Supercharge your project kickoff meeting in 10 steps

You’ve put a lot of effort into getting your project off the ground—yet so often, it can feel like a project is off track before it even begins. That’s because every project team member and stakeholder brings different knowledge, expectations, and priorities to a project. If you don’t provide a chance for them to get on the same page before the work begins, the rest of the project will be an uphill battle no matter how much you try to course correct. Luckily, there’s a better way: project kickoff meetings.

Kickoff meetings are an effective way to get the project team on the same page—before the work begins. During a kickoff, you’ll outline the project’s purpose, dive into details, and discuss next steps. That way, wherever your project plan takes you, everyone is right there with you.

What is a project kickoff meeting?

A project kickoff meeting is a chance to meet with team members and stakeholders before the project starts so you can align on key details and get buy-in on critical milestones. Plan to host your project kickoff meeting after you've gotten your project charter approved and created your project plan, but before you've actually started working on the project. When you host a kickoff meeting, you’ll outline your project purpose, goals, plan, and more—while also making time for team members to ask questions and clarify any next steps. At the end of a kickoff meeting, the entire team should have a shared understanding about what you’re working on, why, and how the work will be accomplished.

What is the purpose of a kickoff meeting? Do I really need one?

In a word: yes. Kickoff meetings are an invaluable way to communicate key project information to your team and give them an opportunity to ask questions live. Unlike sharing these details in a project plan or over email, hosting a project kickoff reduces the odds of miscommunication and ensures everyone is starting the project from the same place. Without a kickoff meeting, team members and stakeholders could have misaligned project expectations, which leads to scope creep and, in the worst-case scenario, project failure.

That doesn’t mean you need to host identical kickoff meetings for every project. Some projects, like customer-facing work or complex initiatives, will benefit from a formalized kickoff with significant prep—like a robust presentation or even a demo, depending on the project type. Other projects, like those that involve fewer stakeholders or are more straightforward, could have a less formal kickoff meeting without a deck or a presentation.

The different types of kickoff meetings

Not every kickoff meeting looks the same. In general, every type of project kickoff meeting should include most of the same ingredients—but knowing the various types of project kickoffs can help you decide how formal or informal the kickoff meeting needs to be.

Internal project kickoff meeting

This is the project kickoff in its simplest form. The goal for an internal project kickoff meeting is to get the project team aligned and on the same page, and to provide an opportunity for them to ask questions before the project has started. Like any kickoff meeting, prepare materials in advance, but don’t worry about polishing your meeting.

Example projects:
Required materials:
  • A project plan that outlines key details of your project, including success metrics, project schedule, stakeholders, etc.
  • SMART project objectives that capture what you will achieve by the end of your project.
  • A defined project scope to set clear boundaries on what work is and isn’t part of this project.
  • A visual project timeline with any relevant project milestones to identify when key work will be completed.

In addition to sharing these materials during the project kickoff, plan to store project information in a central work management platform. That way, every team member has easy access to key project documents.

Executive sponsor project kickoff meeting

If your project or program has executive sponsors, you’ll likely want to host a higher-level kickoff meeting to get all executive leaders on the same page. In this type of kickoff meeting, plan to focus heavily on the project’s purpose and goals, as well as how the project will impact company objectives.

During this kickoff meeting, you shouldn’t spend too much time on individual milestones or details about the project. You’ll likely still want to hold an internal project kickoff meeting for your project team.

Example projects:
Required materials:
  • A clearly-articulated project purpose, which connects the business impact of this project to company goals.
  • If applicable, the business case you created for this initiative.
  • Succinct project objectives to show stakeholders what you will achieve by the end of your project.
  • A project plan that outlines key details of your project, including success metrics, project schedule, stakeholders, etc.
  • A project roadmap, which should serve as a high-level timeline of important project blocks.
  • An executive summary with all of this key project information. Plan to present the high-level version of the executive summary, then share the document with stakeholders so they can read more details after the kickoff.
  • A formal presentation or deck.
External or client-facing project kickoff meeting

If you’re working on a client-facing project, you’ll need to host a kickoff meeting between your project team and key stakeholders on the client side to align on project goals and deliverables. This should be the most polished version of your project kickoff meeting.

