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Project kickoff meetings: Your guide to success

Cathy Reisenwitz

by Cathy Reisenwitz on April 15, 2021

project kickoff meeting guide

A successful project starts out with a well-executed project kickoff meeting. Here’s what that looks like and why it matters, along with tips for:

  • Setting an agenda

  • Preparing in advance

  • Hosting

  • Following up

What is a project kickoff meeting?

A project kickoff meeting is where stakeholders get together to:

  • Align on expectations for the project and the stakeholders

  • Get everyone on the same page about goals and strategy

  • Set the tone of the project going forward

  • Understand the scope of the project

  • Establish the project timeline and key milestones

What are the benefits of a project kickoff meeting?

A well-executed project kickoff meeting often results in a better working relationship between stakeholders and/or clients. It can decrease missed deadlines, issues, scope creep, and change orders. A great project kickoff meeting increases the likelihood a project will stay under-budget and on-time.

Project kick off meeting agenda

Before you set the project kickoff meeting agenda, decide what you want to accomplish before the meeting ends. By the end of the meeting, you will want to have everything you need for a project plan.

Everyone should be on the same page about the project’s:

  • Vision and goals

  • Strategy

  • Key milestones

  • Resources (time, labor, budget)

  • Stakeholder roles, responsibilities, and division of labor (project sponsor, member, etc.)

  • Action items and immediate next steps

Meeteor Software has prepared a sample kickoff meeting agenda that includes meeting items and suggests time frames for each. You can adjust it to fit your team members’ needs.

Preparing for a successful project kickoff meeting

When deciding who to invite, include anyone you expect to be a key stakeholder. Include anyone necessary to accomplish the goals of the meeting.

Start planning your agenda far enough in advance that you can send it out 24 hours before the meeting, if possible. Include with it any materials anyone involved in the project should be familiar with going in. This way you don’t have to waste meeting time at the project kick-off meeting presenting new information. This could include a statement of work and pre-engagement documentation containing information including:

  • Project goals

  • Effort

  • Technology requirements

  • Key dates and deliverables

  • Assumptions

This is also when you want to communicate what you expect from every attendee during the meeting. To increase the likelihood that attendees will prepare for the meeting, ask them for their feedback on what you’ve sent. Phrasing this ask in a project kick-off meeting invite email works well:

“Where do you agree? Where do you disagree? What can we improve? Please add your comments to this shared document for everyone to review prior to the kickoff.”

Tips for hosting a successful project kickoff meeting

No one wants to look uninformed or come across as confrontational in a kickoff meeting. But incorrect assumptions can slow a project down and create unnecessary friction. Try to make it safe for everyone to ask their questions early and often. For example, when people raise good points or offer good ideas you don’t have time to fully explore, make sure you add them to a “backburner” so the discussion can move forward but the information isn’t lost.

Get things good enough to go (GETGO), not perfect. The diminishing returns on small improvements come faster than most people realize. Don’t waste time getting from good-enough to perfect. When people are aligned at a high-level, move forward to the next agenda item. Make it safe for everyone to say when they feel the group has reached “good enough” on a decision.

Tips for after a successful project kickoff meeting

Share out the charter project plan within 24 hours of the meeting to take advantage of the excitement and momentum you built at the meeting. Include acknowledgments of participants’ hard work and contributions in order to encourage more.

Going forward

A great project kickoff meeting sets you up for a more successful project. The key is to create an agenda with goals, roles and responsibilities, and more in advance and share it out with time for everyone to read it. During the meeting, it’s important to solicit helpful feedback without getting sidetracked or letting anyone dominate. And don’t forget to follow up after the meeting with next steps and a summary of what was decided during the meeting.

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz

Cathy Reisenwitz is Head of Content at Clockwise where she oversees the Clockwise Blog and The Minutes Newsletter. She has covered business software for six years and has been published in Newsweek, Forbes, the Daily Beast, VICE Motherboard, Reason magazine, Talking Points Memo and other publications.

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