Preparing a Productive Kickoff Meeting

The kickoff meeting is a perfect opportunity to set some ground rules for any organisational project. The meeting is not only about collecting ideas as it is aimed at setting clear objectives and minimising surprises and hiccups later on. That is why every responsible manager prepares in the best possible way for a smooth kickoff meeting.

The Kickoff Philosophy

Apart from solidifying goals, the kickoff meeting acts as an ice breaking session between people involved in the project. It is an excellent opportunity to bond. As many members are interacting with each other for the first time, the kickoff meeting sets the tone of the project.

Setting up good interpersonal relations enhances the collaboration for the rest of the project. I advise maintaining a formal meeting environment in order to stay focused on the agenda.

Kickoff Meeting Preparation – Best practices

Show off your confidence and management skills at your next kickoff meeting by preparing thoroughly. Apart from the setting up roles and tasks, preparation helps you to stay in control of the flow of the meeting. It sets the ground for smooth and clear communication and allows the project to proceed with fewer hiccups. Budget planning, scheduling, and collecting supporting documents are the key areas that demand your attention and time.

Interact with the Management

At the early phase, it is important to interact with stakeholders and decision makers. Make sure to communicate the correct guidelines, expectations and goals during the meeting. Also, try to ensure the stakeholders’ support for your strategy.

Consult with Stakeholders

Try using the time before the kickoff meeting to consult with the principal stakeholders with whom you usually do not interact on a daily basis. It is important to know how they envision your organisation and its capabilities. Based on their responses, you can have clear insights on internal and external (customer) expectations as well as understanding what can be improved before scheduling the kickoff meeting with them.

For each of them, you must have a clear understanding of:

  • What are your primary goals for this project?
  • What is the added value of the project?
  • What will be the impact of the project?
  • What are the risks?
  • Is the stakeholder a sponsor or an opposer? (in a case of having opposers, why are they opposing the project?

Documents and Questions

Collect all project-oriented documents and formulate a draft of a risk list, schedule and budget. As you can’t determine all the factors that can contribute to preparing the final version of these documents before the kickoff meeting, start getting a head start on them by making a list of probable questions that participants can ask during the meeting.

Schedule It Right

The last preparation step involves scheduling the meeting. You should provide the participant with several options for the meeting date and time frames. Also, let everyone know that they will receive relevant documents from you before the meeting so that they have plenty of time to review them.

The meeting time frame depends on the number of planned activities and points to cover. Usually, kickoff meeting lasts about 2 to 3 hours; the length should be adequate to flesh out fresh ideas without the time pressure. Also, communicate breaks for meals and drinks to the participants.

5 Key Points to Remember for the Pre-Kickoff Planning

To set the desired tone and standards of your meeting, start formulating a strategy that can assist you to keep the momentum going.

#1 Determine Project Goals & Objectives

Just like any other meeting, participants feel much more comfortable if they know its direction. Therefore, it is essential to determine project goals and formulate the compelling vision for the entire project. Ensure that project objectives are narrating the importance of the project success to the company and client. Define deliverables that clearly communicate responsibilities and expectations to each participant.

Along with communicating goals and objectives, one must also be ready for possible discussion topics to avoid any surprises. New discussion topics can provide new insights -prepare to effectively manage them and align them with project goals and objectives.

#2 Determine the Project Timeline

Decide in advance, a suitable time and day of the week to arrange weekly project update meetings. Usually, the update meeting lasts between 45 and 60 minutes. Emphasise the importance of attendance to each participant and how critical it is to complete their weekly tasks before every update meeting. Also, remind them of the importance of teamwork for accomplishing project milestones in the desired timeline; reinforce them to look out for each other and seek help without hesitating.

Formulate timeline that can empower each participant about their responsibilities and motivate them to accomplish weekly tasks.

#3 Create a Responsibility Assignment Matrix

A responsibility assignment matrix is also popularly known as RACI. It aims at communicating project deliverables and explaining all project participants their roles in achieving the deliverables.

RACI will enable you to define the key stakeholders associated with the project in hand and also assists in defining responsibilities of participants. As a project manager, you must help participants in identifying probable bottlenecks and obstacles.

#4 Formulate Your Communication Strategy

Formulating a communication strategy includes discussing your plan with interested parties, and share information and updates in timely fashion. Utilise company’s intranet or other communication tools to formulate it. An effective communication strategy includes updating participants about:

  • Subproject planning sessions
  • Weekly project status meetings
  • Updates from Senior management
  • Use of the company intranet or other communication vehicles

#5 Presentation or Graphical Support

Creating a data backup or presentation is a commonly followed practice. Present facts and figures graphically in order to drive the discussion and support your assumptions concerning the project at hand. Any change of plan and other important updates that you come up with during the meeting can be added to your documents and project schedule. Also, incorporate the list of project assumptions in your presentation or other graphical support, and communicate with participants, if required, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

Of course, it goes without saying that there will be some resistance or disagreement from participants – be ready to tackle it without disrupting the project goals and objectives.

Above mentioned points will serve as excellent reference points for project managers to prepare for possible discussions, guide the conversation in the desired direction, and maintain smooth communication flow during the entire kickoff meeting. Throughout the kickoff meeting, the role of the project manager is to capture concerns, questions and action items for the next meeting. A little bit of pre-meeting planning quickly pushes things forward making participants feel valued and involved from the very start.

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