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Well begun, as they say, is half done. Better project kickoff meetings will help you establish expectations, gather requirements, and set the general tone of the project. This article will share 10 tips to running kickoff meetings that lead to project success.
After months of emails, phone calls, and negotiations, the kickoff meeting is where the two teams - yours and the client’s - finally meet.
As far as project moments go, this is a pretty big one.
I can’t overstate the importance of kickoff meetings. How the rest of your relationship unfolds will often depend on the vision and expectations you set here.
How exactly do you run winning kickoff meetings?
You need planning, preparation, and just a tiny bit of charm. Do it right and you’ll make the rest of the road a lot smoother.
While there is no foolproof recipe to run the perfect kickoff meeting, following these 10 tips can help:
You’ve just started a new project and your team couldn’t be more enthusiastic. Their energy levels are running high and they can’t wait to dazzle the client with their brilliance.
Not so fast.
The kickoff meeting might sound like a casual affair, but it’s not. The best ones have tight agendas and tighter time limits. Marching into one without preparation or practice can lead to seriously unfavorable results.
One solution is to run an internal kickoff meeting before the real one. This is where you educate your team about the client, the problem, and your solution for it. The goal is to bring everyone on the same page without running a bunch of one-on-one meetings.
An added benefit is that it gets inexperienced team members acquainted with the kickoff meeting process. Instead of walking in cold, they’ll have an idea of walk to expect in the actual meeting.
Here are a few tips to follow for running internal kickoff meetings:
If the client is in the same city as yours, it’s preferable to host the meeting in your own office.
Because it gives you control over the client’s experience. You can plan the visit in such a way that clients walk away impressed.
Here are a few things you can do to make the client visit as smooth as possible:
First impressions matter, and you only get one chance to make them. The above steps will go a long way in leaving clients with a favorable impression of your competence and diligence.
Assigning team roles is a top item on any kickoff meeting agenda. A proven method to do this is to use the DACI framework.
DACI is a responsibility assignment matrix used in Six Sigma projects. It involves segregating team roles into the following four categories:
Using the DACI framework in the kickoff meeting will ensure that both you and the client understand the breakdown of responsibilities.
You need to accomplish a lot in very limited time in a kickoff meeting. Approach it without a clear agenda and you’ll struggle to get anything done.
Consider the following before you set the agenda for the kickoff meeting:
Once you have this data, you can start mapping the agenda.
Ideally, it should have room for the following:
Use this template below to create your meeting agenda:
The stated goal of the kickoff meeting is to make introductions, get everyone on the same page, and hash out issues before you start.
The unstated - and far more important - goal is to establish expectations and set the tone for the rest of the project.
Every client who walks through your doors has some preconceived notions about your agency and the project. Some of these spring from the client’s prior experiences. Others come from the promises made by the sales team.
As the project manager, it is your job to set the record straight. How you’ll run the project, deal with scope changes, handle communication - all of these need to be established in the kickoff meeting.
Part of this comes across in the unsaid things that happen in a kickoff meeting - your energy, enthusiasm, and willingness to negotiate. Do you cave in easily when the client asks for a scope change? Do you promise things you can’t deliver just to please the client?
Clients will note this and expect the same behavior in the rest of the project’s life cycle.
Then there are the said things - communication approach, technology, methodology, etc. These tell clients how you run projects and what they can expect (and what can be expected of them).
At the very least, establish the following in the kickoff meeting:
Be honest and upfront, even if it sometimes means disagreeing with the client. You’ll avoid a lot of pain and unsatisfied clients later.
As far as running successful kickoff meetings goes, nothing can beat sheer preparation. Understand the project thoroughly and you’ll be able to answer any questions that come your way.
Here are a few things you should know in-depth:
You don’t have to know all of this yourself. Assign different things to different team members. Run an internal kickoff meeting to make sure that people have all the required information and understand their roles.
You can divide your planning and preparation for the kickoff meeting into three distinct phases:
Before the meeting: As self-explanatory, this is the phase before the meeting where you learn as much as you can about the project.
Your key responsibilities in this phase should be:
During the meeting: In this phase, your job is to make sure that the meeting actually goes according to plan.
Your key responsibilities include:
After the meeting: Your work isn’t over once the client walks out the door; you still have to wrap up the meeting and collate information.
Here’s what you need to do after the meeting:
I recommend creating a checklist for each of these phases to ensure that you don’t skip any major responsibility.
One of the biggest sources of conflict on creative projects is disagreement over the project’s vision. It’s not unusual for clients to have a completely different conception of the final product than your team. Sometimes, even your own team members might be misaligned on the project’s requirements.
The kickoff meeting is the perfect place to clarify these misconceptions. Make it your top priority to align everyone - the client, your team, stakeholders - on the project’s vision.
Here are a few things that should be clear to everyone working on the project:
How does the client deal with risks and scope changes? Is there additional room in the budget for scope changes? Or does the client expect you to make do with the budget at hand?
You don’t need concrete answers to these questions - not in the kickoff meeting at least. But you do need to get a feel for these answers. If the client seems receptive to the idea of expanding the budget, you have a lot more wiggle room for scope changes.
Instead of asking pointed questions (“do you have additional budget?”), try a tangential approach. Ask about how the client managed similar projects in the past, what risks they encountered, and how they dealt with scope changes.
This will help you get a feel for the client’s internal practices.
For instance, if the client tells you that they assigned extra resources for scope changes in past projects, there is a chance they have additional budget.
With all the focus on setting expectations and following agendas, it’s easy to forget the little things: making a good impression, building camaraderie, and simply getting to know your opposite team.
These little things won’t make or break the kickoff meeting (or the project at large), but they can help. If nothing else, they’ll help the client think favorably of you.
So what are these little things?
Here are a few:
In other words, be likable.
Project kickoff meetings mark a major moment in the project. This is where you establish expectations, align agendas, and set the tone for the rest of the relationship. A well-run kickoff meeting will ensure that you hit the ground running.
These 10 tips will help you run kickoff meetings that win over clients and leave favorable impressions.
Check out this guide to learn more about running effective creative projects:
How do you run kickoff meetings at your agency? Are there any specific tips or tactics that you follow? Share them with us in the comments below!
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