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Every journey starts with a single step, but what if that step is in the wrong direction? Time will be wasted, morale dented and the leader’s reputation wounded.

This is why you hold a Project Kickoff Meeting. Done right, it impresses the client or customer and gets things moving towards the goal. Done wrong, or overlooked completely, and the project can disappear into a black hole before it’s even started.

Here we’ll explain why the kickoff meeting matters and share some tips for getting the most from it. When you’ve finished reading you should be ready to prepare for your next project kickoff meeting.

3 Reasons Why the Project Kickoff Meeting Matters

The kickoff meeting is often the first time the project team and the client sit down together. At this point the goals have been defined, the scope estimated and contracts signed. Now it’s time to move from talking about the project to actually doing the work.

This is where inexperienced Project Managers (PMs) stumble. Sometimes they just assume team members have started work. (Unlikely.) Other times individuals are told to start but only later is it discovered they all have slightly different understandings of what’s expected.

Here are three reasons why it’s important to get this meeting right.

  1. Ensures team members have a common understanding of what the client needs and expects.
  2. Gives the client confidence in the team’s ability to deliver the expected results.
  3. Ensures everyone – client side and team side – knows the project management processes to be used.

Think of the kickoff meeting as gathering hiking companions around a map. The leader, or PM, says, “We are here. This is where we are going. This is how we will get there. Now, start walking.”

Tips for Effective Project Kickoff Meetings

Let’s start with what to avoid. The project team should not debate the approach between themselves. This will leave the client thinking they are unprepared. Neither should there be a great detail of detail discussed. You’re ensuring everyone is clear about what will be done, rather than the minutiae of how they will be doing it.

So how do you keep the meeting on track and get the project moving? Here are five tips.

1. Prepare the client.

In a pre-meeting or call explain what you want to achieve with the kickoff meeting. Ask who should or will be invited from the client side, and ask the client to prepare a presentation on the project background. Hearing this directly from the client reinforces the sense of urgency and helps the team understand why their work matters

2. Prepare the team.

In another pre-meeting, preferably face-to-face, introduce the team members. With intros out the way, go through the Statement of Work and explain everyone’s role. Define the internal management processes that will be used, and finish by describing what you want from the kickoff meeting.

3. Plan the meeting.

If the kickoff must be by web meeting, find a time that works for all participants. Ideally though, have them physically sit together. (Many subtleties of body language are lost in phone or video.) Allocate sufficient time, but not so much that the meeting can degenerate into debates and detail discussions. Publish an agenda so everyone can prepare.

4. Follow the agenda

Start with introductions, but dive deep. Have each person explain what they will be doing as part of or for the project. Then have the client share what they expect from the project and why. This sets the stage for you to describe what your team will actually do.

Before concluding, cover the processes and schedules used for activities like tracking, reporting and identifying exceptions or deviations. The client may take this opportunity to request changes in how these are done, but guard against scope creep.

5. Show enthusiasm!

The kickoff meeting sets the project tone. If the team appears out of their depth the client will have concerns right from the start. Your goal for the meeting then is to generate excitement, and this will flow from the enthusiasm shown by you and your team. So get fired up!

Start Out in the Right Direction

No project is ever easy to manage, but it helps if the team and client start out feeling positive and united. An effective project kickoff meeting sets that tone and increases your chances of success.