Leadership optimize

Get everyone on the same page with a project kickoff meeting


Sometimes projects don't always go through an organized sequence of planning and execution. On many projects, you're forced to jump into execution and then catch up with the planning later. Before you know it, you find that team members and stakeholders have varying levels of understanding about the purpose and status of the project.
Regardless of how you start your project, you should always hold a project kickoff. The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to formally notify all team members, clients, and stakeholders that the project has begun and make sure everyone has a common understanding of the project and their roles. Like all formal meetings, there should be an agenda. There are a number of specific things you want to do at this meeting:

  • Introduce the people at the meeting.
  • Recap the information in the Project Charter, including the purpose of the project, the scope, the major deliverables, the risks, the assumptions, the estimated effort and budget, and the deadline.
  • Discuss the important roles and responsibilities of the project team, clients and stakeholders. Many, if not all, of the people that will work on the project should be in attendance. If there's confusion about the role of any person or organization, I you should discuss and clarify it here.
  • Go over the general approach and timeline of the project. This gives people a sense for how the project will unfold. In particular, you will want to ensure that people understand what they need to be doing in the short-term to support the project.
  • Discuss the project management procedures. It's important for everyone to understand how the project manager will manage schedule, issues, scope, risk, etc., since many people play a role in these procedures. For example, you need a process to surface scope change requests, determine their impact, and bring them forward for approval. You don't want to fight with people about how the process works after the project has started. The kickoff meeting is the time to make sure every understands and agrees to the proposed project management procedures.
  • Discuss and answer any outstanding questions. The purpose of the discussion is not to rehash the purpose of the project, but to allow people to voice specific questions or concerns they have as the project begins.
  • Confirm that the project is now underway.

In general, the project team, client, and stakeholders should be in attendance. Most kickoff meetings can be conducted in an hour or two, but other complex and long projects may require a day or two.

21 comments
dasha_g
dasha_g

Indeed, a kickoff meeting is a good opportunity to get the the team synced, clearly communicated the goals and outline expectations. However, getting it right is easier said than done. Some kickoff meetings dive too deep into operational details. Some, on the other hand, only provide a bird-eye view that leaves a lot of unanswered questions regarding particular tasks. And it matters not only _what_ a team leader says at the meeting, but also _how_ he says that. Recently, we investigated what workers hate to hear at kickoff meetings, i.e. what makes them confused, demotivated or discouraged. If you're interested, here's a link to the list of 10 most hated phrases one might hear at project kickoff: http://www.wrike.com/blog/02/28/2013/10-Phrases-That-Can-Ruin-Your-Project-Kickoff-Meeting

cherlene.lim
cherlene.lim

Shall I go for the exam without attending any course and self-learn from books or notes?

drktech1
drktech1

My definition of a kickoff meeting. A kickoff meeting is not the initial meeting of the project. The kickoff meeting is held during the transition between initial project planning and project execution. The core project team has already laid out a project plan, schedule, and charter. Risk should have been discussed and mitigation or contingency included in the plan, schedule, and budget. The project sponsors have approved the plan and budget. This meeting is to introduce the rest of the project team members that are new for the execution potion of the project and discuss the project with users and department heads of which the project will draw additional resources or the project will affect their operation in some way. Previous to this point there is no approved project. This is why I said you don't go around and ask everyone what can go wrong.

kitico
kitico

Most of the project kickoff meetings I have been through have been more like prayer meeting in which the participants express their desire for things to be better than they are right now, and declare their roles in the fantasy resolution. Projects seem to die quickly after it is realized that praying for a better day and dedicating the resources to make a better day are distinctly different activities. The prayer-process starts off well-intended, but planners seem to lack an understanding of how to get from planning meeting to finished product. I'm sorry to report that project management classes offer little useful advice. CYA seems to be the chief recommendation after involving stake-holders. I think the people who make movies for the big screen should be writing books on project management. Think about the last movie you saw. Recall how many people and organizations were involved in bringing it to fruition. The credits go on for a mile.

