Five Topics for Your Project Kickoff

Kickoff Meeting

A project kickoff meeting is your first opportunity to set the tone for a newly initiated project.  That’s an opportunity that shouldn’t be taken lightly.  After all it will be hard to change the impression the kickoff leaves on its participants.  To make the most of your kickoff meeting be sure you cover the following topics.
1.       Explain the problem to be solved
2.       Describe the project strategy
3.       Introduce key stakeholders
4.       Provide a high-level schedule
5.       Set expectations of the project team

1.     Explain the problem to be solved

The purpose of every project is to solve a problem for the organization.  It could be anything from bringing the organization in compliance with new regulations, providing more office space to an expanding workforce, developing a new product to meet changing customer demands, or upgrading an IT system so it can be more easily supported.  Regardless of the problem your project will solve, that’s a great place to start your kickoff.  Before you explain what you will be doing, explain why action is required in the first place.  Image if you weren’t feeling well and your doctor suggested a treatment plan before providing a diagnosis.  It would raise lots of questions and probably some doubt.  Instead, your doctor tells you what’s ailing you first and then suggests a treatment.  People are much more receptive to change when they first understand the need for the change.

2. Describe the project strategy

Once your audience understands the problem the project will alleviate, they will be ready to hear the strategy for addressing it.  The strategy portion of the kickoff should include a discussion of the project scope and the planned approached to delivering results.  Since your kickoff should be early in the project’s lifecycle you may not have much detail but you should have enough to share with the audience.  They will want to know which parts of the problem set the project seeks to resolve and how the management team envisions the project team achieving their goals.

3. Introduce key stakeholders

The project kickoff is a great opportunity to introduce key stakeholders to each other and the project team.  Consider inviting the project sponsor, representatives of groups who will eventually benefit from the project, people in the project management chain of command, and all assigned project team members.  This will give everyone an opportunity to see the other people they will be working with and potentially affecting through the project deliverables.  It also provides a great opportunity for management to show support for the project and for everyone to ask questions they may have of other stakeholders.

4. Provide a high-level schedule

As with the approach, you may not have a detailed schedule to present.  That’s okay.  In fact, many of the attendees won’t want to see a detailed schedule.  They will want to know when key events are scheduled and when the team plans to complete major deliverables.  If there are any date constraints, such as contractually defined dates, regulatory dates, or others outside the project team’s control, make sure you cover those too.  They will help people understand outside forces shaping the project schedule.

5. Set expectations of the project team

Since this is probably the first time you’ve had the entire project team together it’s a great time to set your expectations.  Be honest and upfront about the demands the project will place on participants.  Let them know how you expect progress to be reported and how you would like them to communicate any problems they encounter.  Lay out your general communications preferences and announce any standing meetings you intend to establish.  I’ve even gone so far as telling people I would provide performance feedback to their individual managers at the end of the project.  You would be amazed at how effect that can be, if it’s done right.

Conclusion

Project kickoff meetings are a great opportunity to set the tone and establish control of your projects early.  Use them to help people understand the problem the project seeks to resolve, the strategy to be used, who is involved, and when things will happen.  Remember first impressions are hard to change so take time to prepare for your kickoff and you’ll get things off to a great start.