The ultimate guide to hosting a kickoff meeting

Cassy Aite
August 18, 2021
The ultimate guide to hosting a kickoff meeting | Hoppier

Starting a project without getting everyone on the same page is a recipe for disaster. Even a tiny mistake compounded over time can lead to a lot of wasted time, money, and resources.

Managing a project is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, you do have sprints for agile projects, but you get the metaphor.

Project management requires every stakeholder to be on the same page so that everyone is aware of what they're working towards. The same logic applies whether you are planning a marketing campaign or defining your sales strategy. Kickoff meetings orient internal and external stakeholders on the project so that they know the critical project details from the start.

In this article, we're going to look at the basics of a kickoff meeting, including how to plan one and what the best practices are for hosting a virtual kickoff meeting. You will also learn how to prepare a kickoff meeting agenda so that you can create your own right after you finish reading.

Let’s go!

What is a kickoff meeting?

A kickoff meeting is usually the first meeting between a client, a project manager, team members, and other stakeholders. It's hosted right after the project scope is finalized and informs everyone of the key deliverables, project timeline, and other essential details to help the whole team get on the same page.

Depending on the nature and size of the project, you can choose to host individual kickoff meetings with clients, the management, and internal teams.

For instance, you can host an informal pre-kickoff meeting with the team to discuss the project, get ideas or suggestions, and lay the groundwork. After the kickoff meeting with the client, you can host a kickoff with the management to secure the project budget and onboard resources. Based on the first two meetings, you can later host a formal team kickoff to discuss the project management methodology, project phases, dependencies, and collaboration for successful project completion.

What is the purpose of kickoff meetings?

A woman kicking to represent a kickoff meeting

A kickoff meeting provides a 30,000-foot overview of the project. This is the meeting where you set clear expectations, visualize what success will look like, and define clear roles for everyone involved.

When it comes to your team, a kickoff meeting helps you boost team spirit. During the meeting, you ideally decide the rules for communication, set processes, define the frequency of check-ins or stand-up meetings, anticipate bottlenecks and suggest ways to resolve them, and finally, discuss conflict resolution strategies.

How to plan a kickoff meeting?

Considering its pivotal role in project management, a kickoff meeting needs to be thoroughly planned. Before you send out the meeting invitation, be sure to complete these steps.

Collect all the essential information

Before you plan the kickoff meeting with external stakeholders, organize an informal internal meeting to discuss the project. Use this meeting to discuss objectives, potential roles, responsibilities, tools required, estimated budget, etc. Encourage team members to get acquainted with each other on the team before the actual kickoff meeting.

You can also have a one-on-one with other internal stakeholders who will contribute to the project to gain better insights.

Create a brainstorming document

In the meantime, create a shared brainstorming document where everyone can pitch their ideas and suggestions to discuss during the meeting. A dedicated Slack channel can also work just as well.

You can then use this space to share project-related material and have team discussions on an ongoing basis.

Set the meeting agenda

A kickoff meeting requires deliberate planning. Creating an agenda gives structure to the meeting so that everyone knows what to expect when they meet. Consider the following questions when working on the meeting agenda:

  • Who will be present at the meeting?
  • How long should the meeting be?
  • When should it be organized?
  • Should the meeting be hosted in-person or virtually?
  • What are the key topics for discussion?
  • Do the attendees need to carry any documents?

Invite the right people

The size of the project will determine the people you’ll invite to the meeting. For remote teams or virtual kickoffs, it helps to host multiple meetings with different stakeholders to ensure seamless communication. Here are the three most common types of kickoff meetings:

  • Client meetings: These meetings usually include the client, project manager, account manager, and core team members. The client and project manager usually head the meeting and discuss project goals, key deliverables, and deadlines.
  • Management meetings: The purpose of these meetings is to get executive buy-in for resources, budget, and tools or technology for the project.
  • Team meetings: The project manager heads this meeting to share everything discussed in the first two meetings. The team also irons out the technicalities involved in the project, such as the project workflow, contingencies, and communication.

After finalizing the participants, send out meeting invites along with the agenda and guidelines.

How to prepare a kickoff meeting agenda

A kickoff meeting can include a broad range of discussion topics related to the project. To ensure that nothing falls through the cracks, here are a few topics to include in your meeting agenda. Feel free to tweak them based on your project needs.

Team introduction

A man reaching out for a handshake at a kickoff meeting

You’ll likely have a few new faces working on the project. A short introduction allows everyone to share a little bit about themselves and how they will contribute to the project.

After the introduction, give a brief rundown of the meeting agenda. For virtual meetings, provide guidelines on how attendees can share their thoughts and ask questions.

For instance, mention how attendees can use the platform's chatspace to ask questions or raise a hand when they want to speak. You can also create a dedicated Slack channel for all questions and suggestions.

The purpose of these guidelines is to minimize distractions and facilitate seamless communication.

Project background and purpose

The project background provides basic project details. Start by sharing the market overview, how the need for the project came to be, common pain points consumers currently face, and the alternative offerings present in the market and their shortcomings. Explain how the project will address the pain points.

Keep the section crisp and to the point. We recommend using visual storytelling tools (think video, animation, interactive graphs, images, or even memes!) to keep your audience engaged.

Project scope

Oftentimes, projects without defined scopes run into trouble. New requirements or feature requests start popping up, and the team scrambles to accommodate these requests. The outcome is projects that run over budget and are delayed.

To avoid this, refer to the statement of work that includes the project activities, deliverables, and timeline as you begin defining the project scope.

When discussing the project scope, everyone should agree on the deliverables and activities required to complete them. In case new feature requests come in, outline how the team will accommodate them.

Project plan

The project plan should be based on the project scope and include the project management methodology, resources, deliverables, and phases. During the discussion, address potential risks, discuss the change management process, and set guidelines for stakeholder communication.