casey
casey

While the points of the post are certainly valid project management best practices, the 1st and last paragraphs are very disturbing. If I'm managing the project, it doesn't start until ALL the participating stakeholders understand what's expected and what the governance structure looks like. This usually results in not one, but several kick-off meetings. And if I'm brought in mid-stream to correct a wayward project, if there are major pieces missing - a Charter or plan for instance, I stop everything until those elements are in place and their importance communicated. Otherwise, there is a strong liklihood the wrong people will be doing or expecting the wrong things.

mustang84
mustang84

I also like to ask each meeting attendee (round robin) what they perceive as the greatest risk associated with the project. You might be surprised by the answers. Also, if the project crosses many functional areas, I sometimes also ask each attendee to comment on the biggest benefit this project will provide. It helps to understand the other person's point of view.

retro77
retro77

Also to keep people wanting to come back to project meetings, supply snacks and drinks. This works. People will remember that next time you are in charge of a project too.

ETC1792
ETC1792

The kick off meeting should discuss the documentation, project goals, time line, deliverables and due dates but most important it needs to hit the ground running by assigning deliverables immediately. Hand out the documents in a binder with a draft project plan. Assign names and dates. Have a communication plan with all telephone numbers and emails. I always float a zero dollar change order immediately stating that I am accepting the project as the project manager. This is a test to see how change orders are handled, who has signing authority, how long it takes, is it management by committee, etc. The kick off meeting is where you set the tone as the PM. Focus on deliverables and accountability and the project will succeed. My focus over the last 10 years has been deploying PMOs and performing recovery on projects that fail. I have deployed over $500 million in security, infrastructure and wireless technology. Set the tone with specific deliverables and you will succeed.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

At the start of the project the only people we know for sure who are working the project are the Project Manager and maybe the analyst. The other players might be the development lead and the test lead. The developers and testers are not known, and if there are developers or testers at the meeting I have found that I may never speak to them again. At the start of a project things are very flexible with people coming and going very rapidly. It's only once we get into development that the staff start to stabilize. Most of the people at the kick-off meeting will not be around at the end of the project, so I find myself meeting people with grand ideas for the project who never get to see those ideas through to fruition. A much more fulfilling meeting is the Lessons Learned Meeting(s) at the completion of the project. Save the cookies and coke for sharing amongst the people that actually worked on the project and provided the ideas that were acted upon. In My Experience, Les.

drktech1
drktech1

I think it is a very bad idea to discuss risk as an open ended discussion during a kick-off meeting. When you have business people present like department heads and above (CIO. CEO, CIF, CFO, etc) I think the first meeting should be all positive. Why would you want to have someone bring up that there is a possibility that there application system could be down for a week. Or, that someone thinks the budget is half what it should be. Maybe someone should bring up the point that they think the project manager has not brought a project in on time and budget yet. I don?t think these are things that you want to have to discuss risk mitigation in a project kickoff meeting. How much time do want to devote in the kickoff meeting in responding to people thinking the budget and timeframe should be double .? The kick off meeting should be upbeat.

ccaflisch
ccaflisch

Great way to show the significance of a change order to the team - great to also show the change in timeline on that change order.

shermp
shermp

The kickoff meeting is not so much for the IT development team who, as you state, are not all involved at that point - but for the project sponser, subject matter experts, business area staff, analysts and other people who are in the project at this point. The time spent to plan and have this meeting is far from a waster of time.

PonderousMan
PonderousMan

While I agree that the general tone of a kickoff should be positive, I would hope you could ask folks to share their own personal/departmental assessment of the greatest risk in a meeting like that. From what you are describing, it sounds to me like there is something else really, really wrong - I mean, if everyone in a meeting like that really thinks the budget/timeline/etc should be double, how the heck did it get set to half of what it should be? If instead you are saying that some folks may air personal gripes or attitudes - that sounds to me like a really good opportunity to show some leadership, note that the person has some important concerns, and that you as PM will be following up with them. (If said person is known for being a stick in the mud, then this may be seen cynically - but maybe that person keeps getting ignored when they have something that actually should be heard...) In the end, you can't control what anyone does in any meeting (q.v. all the threads on bad behavior at meetings), so you'd better be ready for whatever may come up at you.

