Remember the butterflies you’d get before the first day of school? That’s exactly how I feel at the onset of a new project as a Project Manager. Akin to opening up a new, clean notebook, the whole “fresh, clean slate” feeling that comes with starting a new project is unrivaled. It’s an exciting time, and as a Project Manager, I always want to put my best foot (and ideas) forward.
While a project initiation meeting, sometimes referred to as a “kickoff” meeting, might not seem like it should rank right up there among life’s most exciting things, it is something I always look forward to because it is an important moment in the life of a project. It’s an opportunity to get to know your team members, to establish common goals, and to clearly define your purpose in completing the work.
Your project initiation meeting is an essential tool to communicate with your colleagues and project sponsor. It’s during this meeting that you’ll determine exactly what it is you’re doing, with whom, and why. When kicked off correctly, this meeting should help you reach the finish line of your project with fewer obstacles along the way.
It is also a chance for you to set the tone and vision for the entire project. You have this opportunity to properly introduce your team to the project, to one another, and come together as a cohesive unit. At the end of your meeting, you want everyone to walk out saying, “We’ve got this!” and truly believe it. No pressure or anything!
You’ll need to come to the meeting armed with more than just your enthusiasm and 15 minutes of preparation beforehand. To give yourself — and your team — the best chance at success, there’s a lot to consider. Here are some tips on how to make the most of out of your project initiation meeting.
Plan Your Initiation Meeting
Prepare yourself as much as possible, and go into the meeting with as much knowledge of the project, goals, client (if applicable), and stakeholders as you can.
Do your research and legwork in order to build your team members’ confidence in your knowledge and abilities. You’ll want to anticipate questions you may get from your team members ahead of time and be able to answer them thoroughly. It’s okay to say “I’ll get back to you”, but try and be as informed as possible going in.
Empower your team members with information, so that you all have the best chance at hitting the ground running on the project.
Set the Agenda
To get the most out of this meeting, consider creating an agenda ahead of time. Here’s an agenda outline I like to follow for the project initiation meetings I hold:
- Introductions: Team members go around the table and share their position, past experience, and a fun fact about themselves they feel comfortable sharing with their (new) colleagues. Don’t forget to share how you got to be working on the project and a bit of your own history, too.
- Project: What are we working on? Why are we doing this? What is our timeline?
- Scope: What are we doing? How are we going to make it happen?
- Roles and teamwork: Who is doing what? Who reports to whom? How will we work together?
- What’s next: What are our goals? How often will we meet?
- Q&A: What does your team need or want to know that hasn’t been covered.
Note, the Q&A item at the end. After you get through the agenda, be sure to carve out time to invite your team members’ ideas and best practice suggestions, in addition to their questions, both at the meeting and throughout the life of the project. Let them know that you’re always open to hearing from them. An open-door policy goes a long way in building respect, collaboration, and a strong project team.
Send your agenda to all attendees in advance so they can be prepared and come armed with any questions they may have.
Invite the Right People
The purpose of this meeting is to get the right people in the room so you can all get on the same page about what needs to be done and how you’ll do it. Your core project team should attend the project kickoff meeting. This includes:
- You (the Project Manager)
- The Project Sponsor
- Key day-to-day team members (these are the folks who will be doing much of the execution of the project)
- Anyone else who will be working on the project on a regular basis
You might wonder if you should you invite the client. If you are doing a project for an external client, consider not inviting them to the project initiation meeting. You should first meet with your internal team. Then, hold a second initiation meeting where you invite the client in and bring them up to speed. Doing it this way will allow your teamto get on the same page and be prepared to impress.
A few benefits of holding a project initiation meeting include:
- Team members getting the opportunity to get to know one another before working together
- Demonstrating your organization and leadership skills as a project manager
- Giving team members a chance to understand the project purpose and objectives
- Providing attendees with an opportunity to ask questions and get clarity
- Bring all team members/stakeholders together and set a tone for everyone being on the same page
Holding a project initiation meeting is one key to successful project completion. Handle this meeting with care. Your project initiation meeting is one of the most valuable tools as a Project Manager.
What are your thoughts on holding a project initiation meeting? Do you have any tips for making the most of a kickoff meeting? Share your experiences in the comments.