Follow these steps to conduct an effective project kickoff meeting

Preparing for your project kickoff meeting is only half the work. You must also establish an atmosphere of leadership and communication.

The kickoff meeting for a new project is your best opportunity to energize the group and establish a common purpose toward completing the work. I’ve found that a great kickoff is the result of good planning. After you’ve done your project preparation work, you need to plan for an effective meeting.

I’ve developed a set of tactics that I use to set the tone for the meeting. They help me stay organized, establish my leadership, and begin molding the individual project participants into a team. These tips should help you lead more productive project kickoff meetings.

Second of two parts
Last week’s article discussed the preparation work that consultants need to do before leading a project kickoff meeting.

The agenda
As in any effective meeting, participants are better off when they have a clear understanding of how it will progress. To better help team members prepare, I use the following basic agenda for most of my project kickoff meetings (see Figure A).

Figure A

The meeting
Keep the meeting flowing and avoid wasting time. Be personable and have fun; everyone will enjoy participating more if you take this approach.

Getting started
Take immediate charge of the meeting. Welcome all participants and don’t forget to introduce yourself. Briefly explain that you’ll walk everyone through the agenda and material and that you’ll leave time for questions at the end.

Define the project, its purpose, and expected goals and deliverables. Introduce the project members and briefly discuss the role of each. You should do most of the talking in this first meeting. The kickoff is intended to bring everyone up to speed, not to discuss every item in detail. Every participant needs to see you taking charge of the meeting agenda.

Presenting the project
Now that’ you’ve set the tone, discuss the project assumptions that set the stage for how you developed the plan. Refer to the project plan document that you sent to everyone and go through it task by task. Explain and reinforce to everyone that this is a “first cut” and that the important thing to do is verify that the tasks are comprehensive, assigned appropriately, and have reasonable time frames. The time to modify the plan is before the next meeting. Explain that the project plan becomes the foundation for status meetings and is used as the primary communication vehicle for managing the project. As you step through each task, point out key dependencies or factors you noted in preparing for the meeting that affect the completion of the task.

By walking the team through the plan, you’ll be able to point out tasks that are potential bottlenecks in completing the project. Keep your discussion to the point. Don’t get bogged down, but take the opportunity to help staff members anticipate problems. Reinforce key success factors and explain why they are important.

Establish a timeline and team member expectations
Determine an appropriate time and day of the week to conduct weekly one-hour project status meetings. Reinforce the need for everyone to attend and to have that week’s tasks completed.

Take time to remind the group that teamwork is essential. Reinforce the need for participants to look out for one another. The objective is to complete the project successfully, and it is up to everyone to do their part and to help one another.

Empower team members to own their responsibilities and to ask for help. Repeat that you expect everyone to attend project status meetings prepared and with all tasks completed, unless you know well ahead of time that there are obstacles. Part of your project management job is to help the team identify bottlenecks and to eliminate obstacles.

Explain the communication plan
Discuss your plan to share information and updates with the group and interested parties, including the following:
  • Weekly project status meetings
  • Subproject planning sessions
  • Project plan status updates
  • Senior management updates
  • Use of the company intranet or other communication vehicles

Emphasize the need to communicate anything that team members see that might affect the project.

Ask for feedback and then close
Open up the meeting for questions and answers. Be certain you’ve blocked out ample time. If time runs out, ask everyone to send questions to you or to call you. You can later send out an FAQ or even post it on your company intranet for people interested in staying abreast of the project.

Summarize the meeting with a call for action and list outstanding items that require immediate follow-up. Provide direction on any follow-up communication needed and what you expect from everyone at the first project status meeting.

Final thoughts
If you read both articles in this series, you might have picked up on the four actions that will increase your success in leading a project:
  • Establish an organized presence. Demonstrate to your team that you are on top of things.
  • Empower the team members. Give each team member responsibilities and expect them to accomplish their assigned tasks.
  • Create teamwork. Encourage all to help one another and to be accountable to the project. Everyone pulling together for a common cause can have dramatic results.
  • Demonstrate leadership. Organize, empower, and develop the team, and everyone will see your leadership and follow.

Take advantage of the opportunity an effective kickoff meeting gives you. It can make a big difference in the success of your next project.

Mike Sisco is CEO of MDE Enterprises, an IT management consulting and training company in Atlanta. For more insight into Mike’s management perspective, take a look at MDE’s IT Manager Development Series.

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