SObaldrick
SObaldrick

.. my experience is that a whole bunch of IT people show up just because they want to be involved in the 'NEW' project. They have their say and are never heard of again. I agree that there should be a meeting to educating the stakeholders, but I don't thnk this is really a project kick-off meeting. If you are using a RUP type process this would come at the end of the inception phase when the analysts, managers and SMEs have had time to assess the risks and derive estimates. Maybe you call it the project kick-off meeting elsewhere, but my experience of PKO meetings happens before inception and all we do is sit around in conference room trying to stake out our territory on the new project. Les.

dilipj
dilipj

It is a must that if experienced people are attending the KOM then major risk factors must be pointed out and noted. Discussions can happen afterwards but as they appeared at the KOM it is possible to gain resolution/mitigation for it at highest priority. - All stakeholders are present at the KOM so all became aware of the Major risk factors.

GlennHughes
GlennHughes

.. by the time you reach kick off. Your charter or management plan (whatever your org calls it) should include a section on risks, probably at a high level, including the 'not enough time and budget' type. As with all risks the charter or PMP risk section should have weighting, mitigating action plans and THE OWNER. These can be presented at the kick off, if anyone raises other risks the answer is 'risk management will be an ongoing activity including a full risk assessment workshop where we will discuss other risks'. Going back further if you carry out any sort of project portfolio management you will have also started to address the cost/time risks by having agreement that this is a good idea and can be resourced (be it money, people, h/w, s/w etc.) by someone.

mustang84
mustang84

Some very good points have been raised here. For instance, I have never had a kickoff meeting with over 20 people in it. Asking each person in a very large meeting their opinion would be a bad idea, if not for the time constraints alone. But I think having each stakeholder state their biggest benefit and biggest (perceived) risk can help with success in cross-departmental projects, even those with latent political undertones.

Jos_Hort
Jos_Hort

In my experience this pessimistic attitude that can come from discussion of risks and potentnial problems are sometimes mitigated by making sure you get people to agree the actions that could prevent these happening thus helping get a more positive attitude from stakeholders. It's hard work but worth the effort.

PonderousMan
PonderousMan

"I don?t see why you would ask a group of people out of the blue 'Tell me everything and anything that can go wrong?'" I see now that we are talking about two very different kinds of kickoff meetings. I would agree that if you have a large group (15+?), then "going around the room" would be hard to do, even if people were very focused and professional. I work in a place where the teams are usually pretty small (5, maybe 10, tops), but where we often don't have any open discussion about things like risk. In the interest of preserving "autonomy", management has chosen to avoid any requirement - or even suggestion - for formal PM or other processes (testing, code reviews, etc.). As a result, even in those rare cases where we do an actual kickoff, they tend to be pro forma, salute-the-flag sorts of things. That's why I reacted so strongly against the suggestion I thought I heard, namely that risk should not be discussed at all. I was not suggesting that anyone should have an "open ended discussion" in a kickoff meeting - my point was that risk should be acknowledged and talked about. When and where will depend a lot on the size and scope of the project.

drktech1
drktech1

Maybe I have run larger projects, but when you get 25 to 50 people or so together for a kick off meeting I don?t think you want to ask everyone for what can go wrong. You will always have the pessimist at a kick off meeting. The last kick off I had were two groups of 35 people each. I did not say everyone; all it takes is one person to state to the CEO that they think the timeline and budget are wrong. I still don?t think the kickoff meeting is the place to go around the room asking what can go wrong with this project. I think if want to discuss risk; you do so in a separate risk meeting. I don?t see why you would ask a group of people out of the blue ?Tell me everything and anything that can go wrong??