4 Tips for Leading a Project Kickoff Meeting
Your project’s kickoff meeting is like opening night for a new production. The stage has been set, scenes have been cast, the players are all in place, and the project story is ready to unfold. It’s important to have a meeting that’s well-organized, informative and motivating—something that addresses priorities, nurtures teamwork and generally rallies the troops.
Here are five tips to make the most of your next project kickoff meeting.
1. Consider your setting.
If you’re planning a meeting that introduces people from different teams for the first time, make sure the space is easy to access and gives people plenty of time to settle in before you get started. If the team knows each other well, allow for some chit chat before you begin reviewing your agenda. When colleagues are skyping in from overseas or across the country, choose a time that considers the span of time zones (not easy). Be prepared and remember: The perception you set for your team today will yield productive dividends tomorrow.
2. Stay high-level.
When setting your agenda, be more big-picture, less micro-detailed. Specific task assignments are less important than establishing clarity and excitement among the project team.
The main goals of your kickoff meeting are to:
- Present the project and team to stakeholders and each other.
- Create enthusiasm and understanding about the vision and goals of the work.
- Build credibility within the team.
- Promote communication.
- Set expectations.
- Get started.
The kickoff meeting is less about specific role-related actions, and more about getting everyone on the same page and generating energy and enthusiasm.
3. Agenda setting
The project kickoff meeting is your greatest opportunity to set the tone for your entire project. If you can establish an atmosphere of communication, transparency, preparation and momentum building, you have more than met your goal for this first meeting. Your agenda should include the following:
- Introductions and welcome: Welcome all participants (and remember to introduce yourself). Give an overview of your agenda and material; if necessary, initiate introductions among team members who haven’t worked together before.
- A high-level vision and project overview: Explain the purpose of the project, expected goals and deliverables, and the vision for why this upcoming project matters.
- Roles: The kickoff meeting is designed to bring everyone up to speed, not cover every specific task and action item. Conveying a sense of how you expect teams to work together (and the tools they will need) should be enough. Make sure the whole team has been included on one distribution list for future communication (email and/or within the project management tool).
- Collaborative project management tools: If you use project management software, address the way the teams will be collaborating in the platform—from simply calling out where the project lives in the tool, to discussing where to send bugs and how to communicate road blocks and unexpected schedule challenges. A lot of organizations use their project plan to run their meetings so the teams have a visual of where the work will live. And, a lot of this might already be integrated into your company culture but it never hurts to review, especially for the new folks.
- Next steps: Let the group know what the first calls to action are. Is everyone’s work already in the project management tool; do they have to open their own tasks and estimate their work; will they get a “ready, go!” email from the team lead, or what?
- Questions: Keep your Q&A session high-level, i.e., questions that relate to the project and the team. You don’t want to get sucked down a rabbit hole of task specificity that turns into a public one-on-one discussion between you and an individual.
- Say thanks. Let everyone know you are grateful to have them onboard, and look forward to what will be produced. Saying thanks is not just polite—it creates a considerate team atmosphere, makes people feel like they matter and sets a tone of professionalism and civility.
The project kickoff meeting gives team members a chance to know each other, understand project vision, and it sets a tone for success. You can empower team members by giving clear directions for next steps, and a simple way to begin using their project management tools. Getting your project team, stakeholders and company leadership excited to begin will serve you well as the project moves away from being an idea to being a working project with schedules and challenges. Shared perceptions and a common vision will serve you well for the long haul.
Give us your secret sauce for kickoff meetings.