During the course of your professional life, you’ll be attending many, many meetings; brainstorming sessions, telecons, performance reviews, leadership team conferences, etc. The kickoff meeting, however, is unique. It’s conducted at the start of every project, or if it’s a large one, at the start of each new phase.
Kickoff meetings have a lot of benefits. When team members have never worked together before but were just formed to complete a specific project, a kickoff meeting will be more valuable than ever. It will allow each member to become familiar with and get to know each other. Project managers, if brought in specifically to manage it, will also get the chance to establish their leadership skills and authority during the kickoff meeting, setting the tone for succeeding ones to come.
When it involves a larger project, internal and external kickoff meetings are required. Internal kickoff meetings will pertain to you and your own team members, while external kickoff meetings refer to those between you, your client and other stakeholders (both from your side and theirs).
Ultimately, whether internal or external, the main goal of kickoff meetings is to come to an agreement, an alignment of goals and expectations so everyone is on the same page before project execution. Kickoff meetings, when done effectively, can affect the outcome of a project tremendously.
Kickoff meetings are usually conducted as soon as contracts are signed, and SoW’s are finalized. For larger projects which require both internal and external kickoff meetings, internal ones are done before meeting with the client. It gives project managers a chance to motivate the team, and get them united, excited, informed and prepared.
The Internal Kickoff Meeting
Arming your team with an understanding of what the client is about, what their needs are, and the goal for the whole project is of utmost importance. In a nutshell, an internal kickoff meeting should cover the following areas:
1. Introduction of team players
This is especially important for projects that are put together temporarily in order to get something done, like events. It puts a face to each team member, fosters relationships, and provides a more personal feel to the overall project.
2. Client’s background
Before your team and its members meet with the client, you need to have an understanding of their background, how you entered their radar, what you know about them, other projects they’re linked with, their culture, philosophy, and how they like to work.
3. Purpose of the project
From the client’s perspective, this means providing your team with insight on why this endeavor was initiated.
From your team, this means understanding metrics. How will success and failure be measured beyond timeliness, budget and scope? What will this project mean for your team in terms of gaining new skills and competencies?
And from the customer’s viewpoint, this pertains to how the project will fulfill a need and make their lives better.
Providing a bigger picture and understanding of how they contribute to something beyond them will go a long way in keeping team members engaged.
4. Scope of responsibilities
This would entail going over the statement of work and examining any holes or pitfalls that the team can encounter along the way. It means examining the RAID (risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies) and anticipating them so surprises are mitigated, and problems are anticipated, ensuring smoother workflow.
Being able to review and examine the statement of work (if it’s available) and opening the floor for new suggestions on how the team can accomplish its goal, within budget constraints and other prerequisites, can help them take more ownership of the project and feel more invested in its success.
6. Division of roles and responsibilities including point person
There’s nothing worse than encountering pointed fingers if anything goes wrong. One great way to ensure things run smoothly is to write a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, informed) and measure it up against the SoW. As project manager, you should clearly define the deliverables for each part of the statement of work, what needs to be done to succeed, assess how team member’s skills fit into individual areas of responsibility, and then assign roles for each task. When it comes to financials and bill payments, it’s also important to assign someone who will be in charge of invoicing and follow-ups.
It’s important to establish how the team will work together from the get-go. Expressing your expectations and yet giving your team the latitude to agree on which systems will be used, how communication will be sent and received, when teams should meet and how collaboration will occur, will impress upon them that you trust their abilities and value their contributions.
8. Agenda and flow for external kickoff with client
Practice makes perfect! Not only will running through the agenda for your external kickoff meeting get your team excited and motivated when it’s time to meet the client, it will also laser their focus on any pre-work that needs to be done, clarify your expectations on what and how things will be presented, and review the points you’ve agreed upon.
9. Next steps and clarifications
Once you’ve rallied the troops, make sure momentum is on your side by ensuring the client kickoff meeting succeeds. This will entail clarifying what each team member needs to do next, when they need to do it and when reviews need to be set.