This type of project kickoff is your chance to set expectations and develop a shared understanding of the project goals. During this kickoff meeting, plan to spend some time introducing the project team, aligning on how frequently you and your client will be communicating, and clarifying what effective collaboration looks like. Make sure you and the client understand when they should be looped in to review your work or how you should communicate project progress.

Example projects:
Required materials:
  • A project plan that outlines key details of your project, including success metrics, project schedule, stakeholders, etc.
  • A project brief or creative brief, depending on the type of work.
  • A clearly-defined project scope to set clear boundaries on what work is and isn’t part of this project.
  • A project roadmap, which should serve as a high-level timeline of important project blocks and include any relevant project milestones.
  • A list of project stakeholders with their respective roles.
  • Where your team will communicate (e.g. Slack, email, Asana), as well as how you’ll share project status reports.
  • A formal presentation or deck.
Agile project kickoff meetings

Most Agile teams run their projects in sprints, which are two- or four-week cycles of work. You don’t need a project kickoff for every sprint—in fact, doing so would slow your team down. But you should plan a project kickoff meeting at least once a year to ensure everyone on the team is aligned. Additionally, if your team starts a new project or if you onboard a new team member, you should host a project kickoff meeting to get everyone up to speed.

The Agile project kickoff meeting is a chance to make sure your team have everything they need during a sprint, so you can use your sprint planning and sprint retrospective meetings to focus on continuous improvement.

Required materials:
  • Success criteria, including what “done” means for your team.
  • Formalized team roles, especially if your team runs Scrum.
  • A list of which team ceremonies you host and when they take place.
  • A clear communication plan of where and how your team should communicate (e.g. Slack, email, Asana).
  • Your team’s daily standup meeting agenda.

10 steps to plan and host a successful project kickoff meeting

As the project manager of a key initiative, it’s your responsibility to plan and present during the project kickoff. Similarly, if you’re running a larger program and planning a kickoff for that body of work, you’ll likely be the person driving the meeting—though you can count on the individual project leads to present their information.

If you’ve never planned a kickoff meeting—don’t worry! Here are 10 steps to hosting a successful kickoff meeting.

1. Prepare for the meeting

The first step to hosting a project kickoff meeting is to decide who needs to be there and how long the meeting should be. The level and detail of preparation will depend on how formal the kickoff meeting needs to be—are you inviting executive stakeholders or external partners? Or is this an informal kickoff with your core project team? As you prepare for the meeting:

  1. Finalize the invite list. By now you should know what type of project kickoff meeting you’re hosting, which should inform who attends the meeting. Before you send that meeting invite, make sure to go over the attendee list one more time to ensure you’ve included all relevant project stakeholders.
  2. Schedule a time (and duration). Make sure to save time for questions.
  3. Assign a note taker. Make sure someone other than you is taking notes in case there are stakeholders who can’t make the meeting. If you’re meeting virtually, consider recording the meeting as well, so team members who are unable to attend can catch up later.
  4. Create a meeting agenda. By sending out a meeting agenda ahead of time, you can ensure everyone is prepared for the project kickoff. Your meeting agenda is also a great chance to share any materials, like the project plan and timeline, that you’d like attendees to review before the meeting.
Example project kickoff meeting agenda

Asana project kickoff meeting agenda

Free meeting agenda template

2. Make introductions

If this is the first meeting with the project team, there’s a chance some people on the team haven’t worked together before. Start the meeting with some introductions or icebreaker questions to help everyone get to know each other.

3. Start with the project’s purpose

The most important thing to align on during the project kickoff meeting is what you are working towards, and why this work matters. According to a recent study, only 26% of employees have a very clear understanding of how their individual work relates to company goals. Without this clarity, team members don’t know what work to prioritize or how to manage shifting priorities.

When you share your project purpose, take some time to explain how the project connects to broader business and organizational goals. Answer the questions “Why are we working on this?” and “What are we working towards?” Later in the meeting, you’ll have a chance to dive into project details and specific workflows, but sharing the project’s purpose at the onset of the meeting is the best way to get everyone on the same page.

