How to Run a Successful Project Kickoff Meeting
How to run a project kickoff meeting

How to Run a Successful Project Kickoff Meeting

Ranee ZhangMay 30, 20228 mins
What is a Kickoff Meeting?

Time to get a new, exciting project started? A project kickoff meeting takes place after deciding to launch the project and finalizing negotiations. It’s the first official encounter between your team and your client’s team. 

A successful kickoff meeting agenda is like adding avocado to an açai bowl – it makes the whole experience smoother. Even though you will meet up regularly, the project kickoff meeting has the crucial role of setting the vision and expectations for your collaboration. 

Properly prepping your kickoff meeting greatly increases the chances of your next project being among that 2.5%. How? That’s what we’ll cover in this article – so let’s get this party started!

What is a Kickoff Meeting?

Most workplaces conduct their work in project form. A kickoff meeting serves as the official start of a new project. 

In the case of working with clients, the kickoff meeting is an opportunity for the client and your team to meet and agree upon important details and deliverables. 

Participants in a kickoff meeting include:

  • Project manager

  • Team leaders

  • Clients

  • Sponsors (if applicable)

  • Project team members

  • External stakeholders

Even with internal projects, the elements and purpose of a kickoff meeting are similar. 

The definition 

Traditionally, the definition of a kickoff meeting is the point in time where the involved parties start to execute the project plan. 

Some people prefer to split the kickoff meeting into several meetings with different interest groups. This is particularly relevant if you work at an agency and run projects with a client (as opposed to internal projects).

First, host a meeting with the internal team, where only the core team at your workplace is involved. This should ideally occur before the official kickoff meeting to make sure everyone is briefed and feel confident ahead of meeting stakeholders and the client. 

Second, organize a kickoff meeting with the stakeholders and sponsors. The aim is to verify the project plan and ensure that you have all resources needed ahead of the kickoff.

Finally, conclude with a kickoff meeting with the client. This is a polished version of the previous meetings where the goal is to make a good impression. 

Note that the above division is less relevant in the case of internal projects. You can choose to have one kickoff meeting where everyone involved is invited.

When should you organize a kickoff meeting?

The anatomy of working with projects is: agreeing upon doing the project, negotiating payment and deliverables, signing the contract, planning the project, starting the work, executing the work, and delivering the product. 

A project kickoff meeting is held after the planning phase and before starting to work. It marks the point in time when the project goes from idea to implementation. How much time each stage takes – from proposal through negotiation to done deal and project planning – depends on the size of the project and the methodology chosen.

The Purpose of a Kickoff Meeting

The purpose is to get the project up and running by getting clear on the goal, expectations, deliverables, and timeline. It’s thus extra important to clearly communicate everything and not make any assumptions.

It’s normal to revise the timeline and make adjustments as the project unfolds. The most important part is that everyone is clear on the goal before starting the project. This will also help minimize the number of changes and adjustments needed.

During a project kickoff meeting, you can also gather valuable information about the business drivers that motivated the project. These can then be used as a northern star throughout the project to ensure everyone stays on track.

That said, the social aspect is as important: getting everyone to know each other and getting your team excited and motivated to get started. That’s why we suggest using both an ice-breaker and team-building activity during your kickoff meeting. These act as social lubricants – and the more comfortable and happy the team is working together, the better the execution of the project!

What Should a Kickoff Meeting Include? 

On a high level, a kickoff meeting should include the following elements: 

  • Introduction

  • Ice-breaker – creating connection and instilling anticipation to working together

  • Formal business discussion 

  • Team-building (if applicable)

On a more granular level, this can be broken down into:

  • Introducing everyone to each other – names and roles, so that it’s clear who is responsible for what.

  • Including an ice-breaker. If you’re hosting your kickoff as a Zoom meeting, you can simply ask everyone to share a gif representing how they feel right now. Or, you can have everyone share what they’re really good at (it doesn’t have to be work-related – for example, baking delicious chocolate chip cookies!). 

  • Giving the goal, context, and motivation for the project so that everyone sees the big picture.  

  • Agreeing upon what a successful project looks like. 

  • Announcing future meeting frequency, duration, and location. 

  • Establishing rules for future meetings – for example, arriving on time, and not interrupting each other. This may seem unnecessary but can save a lot of frustration and friction moving forward. It can be extra useful with international teams where “common sense” has different cultural interpretations. 

  • Establishing guidelines for internal and external communication. Should everyone be cc:d in emails? What should be communicated via email, and what could be covered in direct messages on platforms such as Slack or Workplace? This can once again seem obvious but will save a lot of headaches – especially since the client team and your team may have different default ways of communication. 

  • Going through the project timeline, including significant milestones and deadlines. 

  • Sharing valuable resources and references. 

  • Next steps: going through how to reach the first milestone.

You can also finish the meeting with a team-building activity to officially kick off the project in a fun and playful way.

How to Run an Effective Kickoff Meeting? 

Running an effective kickoff meeting starts well ahead of the agreed time and day. Ideally, it’s preceded by one or several pre-kickoff meetings. Depending on the type of project, you can also choose to have 3 separate kickoffs – one with the internal team, one with stakeholders and sponsors, and the last one with the client. 

