As the first meeting for any new relationship or project, the kickoff meeting is an essential level-setting tool that should result in clear goals, well-defined team roles and responsibilities, and reachable deadlines. If managed properly, a kickoff meeting should leave attendees feeling energized and excited.
Here are eight steps to running a successful kickoff meeting:
1. Do Your Research
Arguably the most important step is laying the groundwork before the gathering. Immerse yourself in the discussion content and circulate key materials to the team in advance so they can research and prepare. Teams should be equipped with all relevant background information about the client or project, and any other detail pertinent to their role. Failure to prepare is preparation for failure.
2. Create Your Agenda
Never underestimate the power of a detailed agenda. In the most recent State of Meetings report released by Doodle, 26 percent of respondents reported that poorly organized meetings negatively impact their work relationships. Among the biggest irritations and consequences of poorly organized meetings were:
- Poorly organized meetings mean I don’t have enough time to do the rest of my work (44 percent)
- Unclear actions lead to confusion (43 percent)
- Bad organization results in a loss of focus on projects (38 percent)
- Irrelevant attendees slow progress (31 percent)
- Inefficient processes weaken client/supplier relationship (26 percent)
Distribute the agenda to everyone at least 24 hours in advance. While you can easily attach the file to the meeting invitation, you should also send it as a separate email to ensure it is not accidentally discarded by the recipient as a calendar notification.
3. Establish Expectations
A project can only be successful if the team is in full alignment on the project goals, deliverables, timing, and budget. Each person comes to the table (or Zoom link) with preconceived ideas of what the process will look like informed by previous experiences. As the kickoff lead, it’s your job to set the record straight.
- What is the project goal?
- How will we define success?
- What steps need to be taken, when and by whom, to complete this project?
Pro Tip: After your project kickoff, develop a stakeholder register that identifies the people, groups, and organizations that have interest in the work and the outcome. Use this register to determine when and how to engage each stakeholder and track results and responses.
4. Discuss Scope and Deliverables
Reviewing all the activity details with your project team during the initial kickoff meeting will help avoid common pitfalls that can occur when the scope is left ambiguous, such as:
- Requirements that change the direction or approach
- Unnecessary work being done that negatively affects budget and schedule
- The final outcome or deliverable not matching expectations
- Budget or timeline overruns.
5. Identify Project Roles & Responsibilities
Throughout the duration of the project, you will likely be meeting with different team members at various stages of the project. However, the project kickoff may be the last time the entire team is assembled. Take this opportunity to align on who, what, when, where, and how each person is contributing to the success of the project.
You may consider utilizing a RACI chart, which is a simple matrix used to assign roles and responsibilities for each task, milestone, or decision on a project. The acronym stands for Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed, with each letter representing a level of task responsibility.
- Responsible – Those who do the work or complete the task. This can be shared among several people.
- Accountable – The individual who “owns” the work. This person delegates the work to those responsible and ensures any perquisite tasks are met. They must also provide the final approval once the task, milestone, or decision is complete.
- Consulted – Active participants, typically subject-matter experts or stakeholders, whose feedback and approvals need to be solicited before the work can be completed.
- Informed – Those who need to be kept in the loop on the project status and decisions but doesn’t need to be formally consulted.
Whatever your process or tool for providing clarity, everyone should walk away with a clear understanding of their respective roles and responsibilities over the project life. Lean heavily on agreed upon documents when in doubt.
6. Set Dates and Milestones
You may have each task mapped out to the day, but it may not be the most effective use of the group’s time to rattle off arbitrary dates for tasks that are weeks or months out. Instead, spend this time to communicate the high-level project schedule, phases or sprints, milestones, and key dates. When possible, allow team members to provide their own deadlines for their progress. This helps instill a sense of mutual trust, ownership, and accountability.
7. Establish Communication Channels
Identifying the method and/or channels of communication can help centralize discussions. Solicit the input of those involved in the project regarding their preferences in terms of the most effective way to reach them and favored timing for communications. Take into account the nuances of internal and external team technology and platforms, to make informed decisions about the communication methods used throughout the project. Also establish the cadence of future meetings and check-ins.
8. Send a Post-Meeting Recap with Next Steps
Use the excitement from your first meeting to send a follow-up, or contact report, to the teams outlining notes and agreements.
If you follow these eight steps, you will have laid a great foundation for a successful project. Remember, you have an entire team anxiously waiting to mobilize toward a common goal; it’s the job of the project/account manager to give them the tools and knowledge to empower them to do their part.