Covering the right topics and details in a project kickoff meeting is critical to a successful project. The purpose of a kickoff meeting is to establish a shared understanding of project details, methodology, processes, timelines, deliverables, and more. To make sure this is all accounted for, it’s important to prepare an agenda prior to the meeting.
What you don’t cover in a project kickoff meeting is also important. You don’t want to overload attendees with information that is not mission-critical right at that moment. Stick to your agenda, and schedule extra meetings to discuss topics outside of it as needed.
A note that this article is a companion piece to our project kickoff meeting agenda download. As you fill out the template, follow the steps below to create an airtight agenda.
In this article
What Should Be Covered In The Pre-Client Project Kickoff Meeting?
As we mentioned in previous articles about project kickoffs, it’s often productive to have a pre-client kickoff meeting before the actual client project kickoff meeting. This works best as a one-on-one meeting between the project manager and the client lead, and can be as simple as getting coffee or lunch together.
The goal of this first meeting is to get some specific information from the client without a panel of attendees who may have conflicting opinions or a less concrete idea of what the new project is really about. It’s also a great opportunity to start building a relationship with the client.
Although every client meeting requires its own specific agenda, 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)
- Statement of Work Review – what are we doing, when, how, and what will we produce? (20 mins)
- Discuss RAID (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies) and change management – what’s the client’s attitude and approach to managing 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.
It’s a good idea to start with a simple icebreaker — ask how their week is going or what they have planned for the weekend. The goal here is to get to know your client outside of the context of the project and develop a relationship and level of trust over time that will carry 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 here 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 on 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 off on what during the project. It’s important to clarify from the SoW what’s been assumed in terms of signoff on timeline and rounds of revision.
You’re trying to get an understanding from the client about 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 accounted for within the SoW? Are some of the team members 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 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 the scope of the project 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. Set expectations for the entire project lifecycle that you will be transparent about identifying and responding to risks and issues collaboratively together.
You’ll benefit from getting an understanding from the client as to how much budget wiggle room there is. A useful way of framing it can be to ask the client whether there’s additional budget to pivot the project if new opportunities present themselves – such as additional rounds of design development, feature buildout, or user testing.
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, specific 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 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 on 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 on how you’re going to facilitate teamwork so that you can share with the client a plan for what tools 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 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 ask them to at least prepare a project background and project briefing to share during the kickoff meeting.
I find it really useful to get the client to do this rather than trying to relay 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 watching on Netflix, or what sport they’re into. Do the groundwork for getting to know them as individuals 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, go back to your team and bring them up to speed on your discussion so that they’re properly prepared for the kickoff meeting.
With what should be covered in a pre-client kickoff meeting out of the way, let’s move on to an agenda for the official client project kickoff meeting.
What Should Be Covered In A Project Kickoff Meeting?
Every project is unique, but there’s value in covering off the project kickoff agenda basics to get the team and client on the same page. We’ve created this sample client project kickoff agenda with a rough idea of timings so you can fit this into a 1.5-hour meeting:
- Introductions – who’s working on the project and what’s their role? (15 mins)
- Project background – how does this brief fit into the broader strategy and other projects? (10 mins)
- Project briefing – what’s the business problem and customer need? (30 mins)
- Success – how we will know if we’ve been successful and what’s failed before? (10 mins)
- Project management – review timeline, deliverables, risk, roles, reporting, estimate, and change management (10 mins)
- AOB – what haven’t we discussed that we should? (10 mins)
- Next – what are the next steps to keep the project moving? (5 mins)
Introductions: who’s working on the project and what’s their role? (15 mins)
Naturally, at the beginning of a project kickoff meeting everyone will start introducing themselves and exchanging business cards. It’s likely that in a meeting with lots of project stakeholders and a large agency team in attendance that not everyone will get a chance to connect with everyone else before the meeting starts.
Rather than just going around the room and having everyone say their name and their job title it’s worth spending a bit more time on introductions to make sure everyone’s clear on roles and responsibilities and the focus that they will have on the project. Just knowing someone’s name and job title is pretty useless!
Ideally, you will have connected with the client ahead of time to get a heads up on attendees at the kickoff but as you understand people’s roles it’s also important to clarify the project governance and approval process.