Project purpose example

The purpose of this project is to increase brand awareness in NAMER and EMEA through a digital brand campaign in Q3.

4. Share the project plan

Ideally, you’ve already shared the project plan in the meeting agenda so team members had the chance to read it over before the meeting. During the project kickoff meeting, you don’t need to go over every little detail of the project plan—instead, focus on key information like the project timeline, important milestones, or key deliverables.

Example project plan

Asana example project plan list

Free project plan template

5. Outline the project scope

One of the most important things to discuss as a group is what’s in scope—and equally as important, what’s out of scope. Make sure everyone has the same expectations going in, so there aren’t any last-minute surprises or changing deliverables as the project goes on. Clarifying the project scope early and often is the best way to prevent scope creep, which can delay or even derail your project.

Project scope example

Project Objective: Launch display and video ads in Q3 to increase brand awareness in NAMER and EMEA.

Resources:

  • Brand design team (six people), 15 hours per week for four weeks
  • $50,000 media spend budget

Deliverables:

  • Landing page design
  • Display ads (two variations for A/B testing), sized according to display spec sheet
  • Video spots (6 and 30 second spots), sized according to video spec sheet

Creative requirements: Display

  • Shows logo and CTA throughout animation
  • Both static and HTML5 banners are needed

Video

  • Features branding within first 5 seconds
  • Includes voiceover

Landing page

  • Ads and landing page should create a consistent visual experience

Out of scope:

Translating brand campaign assets

6. Establish project roles and responsibilities

You might not have to do this for a straightforward internal project, but if your project team has never worked together before or if you’re working with an external partner, make sure everyone is aligned on roles and responsibilities. Who is the main point of contact for the project? Does this project have a sponsor or executive leader? Is there an approver—or a group of approvers?

Different stakeholders need to be looped in at different stages of the project. If your project team isn’t clear on roles and responsibilities during the kickoff meeting, consider creating and sharing a RACI chart as an action item.

Example project roles
  • Responsible: Daniela Vargas
  • Accountable: Kabir Mandan
  • Consulted: Kat Mooney, Ray Brooks
  • Informed: Avery Lomax
7. Share where you’ll track project data and real-time updates

The average knowledge worker spends 60% of their time on work about work like chasing information and searching for documents. All of this work about work means your team has less time to focus on their high-impact work.

To reduce work about work and empower your team to be effective, make sure you have a central source of truth for all key project work. When all of your project information is in one easy-to-find place, your team can quickly locate project documents, get real-time project updates, check on relevant project milestones, and stay updated on project deliverables.

8. Make time for questions

After the kickoff, your project team may have questions about something you presented, like the scope of the project or certain task expectations. Make sure to leave plenty of time at the end of the kickoff meeting to answer any questions. Remember: the goal of the project kickoff is for everyone to leave the meeting on the same page and ready to get started.

9. Outline next steps

The last part of your project kickoff meeting should answer the question, “What comes next?” At this point, you should clarify where this work is being documented, and go over any action items that were captured in this meeting. It might also help to quickly outline what your team will be doing first.

Moving forward, clarify where and how you’ll share project status updates. Having too many meetings was one of the top three barriers to productivity in 2021. Instead of scheduling in-person or virtual status meetings, consider sharing project status reports virtually through a work management system. That way, team members can continue to efficiently align and connect over any new changes.

10. Post-meeting to-dos

Congratulations—the meeting is over! After you wrap up, ask the note taker to share any meeting notes in your shared project. If you met virtually, make sure to share the meeting recording and/or transcript as well. Finally, if there were any action items from the meeting, make sure those are captured and assigned to the relevant team member.

After the kickoff meeting

Once you’ve held your project kickoff meeting, you’re ready to get started on your project work. The best way to maintain alignment and clarity after your project kickoff is to maintain a central source of truth and collaboration—like a work management tool. By sharing all of your work, status updates, and messages in one place, you can not only get team members on the same page—you can keep them there.

Learn more about how Asana can help you organize work so your team knows what to do, why it matters, and how to get it done.


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