To make sure your team has an in-depth understanding of what the client wants and any underlying requirements that aren’t officially set, why not invite your client out? That way, you can establish a rapport before the more formal client kickoff meeting.
Try to grab some insights and gather as much information on client expectations which you can then incorporate into the “real” kickoff meeting. Use this chance to get the client over to your side and communicate the essential points of your planned agenda without an audience complicating things.
Pre-Client Kickoff Meeting
1. Getting to know you
This is your chance to engage in some friendly banter and establish a relationship with your client outside the context of the project. Try to find some things in common in an effort to create a sense of trust that will help see you through the ups and downs of any project.
2.Meet the personalities behind the scenes
Grab this chance to peek behind client lines. This doesn’t mean asking who the people are in their team and what their roles are in project completion, but a way to gain some inside information on team dynamics and the personalities who have their hands in the pie – who spearheaded the project? Who wants it to succeed? Who wants it to fail? Who do you need to influence and sway to make sure the project pushes through?
3. Approval process
As projects unfold, changes and adjustments have to be made. Finding out who signs off on approvals in case changes are called for ensures there is enough consideration incorporated for adequate review on deliverables. Is the process highlighted in the SoW enough? Are some team members included in the approvals process hard to reach? How many rounds of revisions are required versus how many are included in the SoW? This is especially vital in terms of ability to meet timelines.
4. Assessing the scope of work and determining client’s approach to change
Having this smaller meeting with your client is a great opportunity to go over the accepted scope of work. Explain what you are doing, how the project will be run, when and how it will be completed according to budget and time constraints, the risks, assumptions and issues that may arise and how you’re planning to solve it, and what the deliverables from your end will be.
If something unforeseen occurs, how flexible is the client in terms of budget or change in approach? You can run through the RAID log you and your team have identified and gauge how open they are to explore new avenues. What’s the contingency plan in situations like these?
Aligning on all these details before the formal client kickoff will ensure there are no issues, and expectations are met on both sides.
5. Communication and status reports
Track progress by submitting status reports, according to the budget, timelines and milestones being met. You need to agree on the frequency, format, level of detail required and recipients. Since status reports are usually tied to billing and collecting of payments, it’s wise to know exactly what they require and who needs to have a copy so delays don’t occur.
6.Tools and assets
It is important to share with your client what systems you have in place for efficient and effective collaboration. If it’s an app or website, make sure they can use it, access it and share information through it.
It is also important to request for any requirements you need to deliver what’s expected of you – for example, copies of logos, databases, logins, etc.
7. Formal external kickoff meeting agenda
Give your client homework and pass on the buck of presenting information on them, their background, and a brief project overview with the team and stakeholders. This way, such information will come straight from the horse’s mouth; eliminating guesswork, ensuring nothing is missed and no assumptions from your part color or distill the message.
8.Any Other Business (AOB)
Open the floor for any clarification or any other information the client wishes to share. This is normally enough to prompt them to impart anything else they might have forgotten to mention.
Try to end on a happy and positive note. Getting to know your client and what they enjoy outside of work can help you find more things to relate to and build connections you can touch on when you meet next.
Going back to your team and sharing the information you’ve gathered can smoothen the finer points of the agenda and will make them better prepared for the “real” client kickoff meeting.
The Formal Client Kickoff Meeting
This is your chance to introduce your team and meet the players from the client’s side. It is the time to go over the broader background of the client and why this project was initiated. It’s not the time to go over details of project management, but an opportunity to align on expectations regarding deliverables, timeline, reviews, communication, systems, critical roles and risk management.
Ask them if they have clarifications or suggestions on how to better streamline your proposed approach.
This is your chance to impress and assure them you’re the right person for the job, that they made a good decision to hire you. Don’t hesitate to show off your capabilities. Your aim, ultimately, is to build your client’s confidence on your ability to deliver.
In summary, the importance of kickoff meetings when it comes to determining project success cannot be emphasized enough. If you get things off to a great start, you can execute and complete the project you were hired for with minimal issues. With the right attitude and levelled expectations, you can anticipate and mitigate any problem you encounter, providing your project with more chances for success!