Regardless of the structure you choose, there are a few things to keep in mind to run an effective kickoff meeting. Preparation is key, as with all meetings. Keeping track of the time during the meeting is another crucial aspect. You don’t want half of the participants to log off before you’ve come to the main point, or miss out on the team-building activity in the end. It’s recommended to set aside no more than one hour for the kickoff meeting.

Airgram specializes in helping managers to run efficient meetings. One of the features is timestamped notes making it easier to rewatch certain things you discussed in the kickoff meeting without needing to rewatch the entire recording. 

What is a pre-kickoff meeting

A pre-kickoff meeting is held in a more informal setting with only the client. It’s an excellent opportunity to get clear on what to cover in the official kickoff meeting – without the pressure of having stakeholders present. This increases the chances of a fruitful, smooth-sailing kickoff meeting.

Apart from creating a connection with your client, the pre-kickoff meeting is where to exchange project and team information and make necessary adjustments to the kickoff meeting agenda. 

What to prepare for a kickoff meeting: List for managers

Before hosting the meeting, there are a few things you should be clear of as a meeting host. No one wants to lead a meeting forgetting to introduce a project participant or confusing names and roles. 

Use this checklist to run a kickoff meeting in a professional and well-prepared way. Feel free to add your own items.

  • Names, roles, and other relevant information about each team member, stakeholder, and person involved in the project

  • Project type and methodology (e.g.: scrum)

  • Project purpose and goal

  • Scope of the project. What is included? What is left out, and why?

  • Preferred communication channels and frequency (eg email, Zoom meetings, Slack)

  • Kickoff meeting agenda 

After the meeting, you can send out the meeting notes to the participants, together with the presentation. Remember to send it even to those who couldn’t attend!

When estimating the time required, leave a couple of minutes at the end of the meeting for questions. Besides removing any doubts, this is another way to make all participants feel seen and important, which will motivate them to do a better job!

Kickoff Meeting Agenda Template

Every efficient meeting needs an agenda template! We’ve made the job easy for you – simply copy and paste this kickoff meeting template, and you’re ready to rock your next kickoff meeting!

  • What is the bigger vision of the project? 

  • Go through the context and vision – this will help the team members stay motivated and focused on a common goal. For example, if the project is to build a clean water supply system in a village in Namibia, what will be possible? 

  • What is the project scope?

  • Cover what is included in the scope and what should be left out. 

  • Background:

  • Is this a brand new project, or has something been done previously?

  • What is the motivation for the project? 

  • What are the major results?

  • Mention the main results you’re striving to attain. 

  • Preliminary project plan including milestones:

  • Deadlines and key dates

  • Important meetings 

  • Q&A

  • Leave it open for questions or do a round table where everyone can ask their questions.

As mentioned above, the kickoff meeting starts well ahead of the agreed-upon time. Similarly, it ends after you have clicked that “End meeting for all” button. A good kickoff meeting comes with a follow-up email where you thank the participants for their participation and send them a short summary of what you covered. 

Whether you’re a seasoned meeting host or are organizing your first meeting, leveraging technology is a smart move to calm your nerves and squeeze the maximal possible value out of the meeting. 

Airgram is a software solution for more efficient meetings. It comes with an AI assistant that allows for accurate live transcription, among other features. Live transcription can increase engagement and animate the discussion. 

You also get the transcription sent to you afterward to remember who said what, together with the possibility of easy exporting to common note-taking software like Notion, MS Word, or Google Docs. 

Finally – remember that each workplace and scenario are unique. Use your expertise to add or remove parts of the suggested agenda.

3 Do’s and Don’ts for a Successful Kickoff Meeting

Do’s:

  • Add a human touch by introducing everyone, creating rapport, and including an ice-breaker – plus team-building if the time allows. Tip: use break-out rooms on Zoom to let people discuss in pairs or small groups! 

  • Activate live transcription (either the built-in on Zoom and similar video conference software) or through an external solution like Airgram to make people more engaged – and to facilitate for participants who find it challenging to focus or have reduced hearing.

  • Put more emphasis on the why and context than on every little detail – the details can change, but if everyone is clear on the goal, you have laid the foundation for an enthusiastic and motivated team!

Don’ts:

  • Discuss the project scope. This should ideally be clear when signing the contract.

  • Only talking about project management – this could lead to feeling the pressure to extend the scope of the project.

  • Messing up the invitations – by either forgetting to invite key people or inviting people who shouldn’t be there.

Wrapping it Up

Although a successful kickoff meeting should provide the opportunity to exchange information, the main focus should be to set the sentiment and entice enthusiasm for the project. 

After all, information and instructions can always be conveyed through an email – excitement and engagement are easier to evoke in a meeting. 

Some final advice: show up well prepared to the kickoff meeting, remember to introduce everyone, have some element of connection/team-building, and leave time for questions at the end. That way, you’ve set yourself and your team up for a successful project making clients come back for more!

Ranee Zhang

Ranee is the Head of Growth of Airgram and has rich experience in the SaaS field. She developed a passion for writing as a young girl and believed the written word could unlock doors as well as the imagination.

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