Starting the project right sets a tone for the project that often positions the team for success. While it may not guarantee success, having a bad project kickoff meeting in most cases is an early warning sign that the project is headed into ditch. The most important event during the initiation process is the kickoff meeting. This is the team/stakeholder meeting that officially launches the project. It could perhaps be the most important meeting because it often is a test of the project manager and the team by the organization to see if everyone has their act together or not. The benefits of the kickoff meeting include:
- Affirming the support of the executive sponsor and senior leaders to the objectives of the project.
- Explaining the authority and responsibility of the project manager to the organization to rally support and demand cooperation.
- An opportunity for the team to come together under the banner of the project.
- Setting stakeholder and organizational expectation as to what is covered or may not be covered in the scope of the project.
- Receiving feedback on any gaps in the scope of potential benefits of the project to begin building/refining requirements.
It is important as part of the planning process that the project manager work with stakeholders to ensure appropriate representation during the meeting. Attendees of the kickoff should include:
- The executive sponsor and project manager
- Key steering committee members
- All project team members
- Representatives of the client organization (internal or external)
- Representatives of other project leaders who might interact with the project (in the case of a program)
Since this is the first opportunity for the project manager to demonstrate strength and competence, it is important for the PM to lead/facilitate this event. However, in order for this activity to be viewed positively, the PM must spend the time prior to the meeting planning for it. Here are some suggestions to help the PM prepare for the event and lead an effective meeting:
- Preparing a presentation that is shared with the attendees describing the business case for the project and outlining the high level scope.
- Discussing with team members high level responsibilities and sharing this information during the meeting.
- Highlighting key elements of the project charter or statement of work or client agreement. This may include processes such as deliverable approval or change control.
- Discussing terminology and coming to agreement on a set of common definitions.
- Establishing and/or going over team ground rules to set proper team expectations.
- Providing contact details for key stakeholders and going over next steps.
- Addressing the proposed next steps in the process and outlining other key planned milestones for the project to ensure that everyone understands what will happen moving forward.
- Identifying a person who will serve as meeting minutes taker during the session (other than the PM) so that action items, decisions, and issues are captured.
- Reviewing key elements of the product/service being delivered on the project to determine if there is a common understanding.
- Conducting a team building activity if the time allows and/or if it is appropriate.
Once the meeting is concluded and it is deemed a success, the process of the kickoff meeting is not over. There are key follow up activities that the PM and the team need to address to ensure continued credibility. They include:
- Reviewing and distributing kickoff meeting notes including action items.
- Adjusting key components of the scope if any were identified and making changes to the charter if they were agreed upon.
- Communicating the launch of the project to parties not present or not invited to the meeting.
- Initiating detailed scope verification and objective validation sessions to begin planning.
- Documenting team operating norms and reviewing ground rules with the team.
- Communicating agreed upon responsibilities of various team members and stakeholders.
- Update official documentation such as charter, SOW, etc…
As I mentioned, there is perhaps no meeting more important than the kickoff in the lifecycle of the project. I recall one meeting in an organization I joined where the project manager showed up late to the kickoff and left the meeting for 15 minutes to make copies of the agenda (which he should have had at the beginning). As you can imagine, that meeting was perhaps the best meeting that the project team as it ended up being downhill from then on. The project did not end well.
I’m sure that there are other tips that seasoned practitioners use during their kickoff meetings, so I would welcome additional insight from readers of this post.