Your first project meeting is an opportunity to share your plan for leading the project to a successful completion. You should take advantage of this one-time chance to energize the group, set proper expectations, and establish guidelines that will help you complete the project on time and within budget. If you fail to prepare for this meeting, you’ll put the project at risk right from the start.

When you leave the kickoff meeting, everyone on the project team must be on the same page. Your preparation beforehand will determine whether your kickoff meeting will offer the greatest benefit to team members.

Meeting preparation
Step 1: Develop the project goals and deliverables
Defining these elements will drive the decisions you must make for staffing the project and developing the project plan. Write them down and validate your definitions with the project owners (whoever justified and initiated the project).

Step 2: Identify the project team members and their responsibilities
Resource needs vary based upon the size, complexity, and nature of the project. Include resources from four key groups, as needed, to fully support your project.

  • Operations
  • Corporate support
  • Management
  • Technical

Develop a project team contact list that includes the name, responsibility, department, physical location, phone number, fax number, and e-mail address for each member. You’ll want to distribute this to the team.

Step 3: Develop a project assumptions list
It’s important for project team members to be aware of major assumptions that apply to the project. For example, spell out the assumption that each team member has been selected and made available to the project by their manager to ensure its success. That assumption means that their assigned tasks must take priority, and each participant must be committed to the success of the project if they are to participate.

Step 4: Develop the preliminary project plan
You can save a lot of time by going ahead and developing the tasks, responsibilities, and timeframes of the project plan. Going through this exercise will help you validate whether you have the right resources, identify risks, and determine the appropriate timelines for tasks and milestones.

Use whatever resources you need to help you create the initial project plan. The point here is that when you go into the kickoff meeting, you will already have a plan drafted. Doing so will save time and get the project off to a faster start. (To develop a project plan, download this project-planning template.)

Realize that the plan is not carved in stone at this point. Actually, it should never be. Up until the kickoff meeting, it is a knowledgeable draft. Once you have the team assembled and assign clear responsibilities, you should ask team members to validate their task responsibilities and timeframes for reasonability, completeness, and accuracy. The plan will become more established at the first project status meeting.

Step 5: Define key success factors
Every project team member needs to know what it takes to have a successful project. Take the time to define in specific terms each item that will be required for success. Validate your list with the project owner(s).

Step 6: Schedule the project kickoff meeting
It is important for all project team members to participate in the kickoff meeting. Send a communication to each participant with a preferred time and date and include options in case they are unavailable. Even if someone is “out of pocket,” he or she can participate by phone.

Your goal here is to assemble the entire team so they all hear the same message at the start of the project. Instruct all participants to look for meeting materials on a specified date and to prepare for the meeting by reviewing them.

As soon as you have a firm time and date, schedule a conference room and phone services to support conference calls, as needed. Plan for a 90-minute meeting.

Personal note

In a recent project, I had 12 team members from four company departments located in seven physical office locations in five cities. It’s not always feasible to get all team members in the same conference room, as in this case. By preparing a solid agenda, providing supporting documentation ahead of time, and organizing the flow of the meeting, you can conduct an excellent kickoff meeting that gets all participants focused on the same objectives, even when many do not know one another.

Step 7: Send the kickoff meeting materials to all participants
On your designated date, send a package of meeting materials to each participant, including:

  1. Meeting time and date with call-in phone number
  2. Meeting agenda
  3. Project participants’ contact information
  4. Project plan draft

Ask each person to review the project plan carefully. Indicate that additional information will be discussed at the kickoff meeting and everyone should be familiar with his or her part of the plan. Explain that there will be a Q&A session at the meeting to answer any questions.

Step 8: Identify key issues and project dependencies
Review the project plan prior to the kickoff meeting and make notes on points that you want to make at the meeting. Pertinent items include potential bottlenecks, impact issues, risk areas, etc.

What’s next?

After all of your preparation, knowing how to conduct your kickoff meeting is the next step. In part two of this series, we’ll detail the best way to lead a project kickoff meeting.

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.