How to hold a Brilliant Kick off Meeting

What is a kick off meeting?

A kick off meeting is a type of planning meeting. It’s one of the first meetings you have as a project team.

In reality, you might have an internal kick off meeting for just your in-house team resources, and then another one with the client, when you are ready to share project information with them (and if you have a client).

If your project is in-house and you aren’t serving an external client, you will only need one.

The kick off meeting is a really important part of the project. It is your chance to set the tone for the work to come, to start to build a culture of success, and — most importantly — to establish common goals.

The purpose of a kick off meeting

The objectives of a kick off meeting are to:

  • Set the tone for how you want the meeting to run
  • Agree ground rules for ways of working
  • And most importantly
  • Get everyone to a common understanding of what the project is going to deliver: you want clarity on why you are doing all the work.

It’s not rocket science. The point of getting everyone together is so that everyone has a common view of what’s going to happen next and why. You are building a common vision for the project and creating clarity about the end result.

People should leave the kick off meeting knowing:

  • What they are going to be working on (big picture, at least. You won’t have a list of project tasks in detail at this point)
  • Why the project is important for the business, and
  • What success looks like — how you will know when you’ve delivered what you said you would.
Project initiation meeting agenda

When to hold a kick off meeting

The kick off meeting is one of the first things you’ll do on a project. It’s part of project initiation and your chance to get the project going in the right direction, in the right way, from the beginning. So you should hold it as soon as possible.

Sometimes it can be difficult to get people together, but it is important your key resources are able to attend. You can book the kick off meeting as soon as the business case is approved, even if you have to schedule it out a few weeks in the future.

In my experience, as soon as a sponsor has their business case approved they want to get going. They will ring you or come to your desk to ask you when to hold a kick off meeting. You’ll be under pressure to schedule it for tomorrow!

Give people at least 48 hours notice and preferably a week. This also gives you time to meet with your project sponsor and plan how to run the meeting.

If you are including external clients in the meeting, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got the contracts signed. This is not sales work. It is the first step of committing time and resources to doing the job.

Attendees at the kick off meeting

Who should come along? The attendees at the kick off meeting should include:

  • You, as the project manager (obviously). You are going to chair and facilitate the meeting
  • The project sponsor. Ideally, they will do a short intro at the beginning of the meeting, explaining their vision and the end result you’re all working to. They may choose to chair it i.e. open and close the meeting and have you do the bulk of facilitation in between. It doesn’t really matter which one of you takes the lead; there are advantages either way.
  • Business analyst, if you have one on the team
  • Core suppliers — for example, the supplier project manager. It should be someone you’ll be working with on project delivery, so not the sales rep or your account manager if they won’t be hands on
  • The product owner, if you have one
  • A customer rep — this could be someone from the department or team receiving the output of the project, or a user group rep
  • Any other subject matter experts or workstream leads who have a vested interest in doing some of the work or shaping some of the work.

It’s better to have too many people at the meeting than not enough, so if you are in two minds about whether to invite someone, invite them and let them decide for themselves about whether they come.

The project kick off meeting invitation

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Email Templates for Project Kick-off

Templates to help you set expectations, get information, request updates and manage issues. Aimed at Business Analysts but easily customizable for all project roles.

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Before people come to the meeting, you have to invite them.

Here is a kick off meeting email example invitation:

Hello [name]

I’m delighted to let you know that the project for [name of project or description of deliverable if they won’t recognize the name] has been approved. We’re starting to get the team together to begin working on this important initiative.

I’m inviting you to our project kick off meeting because [their manager nominated them/they are a subject matter expert/they are going to lead on something/it follows on from your discussion earlier in the week etc. Point out why they are getting this mail]. It’s an opportunity for everyone to get a full understanding of what we’re doing and why, and what the likely outcome is going to be.

I’ve attached a meeting agenda for the session, and you’ll be able to see the list of attendees in the calendar invite.

If you’ve got any questions before the meeting, give me a ring.

I look forward to seeing you there.

Best regards

[your name]

[your contact details inc phone number]

Ideally, you should not be sending this email out of the blue. People don’t like to be put forward for stuff that they’ve never heard about. Make sure line managers have actually briefed their staff about whether they have been ‘volunteered’ to work on the project.

My preference is to call people individually in advance to let them know about the project and ask for their help. Then, by the time you are sending out the invitation, it’s not a surprise. They already expect it, and are prepared for it, and will come to the meeting feeling less defensive.

Your kick off meeting agenda

The point of the meeting is to get everyone on the same page and working together, so your agenda should reflect that. You should put it together and send it out in advance, so people know what to expect when they come to the meeting.

Here is an outline kick off meeting agenda template you can use.

  1. Welcome and intros
  2. Project goals
  3. Project scope
  4. Project approach
  5. Project team roles
  6. Potential roadblocks
  7. Next steps.

