perspective you need to help your teams understand why they’re doing the project in the first place. This means from a client perspective sharing the business drivers for initiating the project, and ensuring there’s clarity as to what success – or failure looks like.
And from a customer experience perspective, initiate the discussion with the team around how this project makes customers or citizen’s lives better and meets their needs. From the outset, maximizing the positive customer experience should be at the heart of why you’re engaged with the project. It’s the start of casting a vision for why the team should care about the project and helping everyone understands that what they’re doing is contributing to something that’s worthwhile.
Finally, from an agency perspective you need to be clear about what success means beyond simply delivering on time, on budget and to the agreed scope. How are you as an agency going to grow as a result of doing this project – will you doing develop a new capability or competency with a new technology?
Scope – what are we doing?
When the background is set, it’s time to get into the scope details with the team. Normally that means reviewing the timeline, estimate and SoW (statement of work) so that everyone understands the flow of the project, the activities and the outputs or deliverables. Without boring everyone to death, help everyone understand the quirks of the project, so the whole team is aware of the constraints from day one.
This is a great time to start the RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues and Dependencies) log. There’s nothing quite like a SoW review to get people talking about what’s going to go wrong. The sooner you know, the better. If anyone’s tried this before and failed, why was it? And how can you mitigate against it? Knowing the insider track and your team’s unique understanding of similar projects will help develop a culture of openness and ensure surprises are kept to a minimum.
Approach – how are we going to make this happen?
Reviewing the SoW and the proposed activities and outputs creates a great opportunity to discuss anything the team might want to change to the project process or new approaches they might want to try. Remember that new isn’t always better, and tried and tested often works just fine. So cast a vision clearly and don’t end up on a wild goose chase to the bleeding edge of technical or process idiocy.
Nonetheless, cultivate ownership of the project within the team. In order for the project to be a success, the team needs to feel like it’s their project. By leaving time and space for your team to suggest ideas, challenge your plan, and come up with a better way of working you’ll end up with a much more robust approach and a much more engaged team.
Roles – who is doing what?
When the team have had a chance to understand the project and begin to understand the context of how they might fit within it, it’s worth clarifying the team’s roles and responsibilities. It can be helpful if you’re able to map their roles back to the SoW and clarify the deliverables associated with each area, why they exist and what needs to happen to make them a reality.
It can be helpful to develop a matrix against the SoW to define a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) for the deliverables and the team. The RACI will help mitigate against any uncertainty of responsibility and invariably helps clarify your teams comfort levels with delivery.
Teamwork – how are we going to work together?
When bringing together a team that have never worked together before there’s going to be a range of understanding on how the team should work together, how collaboration should be managed, how communication should flow, when the team should meet, the tools that should be used, and which systems you’ll use to share deliverables or outline details of specific tasks or tickets. As PM’s our role is to make it simple, to put everyone at ease and get people excited about working together on the project.
Often there’s no right or wrong to these approaches, but to get buy-in from your team it can be helpful to give them as much autonomy as possible. You want them to feel like they’re masters of the project. Define your expectations and let the team agree together amongst themselves exactly how they will deliver on it. By clarifying the teamwork and agreeing the nuts and bolts part of how it’ll all get done we’re helping managing our team’s expectations on what’s acceptable and what’s not.
Kickoff – what’s the agenda for the client kickoff?
As a project manager, you should already have a plan in place for the client kickoff meeting – the purpose of reviewing it with your team is to get their buy in and provide a sense of context and urgency for the next steps.
If at all possible, beyond the usual discussion items that are on the kickoff agenda, discuss with your team if there are any useful exercises that can be run during the client kickoff meeting to gain some early insights or kick-start the project.
By agreeing an agenda for the meeting with your team, it can help crystalize their focus and provide a helpful context for any pre-work that is required. Planning the meeting is also a great way to review actions and decisions that were made earlier in the meeting in terms of project scope, approach, roles and teamwork as you plan how to share them with the client.
Next – how do we keep momentum?
The temptation can be a bit casual when starting a project – no one really knows what’s going on and it might even be that you, as the project manager, are actually the last to be brought onto the project. The way you manage the first few meetings and interactions of the project, sets the scene for the rest of the project.
To keep the momentum going in the project, be sure to be very clear about next steps, make sure everyone is clear what they need to do next, when they need to do it by, and any review milestones along the way. This is your moment to be large and in charge! At this point you need to be very clear about what need to happen to make the client kickoff meeting a success and guide your team to work back from that.
We all want great project kickoff meetings but are we doing the right groundwork with our clients so we have a better client kickoff meeting? Projects sometimes start off a bit wonky because we dive straight into the project without getting to know the client and truly understanding some of the tacit, latent, informal requirements which might not have been recorded, but without which mean we don’t fully understand what needs to be done to succeed.
Projects can unravel as early as the project kickoff meeting, when we should be still in the honeymoon phase! But there is a simple way to help improve the chances of your project kickoff meeting going well, have better client meetings, and start your project on a positive trajectory. It’s as simple as having lunch. Have a meeting with the client prior to the project kickoff meeting, grab some food, have some banter, and iron out those prickly and pesky details, that tend to derail things, ahead of time.
