How to Conduct a Killer Kickoff Meeting

One thing that I've learned after twenty years of projects. Double down on your initial efforts. And one of the most critical events is your project kickoff meeting. Let's ensure that our meeting participants leave the kickoff meeting with a good understanding of the project and motivated for the hard work ahead.

Prepare Your Agenda

Proper planning prevents poor performance. Project managers should work closely with their project sponsor to develop an agenda for the project kickoff meeting. Here is an example of the contents:

  • Date, time, and location
  • Purpose of meeting
  • Meeting participants
  • Agenda Items
    • Vision of the Project (Project Sponsor)
    • Review of the Project Charter (Project Manager)
    • Team Exercise (Project Manager)
    • Timeline Discussion (Project Manager)
    • Wrap Up (Project Manager)

While the project sponsor and manager will lead much of the meeting, it's important to engage the participants. For example, for the team exercise, the project manager may conduct a risk identification exercise or facilitate a work breakdown structure (WBS) exercise.

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Have Your Project Sponsor Cast the Vision

John Maxwell says, “All great leaders possess two things: They know here they are going, and they are able to persuade others to follow.” The project sponsor should share their vision of the project. This may include but not be limited to:

  • Project background
  • Current operational issues
  • What's causing the issues?
  • Where we are today and how will we get to the desired future state?
  • The before and after picture—how will things be different after the project? Why does it matter?
  • Emphasize the importance of working together as a team to complete the project in a timely manner and create quality products and services.

“All great leaders possess two things: They know here they are going, and they are able to persuade others to follow.” —John Maxwell

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Review Your Project Charter

Individuals will come to the project kickoff meeting with different ideas of the project. It would be a major mistake for them to leave with anything less than a common understanding of the project. And one of the most powerful tools for improving early project communication is the project charter.

As I've reviewed project charters with teams for years, I have always handed out a copy. And then I walk through each section such as the project goals, deliverables, and assumptions, to name a few. Notice—I did not say that I read the charter. Rather, I paraphrase each section and ask for questions and comments.

Develop Your Project Team

Imagine a sports team that has never had any coaching. How do you think they would perform? Wise project managers identify the strengths and weaknesses of their teams and plan how they will further develop the teams. Help your teams mature as they progress through the forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning stages.

In the early parts of your project, ensure that your team members get to know one another. Look for ways to improve communication and build trust.

Discuss the Project Timeline

Projects differ in terms of project timelines. In some cases, the project sponsor will specify fixed dates for milestones and the completion of the project. In other cases, you will work with the team to develop a schedule over time. Either way, your team members need to understand the upcoming project activities. What's next? When will each team member be needed and for what? And don't forget to ask about team member vacation plans and when each person will be out of the office.

Wrap Up Your Project Kickoff Meeting

As with all meetings, review the risks, action items, issues, and dependencies that where identified during the meeting. Summarize upcoming activities and next steps. Lastly, be sure to distribute the meeting minutes to the meeting participants and stakeholders in a timely manner,

Online Course: The What, Why, & How of Powerful Project Charters

One of the best ways to reduce communication risks early in your projects is by writing project charters. This is not a documentation exercise! The aim is to ensure that the project sponsor, project manager, and the key stakeholders are on the same page. In this course, you will discover the 16 powerful elements of a project charter, how to use a project charter after initiation, the four project charter checkpoints, the secret sauce of writing clear goals, and how to right-size your project charters.