You can use those points as a checklist for the meeting. Note that it’s only a kick off meeting agenda sample — you should tailor the discussion to meet your project and team.

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Let’s look at each of the points on the agenda template in more detail.

Welcome and intros

You should do this part, unless your sponsor wants to. Make sure everyone introduces themselves, even if most of you know each other. There is normally always someone new or different in the team, so take the time to introduce yourselves. It doesn’t have to be much, just your name and department will do.

Welcome everyone to the project team and explain what the rest of the meeting will cover. Discuss what you want to get out of the meeting — what you want everyone to get out of the meeting.

Project goals

Hand over to the project sponsor and get them to discuss the project’s goals, aims and objectives. They should set a clear vision for the end state and what they want to get out of the work.

Basically, they are providing the “why”.

This part of the meeting should give you clarity on the ‘how do we know when we succeed’ question.

You should all come away knowing what project success looks like (what you are going to have done/achieved/delivered/made possible) and how you will be judged on that.

Read next: The Definitive Guide to Project Success Criteria.

Project scope

This section of the kick off meeting should talk about what the boundaries are for project scope. You might need some specific workshops on scope later in the project.

For now, this is a general discussion around known scope. You have that already as it was in the business case (or contract, statement of work or just through a conversation with your boss).

If there are already expectations set around the timeline, then include that in the discussion too. How long you’ve got definitely shapes how much you can do!

Project approach

The project approach is the “how”.

This part of the meeting talk about how you are going to work as a team to deliver the goal. You can talk broadly, or specifically. You might need to specify the methodology or tools you are going to use to manage the work. You might need to explain Agile methods to people if they haven’t worked in Agile environments before. Outline how you, as project manager, see the approach to doing the work.

This is your show, so you should be able to define how the work gets done. However, your team also get a say. Listen to feedback on things like frequency of meeting, methods and tools, so you leave the meeting with an approach that will work for everyone.

During this part of the meeting you can also talk about ground rules and team expectations.

Project team roles

Talking about the approach leads nicely into talking about what people are going to be doing on the team. Hopefully you’ve been writing up things on a flip chart or you have some other notes around the agreements made on scope and approach.

Annotate these with names where you know them, and where people are prepared to take responsibility at this stage (which they might not, given that they don’t have all the detail yet).

The goal is for everyone to end up with a clear understanding of how they contribute and how others contribute to the end results.

Use the information you gather during this discussion to feed into your roles and responsibilities document. You can tell everyone that this is coming, so they’ll have a further opportunity to review their contribution and that of their colleagues.

Potential roadblocks

Next, talk about what might cause the project to fail. What can they see that might be on the horizon that would throw up problems?

Brainstorm and let all the worries and challenges come out. This is all good material for your risk and issue log.

Next steps

Every meeting should end with a review and next steps.

You can sum up (or your project sponsor can) what was discussed. Review any actions and decisions taken at the meeting and ensure they have owners.

Set clear next steps which might include:

  • When are you going to meet again?
  • What needs to be produced next and who is going to do it?
  • Does everyone have what they need to be able to complete their actions, or if not, do they understand how to get what they need?

How long should a kick off meeting be?

That’s a tricky question! As long as it needs to be to get everyone done.

In their book, Project-driven Creation, Jo Bos, Ernst Harting and Marlet Hesselink recommend a day to do kick off. If you are going to get started on some serious work, that’s a good idea. But if you are just getting ready to do some work, and ensuring everyone is beginning from the same level of understanding, then I think you could manage with just 2 hours.

If your project is simple, the people know each other already, and you already have a good idea about how to do the work, then you could manage with a shorter meeting of 45 minutes or an hour.

how to hold a brilliant kick off meeting

What to do after the kick off meeting

There are a couple of things to do after a kick off meeting.

Send out the minutes

Set a good example about how you want the project to run by documenting the meeting and writing minutes.

Read next: 10 Tips for Writing Great Meeting Minutes

They don’t have to be super formal if that’s not the vibe you are going for on the team. But you should have something in writing to record actions and decisions.

This will also ensure that people who didn’t attend have the records — especially important if there are action items for them and they weren’t there.

You shouldn’t allocate action items to people who aren’t in the meeting (although I know it happens). Instead, allocate an action for someone to tell the action to the person who wasn’t there.

Follow up on actions

Give people a little while to complete their actions, and then start following up. You can confirm that actions have been done at your next team meeting, although that big group who came to the kick off might not all come together again regularly.

Make sure you follow up with people who aren’t routinely attending your project meetings.

Finally, make sure you do your own actions. Book the follow up meetings. Start work on documenting roles and responsibilities, your project initiation document and plan.

You’re on the right track now, so keep the momentum going and stay on course to deliver a fantastic result!