Roles

By now, everyone should be clear on what’s expected of them. To ensure your team is aligned, you can begin by outlining each team member’s skills and how they will contribute to the project. When presenting these roles, map out task dependencies visually.

Project management tools like Asana, Trello, monday.com, and ClickUp will help. You can create workflows, add integrations, and maintain your project bibles on these platforms.  

You can also adopt the DACI framework to make better decisions. In this framework, each team member is assigned one of the following roles:

  • Driver: The driver is responsible for working on the task and keeping everyone updated on its status.
  • Approver: The approver has the final say on the decision.
  • Contributor: Contributors are like consultants — they guide the driver and approver on the decision.
  • Informed: These members aren’t directly involved in the decision but need to be kept in the loop because the decision may impact their work.

Communication and tools

A woman talks into a megaphone to represent communication at a kickoff meeting

Inconsistent communication often hampers project progress. Let everyone on the team know how to communicate with one another.

Explain the use of collaboration tools such as your messenger, asset management tool, project management tool, and issue tracking app in team communication. Set communication guidelines for rework and urgent work requests to help people prioritize their tasks.

Agree on the frequency of status reports, and share the report template with the client.

Questions

Allocate some time for a Q&A session to allow participants to ask questions. There could be a few topics that can cause confusion or misunderstanding. Go over them again and encourage the client and external stakeholders to ask questions so there's no room for confusion.

Next steps

Let everyone know what to expect after the meeting as you wrap it up. This can include requesting or sharing project-related documents and resources, and setting up access to various collaboration tools.

By the end of the meeting, everyone should be clear on what to do next to get the needle moving.

Ideally, a kickoff meeting should run for around an hour at the most. Any more and it will become difficult for attendees to remain engaged. Here is an example of how you can structure the kickoff meeting:

  • Introduction: 5-10 minutes
  • Project background: 5 minutes
  • Project scope: 5-10 minutes
  • Project plan: 10 minutes
  • Roles: 5 minutes
  • Communication and tools: 5 minutes
  • Questions: 10 minutes
  • Next steps: 5 minutes

5 best practices to make kickoff meetings more engaging

Kickoff meetings can get very technical and knowledge dense. Attendees can quickly become disengaged from the discussion, especially in a virtual setting. Scheduling small breaks during session transitions is a great idea.

Here are five more ways to make your kickoff meetings more engaging.

1. Kickoff the session with icebreakers

Icebreakers are a fun way for everyone to get acquainted.

There’s less pressure to keep things formal for internal meetings, so you can go with games and activities to get the ball rolling. Elaborate ice breakers such as Codenames or show and tell are time-consuming. Instead, you can use "Three of Anything" to get people talking. Invite team members to share three of their favorite books, TV shows, movies, places, bands, etc. This game doesn’t take too much time and helps you get to know team members better.

Kickoff meetings with the client or an agency tend to be more formal. So, choose an icebreaker that elicits positive emotions. You can ask the following questions to start the meeting on a positive note:

  • What’s on your bucket list?
  • Where do you plan to go this (month/season/year)?
  • Who would be on your Mount Rushmore of business?

2. Follow the MVP rule

Too many slides, stats, and graphs make the presentation boring. Also, getting too technical with the topic can lead to attendees zoning out.

The antidote to this is to stick to the MVP rule. Coined by Justin Hale and Joseph Grenny for Harvard Business Review, the MVP (Minimum Viable Powerpoint) rule requires the presenter to use the smallest amount of stats and slides to convey their point.

People connect better with stories, anecdotes, case studies, and examples. Sticking to the MVP rule forces you to rely on these storytelling devices to keep the audience engaged through the duration of the meeting.

3. Schedule a virtual lunch break

A long discussion on project goals, scope, and plans can get mentally taxing. Scheduling lunch during or at the end of the meeting is a great way to wrap up the session and promote team bonding. Participants can order food from their favorite restaurants and eat together.

A virtual credit card to provide lunch at a kickoff meeting

Use Hoppier to send virtual cards to your attendees. You can set a budget for each card that attendees can use to order food and beverages from a set list of vendors. You can also have new restaurants and vendors added to your program.

Vendors you can order from with a Hoppier virtual credit card

The unspent balance is credited back to your account. For client-facing interactions, virtual lunch breaks are a powerful way to elevate the client experience.

You can also plan coffee breaks and virtual happy hours in a similar vein.

4. Assemble a virtual meeting entourage

Team members on different color backgrounds

Running a virtual meeting is more complex than it appears. Keeping the audience engaged is a major challenge, and you need to consider the technical challenges you might run into. To run your kickoff meetings effectively, build a team that helps you keep your client and team members engaged. Some of the roles may include:

  • Note taking: Assign someone to take notes during the meeting and send out meeting minutes to participants after the meeting ends.
  • Troubleshooting: Have someone on hand to resolve any technical issues attendees may run into.
  • Engagement: Choose someone to keep the audience engaged with polls and questions. This person can also serve as a moderator, forwarding questions to the presenter or project manager to answer during the Q&A session.

5. Keep the session brief

A kickoff session provides a high-level overview of the project, so you don't need to go over every minute detail. No matter how entertaining you are, people can’t stay focused for longer periods of time, and they will eventually tune out. So, when preparing the presentation, include only the essential project details. Meetings are part and parcel of project management, so you can later host supplementary meetings to address individual topics.

Kickoff meetings: The lifeblood of project management

A big part of project success is determined by the quality of your kickoff meeting.

Going over every single detail of the project in a one-hour meeting is impossible. Discuss the essential details and the project goal to set your team up for success. As long as you're able to instill confidence in the minds of the client and management and provide clarity to the team, your kickoff meeting is doing its job!

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