A kick-off meeting is an essential part of any project, and running a great one sets everyone- your team, client, and even product- up for success.
Throughout my years of running projects at Nolte, I have been involved in hundreds of agency kick-off meetings. Based on feedback and overall outcomes of our projects we’ve continued to evolve our process. I find the following quick tips are pivotal in planning and conducting effective kick-off meetings.
1. Set Expectations
Expectations can make or break a project, so it’s crucial to set them on your first call or meeting. While this might seem intuitive, I’ve seen agencies and companies (including ours) struggle to communicate goals and deliverables effectively, especially during kick-off. This initial meeting requires the feedback and knowledge of anyone invested in the project, so it’s best to prepare them before anyone walks in the door (or gets on the call).
We generally ask our clients and partners to include all stakeholders in the meeting, share preliminary information about the project, including someone to represent the end user. This full spectrum allows everyone to get on the same page and provides valuable insights that can positively impact the project moving forward.
2. Have a Clear Agenda and Stick To It
We have a policy at Nolte that all meetings need a clear agenda for everyone involved. For our kick-off meetings, this is especially important to ensure all stakeholders in the meeting know how much time will be involved in each area of the meeting. This helps for several reasons:
- Everyone knows how long your meeting will take and how much time you have to cover each area
- Agendas bring visibility to all of the stakeholders and allow them to prepare (back to #1)
- Ranking and timing each item allows for prioritization
- Meetings stay on track and avoid getting derailed
While having a listed agenda may suffice, I find listing minutes next to each item and including this information in a calendar invite, as well as sending it to all team attendees before the meeting sets things up nicely.
3. Run an internal handoff
At Nolte, we have a formal internal handoff where the agency sales team presents all information to the product team. During this preliminary meeting all the related parties who worked on scoping, estimating, or pre-project work are involved to ensure there are focused times to present and ask questions about the project, client, and overall goals and objectives. Involving the whole product team ensures that no one enters the kick-off blind and can also think about the project and risks, assumptions or questions they may have on the project.
4. Prepare, prepare, prepare
For preparation, we research the project heavily and make sure our team is completely up to speed with any information that may have been discussed, shared or presented before the kick-off. Ensuring your team has a complete understanding and can ask questions before going into the meeting safeguards against unwanted surprises.
Another key point for preparation is to have an associated presentation with an agenda which is pre-populated with information on scope, timing, and other project-related data, which is communicated back to the team. While certain assumptions are made, we also leave room for collaborative exercises and input from the team to gather a fuller picture of the project in the kick-off.
5. Involve all stakeholders
This is crucial and can sometimes take some critical thinking outside of the norm to uncover “hidden” stakeholders. In general, you should think about any parties who may have valuable information or opinions on the project. Having key people in the meeting ensures that they are aware of the project and gives the project team an understanding of who should be involved for the duration of the project.
6. Aim to align on vision
All of the pre-kickoff work listed above is to get stakeholders to align. You are initiating a project together; your team and contributors should all be aligned with the outcomes of the project. In my experience, there is generally one person driving leadership and strategic direction of the process to whom all parties should aim to bring their unique view and skills to support them.
7. Outline roles, responsibility and next steps for all parties.
We’ve recently started using some of the resources out of the Atlassian Playbook which has been incredibly useful for tips and tricks for our teams. One tool we’ve found helpful is DACI which stands for Driver, Approver, Contributors, and Informed. During the kick-off you can assign roles as follows:
|Driver||The one person responsible for corralling stakeholders, collating all the necessary information and getting a decision made by the agreed date. This may or may not be the project's full-time owner, depending on the decision.||One|
|Approver||Approver. The one person who makes the decision.||One|
|Contributors||They have knowledge or expertise that may influence the decision — i.e., they have a voice, but no vote.||Many|
|Informed||They are informed of the final decision.||Many|
8. Run a pre-mortem
Another great tool we’ve learned about from the folks at Atlassian is the Pre-Mortem play from the Atlassian Playbook. This exercise is a great tool that allows your team to begin to form a relationship as well as get any preliminary project concerns out in the open. Kick-off meetings generally focus on the positive outcomes without realizing the risks and potential elements that could cause failure. This is a risk in any project, getting ahead of them and communicating around those risks allows teams to mitigate that risk.
9. Use collaborative tools and technology
I’ve seen many items come up as an afterthought from a kick-off meeting, since this is generally the first time teams are meeting and thinking together. In order to support the afterthoughts and items that arise as a result of these meetings, it is important to share the documents discussed and open up online tools that allow for all stakeholders to contribute to them. Some tools which we use that promote this point are:
- HipChat (Atlassian) – We set up this tool for all projects and invite our clients and partners to join in on the conversation. Good for quick notes, not ideal for discussing important project details.
- Confluence (Atlassian) – We use this for our internal Wiki as well as documentation area for our entire team. This works similar to Google Docs with some added product team features that connect with our other tools.
- Google Docs – We set up our kick-off presentations in Google Slides which allow for collaboration before kick-off as well as post-kick-off for us and clients to add notes, comments, and content.
Keep it High-Level
Kick-Off meetings can run off track sometimes; removing extremely detailed conversation from these meetings helps to ensure all parties are getting value out of the meeting. A good rule of thumb is if the conversation is between two parties and does not bring value to the entire project or project team politely interrupt and get the conversation back to the agenda (which should be high-level). If there are more in-depth conversations that need to happen, make note of it and ask to schedule a separate time to focus on that item if warranted.
Have an idea, tip or trick that you find helpful for running kick-off meetings? We’d love to hear- share it in the comments.
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