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How to Run an Effective Project Kick-off Meeting [Project Management Fundamentals]

[fa icon="calendar"] 23-Mar-2020 09:00:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

project kick-off meetingWe've so far covered quite a few topics around project management - the differences between projects and operations as well as those between projects, programmes and portfolios, the DARCI model for stakeholder engagement.  

A very, very key thing for any project, is its kick-off or the meeting that gets the project team together to get the project started. 

Most kick-off meetings are actually not always effective. Often, that's due to lack of proper preparation or because they're not taken seriously and performed super fast. 

Your kick-off meeting should be long. It's probably the longest meeting you'll run during the entire project. It could even be a whole day or two if your project's length is a year or more. 

But how do you run an effective and productive kick-off meeting?

As a PMI member, I have access to and recently watched a great webinar on that topic so I want to share with you the key learnings. Here we go:

How to Run an Effective Project Kick-off Meeting

#1. Make sure everyone understands the goals of the kick-off meeting

A key thing you need to do is to excite your team about why they are part of this project so that later they truly prioritise that work and their energy is up. You need to build enthusiasm in everyone around the mission - the why - of that project and how everyone's involvement will make a difference. Having someone from the leadership team show up in the meeting will make a difference here as they can reiterate the importance of the project and people will buy it even more when it comes from someone high up. 

As part of this step, you'll need to clarify the objectives of the project and key assumptions so everyone is clear on where you're going. The same applies to getting everyone on the same page around the key deliverables, scope, timelines and budget.  

Another topic to discuss with the team is how you will work together. What are the processes you will follow, what about communication and regular meetings or reporting, what tools are you going to use, what are the ground rules people need to abide by, how about team bonding as well and getting to know each other? This needs to be a collaborative session so everyone is part of making the project a success. 

Also, make sure to discuss potential risks and anything that can hinder the project or individuals. 

Don't forget to build time for open questions so everyone can leave this meeting on the same page and know what they need to do. 

Finally, discuss very actionable next steps with clear timelines and owners for them. 

#2. Keep energy levels up and start building key relationships

As mentioned, some kick-off meetings could be quite long so if you can get offsite rather than in the office, that would help to build relationships and let people get to know each other. 

Try to get whoever from your leadership team is there to kick-off the meeting because this will set the tone right in terms of why you're all in that room together and what you're trying to achieve. 

Then figure out how to create relationship-building activities - not everybody will know each other so think about fun and competitive ways to create some team bonding. It could be even something like speed dating but breaking the meeting with such activities will bring the energy levels much higher up and when people know each other, they simply work better together. You could also have people switch seats throughout the day and build frequent breaks where you ask people to share something about themselves with the person they sit next to. 

Also, try to build in a section where people can share their work preferences and styles as this will help you and everybody else define processes of how to best operate and execute on this project. And perhaps get somebody from the team to run that session vs. you so that you can build a bottom-up team experience. 

The last tip, if you can make these sessions not just seated but standing up, walking around, writing on the wall, using sticky notes etc. that will also ensure that you keep the energy up and people remain focused. 

#3. Make sure your content and activities will help you achieve the meeting's goals

We said earlier that you want to ensure people are on the same page as to what you're trying to achieve and how. This is crucial and you have to have this in writing - in project management, this is called the project charter or the overall plan of the project. Ideally, you would turn the development of it into an activity you do with the team so everybody feels part of creating it.

Here's what the project charter should typically include: 

6 Key Elements of the Project Charter

  • project objectives, deliverables and KPIs
  • project stakeholders and sponsor
  • project constraints: timelines, budget, scope
  • out of scope elements (this is key!)
  • project team member roles and responsibilities
  • success factors and success criteria
  • risk analysis with probability and impact plus mitigation strategies (this is super important too!)

For each of these items, you need to have a conversation with the project team and perhaps build in a collaborative activity to brainstorm or tackle them.

Once you have this worked through and written, you'll need to have people signe this off because this will increase the sense of accountability.

Now, another thing you'll need to develop here is a realistic project schedule for the deliverables. Here's how you should go about it:

How to Develop a Realistic Project Schedule 

  • Identify activities/tasks you need to complete to hit project deliverables
  • Identify who are the owners of those activities/tasks
  • Have the owners estimate task durations with best, most likely and worst-case scenario (not you as you'll give wrong estimates!)
  • Sequence the activities chronologically
  • Develop a Gantt chart

Once you have this schedule, you can come up with clear next steps as you now know the timelines and the critical activities that determine the success or failure of your project.

Finally, make sure you have a backup plan for certain task owners as their unavailability for whatever reason could be a risk.

#4. Discuss how you and the project team will operate to make this project a success

It's important to discuss and agree on the ground rules for the team. This should also be an activity with the team. For example, it could be no meetings on Fridays or no meetings longer than 90 meetings.

Then you'll need to discuss processes around: 

Key Processes for Team Success and Operations:

  • How do you communicate within the team? What tools and formats do different people prefer? How about remote, different timezones and cultural differences?
  • How do you communicate with sponsors and who does that?
  • How are meetings scheduled, led and documented? Who's responsible for that?
  • How do you update the project schedule?
  • How do you assess the success and progress so far?
  • What are you documenting, how and where?
  • How do you handle changes? 
  • How do you manage action items? What do ownership and accountability really mean?
  • How do you make decisions?

And there you have it - four steps to follow to plan an effective project kick-off meeting. 


How do you run your kick-off meetings?


Grab the deck that I use to run project kick-off meetings:

project kick-off deck template


Topics: Project Management

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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