After people have explained their roles, make sure you close the discussion by getting clarity on who is the single point of contact, who is taking ownership on what deliverables, who needs to sign off on what deliverables, and what other stakeholders will be involved in the process.
An output of this conversation, or even in real-time on a whiteboard, is a RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) for the deliverables and the team. The RACI will help mitigate any uncertainty of responsibility and highlight high-touch project phases which will require significant project management coordination.
Project background – how does this brief fit into the broader strategy and other projects? (10 mins)
This part of the kickoff meeting should be led by the client — you’ll need to give them a brief before the meeting to prepare for this. It’s a chance to get some project background, uncover some success themes, understand potential challenges with overlap between projects, and an opportunity to uncover potential future projects.
You should cover off:
- What’s your overall strategic business plan?
- How do the project goals align with that strategic plan?
- What projects preceded this and what are likely to follow?
- What other projects will be impacted by this project?
Project briefing – what’s the business problem and customer need? (30 mins)
Again the project briefing should be led by the client and you’ll need to give them a brief to prepare this before the meeting. It’s an opportunity for them to share data specific to the project to provide us with a richer understanding and insight into their business and the specific problem that they’re hiring us to help them solve.
This is a great opportunity to question the clients on how this relates to the customer need – often clients don’t factor that into their planning. You should ask them to cover off anything that they think might be helpful in understanding:
- Customer research, insights & surveys
- Analytics & data
- Technology stack
Success – how we will know if we’ve been successful and what’s failed before? (10 mins)
In order for a project to be successful, you need to understand success – it isn’t the same for every project, even with the same client. Delivering a project to meet time, budget, and scope constraints is just the start – you need to know what success means to all key stakeholders on a project.
That starts by understanding the underlying client strategy and the strategic importance of the project. Beyond just building a new app or a website, why does the client want us to do this; what are they hoping to achieve? And what did the previous agency or vendor do wrong? What are the KPIs? Make sure they are SMART — Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely — so that we can measure against them, prove success, and quantify value.
Project management – review timeline, deliverables, roles, reporting, and change management (10 mins)
There are always things that are worth covering off at the beginning of the project before it’s really started, and that can then be captured in a contact report.
- Review timeline – present a high-level project plan with major phases and milestones to ensure all the stakeholders and project sponsors are aligned on the sequencing of activities and any dependencies that may impact the project timeline are clearly stated.
- Review deliverables – you should have already had a discussion with the client about the SoW and aligned on activities, deliverables, common goals, and any assumptions, but in the meeting with the broader stakeholder group it’s worth summarising the deliverables and milestones to ensure no one is expecting anything else.
- Review roles & responsibilities – establish the day to day contact, and who should be communicated with for certain aspects or deliverables.
- Review client project governance – understand who will be involved in the signoff and approval process, and understand how long it’s going to take to get approval on deliverables as this may impact the timeline.
- Review communication plan – discuss how you’ll manage project status reporting to track the utilization of budget and impact on invoicing, and how frequently you communicate project status. It’s worth having a sample status report on hand.
- Discuss Risk, Issue and Change Management – understand the client’s attitude to risk and discuss your approach to collaboratively manage it.
AOB – what haven’t we discussed that we should? (10 mins)
It’s worth wrapping up the conversation with an opportunity for the client to raise anything that they want to cover off.
Next – what are the next steps to keep the project moving? (5 mins)
Make sure you close the meeting with clearly defined next steps and by recapping exactly what the client will need to do to keep the project moving as well as what you’ll be doing to ensure you hit the project milestones. Don’t forget to follow up by email after the kickoff meeting to ensure next steps and action items are clear.
On-demand Mini Course
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- Kickoff Checklist
- Kickoff Agendas
- Rules of Engagement
- Email Template
- Kickoff Meeting Exercises
Don’t forget to download our project kickoff meeting agenda template when creating your own! It’s also often worth creating a project kickoff meeting presentation slide deck for the meeting — this will lend an air of professionalism and organization to the meeting.
Don't forget to read Sarah Sime's tips on what to do before, during, and after the internal kickoff meeting, and learn how to best lead the meeting here.