Run a client project kickoff meeting well and the rest of your project is much more likely to succeed. Run it badly, and you can find a project or relationship going backward before you’ve even started.
I'll cover how to run a project kickoff meeting properly so that you and your team can get the answers you need to complete a successful project. I’ll explain the purpose of the meeting, why you need to have a 'pre-kickoff' meeting, and what to cover, and I'll also provide an agenda template.
What Is A Project Kickoff Meeting?
A project kickoff meeting is the first meeting between a project team and the client or project sponsor 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 life cycle.
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.
No time to read? Watch this video instead:
What Is The Purpose Of The Project 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 team members 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.
Types of Project Kickoff Meeting
There's a few different types of project kickoff meetings to be aware of. This article focuses on client kickoff meetings, as we've written about the other types elsewhere.
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 and have a pre-kickoff meeting.
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!
Internal Kickoff Meeting
It's a good idea to hold an internal project kickoff meeting with just your internal project team prior to the meeting with the client. It's a chance to get aligned with the project team on the project brief and deliverables, as well as to surface any important questions that they might have, which can be asked during the client kickoff meeting.
What To Cover During A Project Kickoff Meeting
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, here's what you'll want to cover:
- 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 and workflow 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 and what collaboration tools will use to work together? How will risks, dependencies, 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?
Project Kickoff Meeting Agenda Template
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. Read more about the specifics of the project kickoff meeting agenda template here.
How To Run A Project Kickoff Meeting
There are specific steps you should be taking as you do your project kickoff—before, during, and after.
Before The Project Kickoff Meeting
Prior to the project kickoff meeting with the client, you'll need to:
- Review the brief and find out what's missing. Do you have a timeline? A set list of project deliverables? Have you chosen an approach?
- Determine who needs to attend the kickoff meeting (think about whether you'll be taking meeting minutes yourself or assigning this duty to someone else)
- Set a date, time, and location
- Distribute the brief and any materials relevant to the project background to the team
- Send an email and calendar invite with the meeting agenda attached
During The Project Kickoff Meeting
Here are the steps you'll need to take during the project kickoff meeting (you'll notice that our project kickoff agenda template aligns loosely with this, so you shouldn't have to think about this separately):
- Start with some icebreaker questions to get attendees engaged
- Align on the primary project goal
- Set any secondary project objectives or KPIs
- Decide on specific tasks, phases, and parts of the project
- Consider all success factors & risks
After The Project Kickoff Meeting
Immediately following the project kickoff meeting, follow these steps:
- Review your meeting notes
- Start writing your project plan
- Save all relevant info in a spot that's accessible for everyone on the project team
- Develop resourcing plans and stakeholder management plans
- Send a follow-up email to the client reiterating the next steps and action items
Project Kickoff Meetings FAQs
Here, I'll answer a few frequently asked questions about kickoff meetings.
What are the objectives of a project kickoff meeting?
By the end of the project kickoff meeting with your client, you want to have:
- Established the project's goals and purpose
- Set the tone for communication & teamwork between the client and your project team
- Agreed upon the project brief
- Assigned team roles & responsibilities to the client and their team, as well to your team (specific project team roles should have been established during the internal project kickoff)
- Established a timeline, deliverables, and status update format & frequency
Is the project kickoff meeting a milestone?
No, the project kickoff meeting is not a milestone. Milestones are set during the project planning phase, and they are used to mark a specific point in the project timeline by which to measure project progress.
The kickoff meeting happens before any work has been completed, so it can't be a milestone!
How long should the project kickoff meeting be?
Try to keep your kickoff meeting to a maximum of an hour and a half (you'll notice that our project kickoff agenda outlines a meeting of this length). Any longer and you'll just end up going in circles. Be sure to leave plenty of time for client questions.
What should not be included in the project kickoff meeting?
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 project 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.
What should I include in a project kickoff presentation?
It's a good idea to create a slide deck for use during your project kickoff. Make sure it aligns with your agenda. Generally, you'll want to include the following in your project kickoff meeting presentation:
- Introductions: Names & faces of the project team. Fun facts can be a great icebreaker!
- Background information on the project
- Project briefing
- What project success looks like
- Project management items: Project plan, timelines, methodology, deliverables, risks, change management plan, and any other relevant project documents.
How do I lead a project kickoff meeting?
With confidence! But seriously, acting as a project leader that can rally the team together around the vision before the project really gets going is crucial.
Read more about being a project leader during kickoff here.
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.