Getting The Client On-Side
Projects can sometimes start off a bit wonky because we dive straight into the project without getting to know the client and truly understanding some of the tacit, latent, informal requirements which might not have been recorded, but without which mean we don’t fully understand what needs to be done to succeed. A simple way to help improve the chances of the project kickoff meeting going well is to meet with the key clients before the project kickoff meeting.
The pre-client project kickoff meeting
The purpose of connecting and meeting with the client before the ‘real’ kickoff meeting is to level set expectations outside of the potentially much more emotionally and politically charged ‘real’ project kickoff meeting. It’s an opportunity to establish some rapport with your client, communicate essential project and team information and get as much relevant information as possible prior to the project kickoff meeting with the whole client team.
You can use the pre-client project kickoff meeting as an opportunity to refine the kickoff meeting agenda and feedback to your project team. The discussion should be focussed 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!
Sample pre-client project kickoff agenda
Although every client meeting requires its own agenda tweaking, try and cover off these project management basics. We’ve created this sample pre-client project kickoff agenda with a rough idea of timings so you can fit this into a 60 min meeting:
- Introductions – some warm and fuzzy banter (5 mins)
- Review the project teams – who’s responsible for what? (3 mins)
- Approval process – the process and personnel for signing off deliverables? (3 mins)
- SoW Review – what are we doing, when, how, and what will we produce? (20 mins)
- Discuss Risk, Issue and Change Management – what’s the client’s attitude and approach to manage to risk and change? (3 mins)
- Reporting – how will we track and communicate project progress, and to whom? (3 mins)
- Collaboration – what tools will we use to work together? (3 mins)
- Assets – what do we need to get started? (5 mins)
- Kickoff agenda – what will we discuss in the client kickoff? (5 mins)
- AOB – anything else that we need to discuss? (5 mins)
Introductions – some warm and fuzzy banter (5 mins)
As long as your client hasn’t brought along the entire project team for the ride this is a chance to have a bit of a heart to heart so that you can run the project better with fewer nasty surprises. The goal here is to get to know your client outside of the context of the project and begin to develop a relationship and level of trust that develops over time and carries you through the ups and downs of the project.
Review the project team – who’s responsible for what? (3 mins)
In the ‘real’ kickoff meeting, there’ll be a chance to recap with the full project team on roles and responsibilities, so the purpose of discussing the project team is to try and gain and share some insight on team dynamics.
You’re trying to get a behind-the-scenes perspective on who’ll be involved in the project and to what extent. You want to know the best way of engaging with them so they’ll help to progress the project. It’s really helpful to understand who the allies or supporters of the project might be and who is most likely to cause trouble.
It’s also an opportunity to sell the resources you’ve got booked on the project so that the client has a sense of confidence in the team that’s going to be at the client kickoff meeting. By giving them a bit of a behind-the-scenes insight into your team, hopefully, your client will reciprocate and give the skinny into the personalities who could impact the project, for better or worse.
Approval process – the process and personnel for signing off deliverables? (3 mins)
After running through the ‘who’s who’ of the project teams and identifying the team, it’s an easy transition into governance, and who’ll need to sign of what, during the project. It’s important to clarify from the SoW what’s been assumed in terms of signoff in terms of timeline and rounds of revision
You’re trying to get and understanding from the client whether or not the process that you’ve assumed in your SoW is going to work. Is the timeline long enough? Are there enough rounds of revision accommodated for within the SoW? Are some of the team difficult to schedule for meetings or approvals? Are they off on vacation during the project?
SoW Review – what are we doing, when, how, and what will we produce?
Of all the items on the agenda, this is probably the most important for level-setting so it’s worth spending a significant portion of time on it. You need to go into the ‘real’ kickoff meeting having discussed this in detail so that you’re aligned with expectations.
This is an opportunity to take the client through your draft SoW in granular detail, and yes, that means that – detailing how the project will be run, what activities can be completed, and to what extent (within the proposed budget and timeline) and what the deliverables will be. It’s important that you highlight rounds of review, dependencies and assumptions so that you’re on the same page with regards to what the project will ultimately deliver.
If you leave a discussion about the SoW to the ‘real’ client kickoff meeting, it can turn ugly – the dynamics of a large client team throwing around opinions of what should be in and out of scope are never pretty. Discussions about scope are best reserved for small meetings with the client where you can have a discussion without turning it into a round table debate.
Discuss RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies) and change management – what’s the client’s attitude and approach to managing risk and change? (3 mins)
As part of rounding out the discussion on the SoW, it’s worth discussing with the client their preference for dealing with risks and issues as well as their appetite for change. If you can, in advance of your meeting, prepare a risk or RAID log and run through it as part of your discussion. You want to set the expectation from the start that you want to be transparent about identifying and responding to risks and issues collaboratively together.
