If we were to compare the launch of a project to the beginning of a football match, not conducting a kick-off meeting is like having no tactical strategy. Without a plan, all you may do is improvise, and while that may be fun at times, it most often leads to wasted time, money loss and broken trust. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, right?
#hackyourkickoff – the perfect take-off procedure
Although each project is different, the launch procedure is usually quite similar and based on the same principles. In order to optimize your efforts, it is worth creating a templated checklist that includes all “musts” and either shortening or enriching it with additional optional points, depending on the project’s needs. This way, you won’t need to invent the wheel each time you dive into a new project and the consistency of your process across different projects will improve.
Dividing the topics that you want to cover into several areas will certainly help you to keep order. The breakdown can be based on the phases through which the project goes successively (pre-production, design, production, etc.) or, for example, on the iron triangle of the project management: scope, time, cost (and everything in between). No matter which one serves you better – be sure to cover all areas precisely, especially the most debatable ones.
So how do you conduct the process? Let’s take a closer look.
A quick intro
- Set the scene: go through the project background and purpose – you need a clear, measurable and inspiring goal to aim for, not an excessively ambitious one.
- Set the expectations, discuss the statement of work, summarize the frameworks and technologies.
- Prepare security rules, decide on the accesses and credentials storage, choose the right tool to keep the project documentation in one central, collaborative place.
- Announce the roles and assignments inside the team. Make the client aware of possible team changes and how much will the team members be involved.
- Agree on the RACI matrix with all the responsibilities and dependencies, and decide on the approval process as well.
- Set up a convenient working time, especially if you work in different timezones.
- Discuss the communication channels (eg. group chat for ad hoc contact and emails for formal correspondence) and frequency.
- Lay out a matrix of cyclical meetings and make sure that each relevant person receives the necessary invitations to participate in them (the entire team doesn’t have to participate in every meeting).
- Establish a code of conduct i.e a general team codex for which anyone can propose the rules and which will be followed by the whole team to maintain a respectful cooperation.
Pro tip: All the information should be easily found on a project poster if you keep one.
- Prepare the list of deliverables and requirements in the form of a backlog draft.
- Highlight essential project priorities – performing a MoSCoW analysis may be helpful.
- Focus on the constraints, such as a strict budget or timeline to reach the scope consensus (openly suggest potential cuts).
- Write down the definition of ready and definition of done.
- Don’t forget about taxonomy – a project-related glossary to prevent any misunderstandings or confusions.
- Introduce the client to the company process and adjust it according to the project’s needs, specify the workflow in the team.
- Prepare the roadmap with clear deadlines and agree on some possible error margins.
- Set the milestones and the timeframes determined by the project’s lifecycle: releases, regressions, sprint duration etc.
- Remember to focus on all the project stages that the cooperation relates to (initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and/or closing).
- Confirm the budget and agree on possible deviations.
- Make sure you and your client have exactly the same understanding of the approved billing method. Double-check if the differences between T&M and fixed price models are clear.
- Figure out how to deal with bugs, change requests and code reviews.
- Identify roadblocks and risks, prepare the mitigation strategy and involve everyone in creating a regularly updated change log.
- Take the responsibility for tracking the progress and ensure the timely delivery of project status reports.
Time to light the fuse
The day of your exposé has come! Now, as you have everything put together, the meeting itself should be just pleasant formalities. With these few steps, you will definitely get the most out of it:
- Provide a meeting agenda in advance to let every attendee review all necessary project details and prepare for the meeting. Underline the primary topics for which you require any special action from someone.
- Take notes and share the meeting summary with your team afterwards. This is the best of the informal ways to give everything that was agreed on during the meeting an official status. Moreover, if everyone is on board, you can record the session and gain the possibility to get back to it in the future.
- Ensure a proper execution is possible later by building equally strong involvement and interest in the whole team. This is why the meeting should take the form of a dialogue, not a broadcast. Have some ideas for engaging formulas up your sleeve, for example: everyone introduces themselves on their own (name, role, how they like to work in the project). Bonus points for allocating some time for a short icebreaker and Q&A.
- Discuss the next steps. It’s probably how you end meetings on a daily basis, and it’s exactly how it should be in this case. It would be good if the next steps were also included in the kick-off meeting summary.
Conduct this meeting in a way that’s comfortable to you but stay organized and you won’t miss anything.
Remember: play Captain Obvious
Even if some things seem obvious to you because you had been doing them in a certain way in past projects, they don’t have to be as clear to your client and the rest of the team. Explaining that the grass is green seems redundant to you? Until you come to work with a colour blind person, it may be.
Saying the obvious out loud and writing it down reduces the risk of any discrepancy in interpretation, and ensures that you are all going in exactly the same direction.
The same goes for things that could affect the project. You shouldn’t hide anything here – transparency is one of the most important ingredients of a successful and sincere collaboration. Mutual trust is essential for the smooth running of the team. It is very hard to build and very easy to lose.
If you are not sure if something is worth mentioning, that means it is. Guesswork has no place here, as unspoken issues can escalate at the least expected moments. As a Project Manager, you are probably already familiar with Murphy’s Law… 😉
The kick-off meeting is an opportunity to sync up together on how to guide the project to success. With proper preparation, you can limit the surprises and prevent setbacks later on. Good luck!