The success of a rocket flight is majorly dependent on its launch. The same is true about a project – a kick-off meeting has a great influence on the outcome. I’ve heard of projects where the project manager never organized a meeting and the project team only received project details via email. If you were in their place, you’d probably be pretty confused. You would ask all sorts of questions like: Who is this person assigning the tasks to me? What’s this project I’m assigned to all about? You can easily guess how the team treated those projects and whether those were completed on time. If you’re still not sure: With complete disregard.
Let’s say you have a project has been going on for months, but you, the project manager are the only person who knows anything about which products are expected to be delivered. This is a case where it’s pretty obvious why that first meeting needs to be held.
A kick-off meeting predetermines the clarity of the goals you set and the dedication of your team. Indirectly, it also defines the number of problems you’ll face – if you decide not to hold it, or hold it in an unprofessional way.
What are the issues to raise during the first meeting? Here’s a list of things I usually like to discuss:
- Project goals, expected results
- Getting the members of the projects to know each other
- Lessons learned from similar projects
- Project risks
Naturally, you can put more things on the agenda, but from my experience the meeting shouldn’t take longer than two hours, and even two hours are sometimes not enough to discuss all the questions listed above.
Let’s go through those questions in greater detail:
Psychologists claim (add link) that the clearer the goal is perceived by a person, the more interested he/she is in achieving it. Judging by my own experience, the project team will find it important to understand the project goals and expected results. If the Project Charter is already complete, you can present it and discuss it with the project members.
The Project Charter usually includes:
- Project goals
- Description of expected project results
- Project products
- Project restrictions and assumptions
- Product requirements (or documents containing references to those), etc.
Raising those issues will enable project members to form a general information field, ask the important questions and discuss their expectations.
It’s especially important for the project members to get to know each other if they have never worked together before or if stakeholders from different sides are present. The project manager can introduce the ‘backbone’ of the team and explain the roles and responsibilities to everyone; people can share which qualifications they already have and clarify what they are supposed to do on the project.
If a similar project has just finished in your company, invite the project manager to the kick-off meeting to share the lessons learned. It will give you some insights on which best practices to use and what kind of problems you could face. Additionally, this discussion will lead you to recognize project risks. You can use an Ishikawa diagram or any other tool you prefer.
Conducting and overview of possible risks during the very first meeting gives everyone a unified understanding of the uncertainties that may arise as the project evolves, which enables the project manager to involve the project members into a separate risk management discussion at a different time.
Who should you invite to the kick-off meeting?
I’m an advocate of informing all the stakeholders and team members, but it’s not always necessary to invite them all. Some projects don’t require having customers, suppliers and the users present, as their expectations may vary enormously, and you as the project manager may not be ready to discuss those issues at the kick-off meeting. You can be sure to invite the project team members and a customer’s representative. Whether to invite the rest of the stakeholders or not is for you to decide – based on the kick-off meeting agenda and the specific character of your project.
Good luck with the take-off!