Remember too, to talk about the use of contingency and to get aligned on what the contingency is for, and how it can be used; is it a risk and issue budget or to accommodate small changes as the project progresses? Recommend an approach for how you think it should be used so that there’s clarity on what you’ll be doing when something pops up on the project that you weren’t planning for.
Reporting – how will we track and communicate project progress, and to whom? (3 mins)
Tracking project progress will require a status report which shows how the project is tracking on budget, timeline, tasks and milestones. Similarly to the preparation you’ll need to do for demonstrating how you’re planning to manage risk, it’s also helpful to prepare a status report that you can share with the client and so you can ensure that the format and detail works for them.
Getting the format and details right for your status report can be important because it’s usually tied to billing. You need to ensure that the client is getting the right level of ongoing detail so they don’t hold up payment of invoices. To help with that, track the budget on your status report with the upcoming invoice amount and when it will be billed.
Agree the distribution list for the status report so that everyone who needs to be in the loop, is kept up to date with what’s happening on your project. It’s always better to distribute the report to a wider audience than strictly necessary so that in the event that something doesn’t go to plan, no one can turn around and claim they were unaware.
Collaboration – what tools will we use to work together? (3 mins)
Most project managers and teams will have their default collaboration toolkit defined. But whether it’s Basecamp or Jira, Trello or Kanbanize, make a plan with your team of how you’re going to work together so that you can share with the client a plan for what you’re going to use, and how you’re going to use them. Then check with the client to make sure they’re happy with the selected toolkit and are able to use that platform to share files, information, status updates and to have project conversations.
Assets – what do we need to get started? (5 mins)
There’s always ‘stuff’ that’s needed before projects can get started properly. Make a list of all the things you need to remember to ask the client for so that you can get started, in priority order, so they can work through the most critical items first.
- Logins – CMS, analytics, social, image libraries
- Brand – logos, fonts, style guides, templates
- Repo – site files, databases
- VPN – to access a client’s intranet
- Invoicing – who do they need to go to? who approves them?
Kickoff agenda – what will we discuss in the client project kickoff? (5 mins)
This is an opportunity to run through the agenda for the ‘real’ kickoff meeting. In order for the project kickoff meeting to be valuable, the client will need to do some homework. At the very least, you’ll need to give them the good news that they’ll need to at least prepare a project background and project briefing to share in the project kickoff meeting.
I find it really useful to get the client to do this rather than trying to replay badly what you understand the brief to be. Invariably, you’ll miss something important and offend someone in the room – but if you get the client to do it instead, you’re golden!
AOB – anything else that we need to discuss? (5 mins)
Wrap up the conversation with some clearly defined next steps and an opportunity for the client to raise anything that they want to cover off. Often just asking; ‘Is there anything else we should know?’ will spur the clients to share things they hadn’t previously mentioned that are worth knowing.
And finally, be sure to end on a happy note. Go back to the banter you started with – it’s a chance for you to develop some rapport and get to know them better; find out what they enjoy outside of work, what they’re doing at the weekend, what they’re watching on Netflix or what sport they’re into. Do the groundwork for getting to know them as individuals and so you’ve got something to talk to them about next time you connect.
Remember to share the good news
Don’t keep all your newfound knowledge to yourself. After your meeting with the client, you’ll then need to go back to your team and bring them up to speed with your discussion so that they’re properly prepared for the kickoff meeting.
Client Project Kickoff Meeting Agenda
The client project kickoff meeting is an opportunity to hear from the client and their project team as well as other stakeholders about the project and get a broader understanding of the background, business drivers that led to the project being initiated, a project briefing and discussion around making it a success.
The kickoff meeting shouldn’t be a discussion about scope but is an opportunity to level set with the stakeholders in the room expectations around milestones, rounds of review cycles, and an opportunity to streamline the approach. Try and steer it away from being purely about project management of the project – 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.
Project kickoff meeting presentation
A slick, highly polished project kickoff presentation is an important part of the kickoff meeting. Remember, as much as information gathering, and glad-handing, the project kickoff meeting is an opportunity to demonstrate to the client and stakeholders, ‘we’ve got this!’ – that they’ve made a solid choice in selecting your agency and you know what you’re doing.
The project kickoff presentation is should include:
- Introductions – happy, smiley faces and an org chart
- A bit about your agency – what you do, and how you do it (making sure it’s all highly relevant – no one wants an agency history lesson)
- Supporting content for the project kickoff agenda as below
Remember to ask the client for their content so you can add it into your presentation deck prior to the meeting. Trying to switch between presentation or laptops during the meeting eats up time and impacts the flow of the meeting.
Sample client project kickoff agenda
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If you’ve enjoyed this article, you might find these other resources useful:
- How to run a great project discovery workshop; Ask the right questions
- Techniques and exercises for web project kickoff meetings
- 10 Steps to a Kickass Project Kickoff: A Checklist for Project Managers
- Learn about the Lean Canvas Model and how to use it
What Do You Think?
What do you think we’re missing? We’d love to hear if you’ve got any thoughts on kickoff meetings – why not join the conversation below?