Project kickoff meetings are a vital element of the project management process, used by project managers to ensure that their projects get started off on the right foot. Project kickoff meetings are exactly what they sound like: meetings that help set the tone for the software development project and establish any goals, expectations, and roles for the team and stakeholders involved. Successful project kickoff meetings consist of diligent planning, communication, and effective leadership. In this project management tutorial, we will discuss some tips for how to hold a successful project kickoff meeting, while providing examples of each tip.
How to Conduct a Successful Project Kickoff Meeting
While the tips below are designed specifically for project managers of software development teams, whose projects tend to be more complex than other teams, the project kickoff meeting steps below can help any project manager successfully hold their team’s kickoff meetings. These steps include:
- Planning ahead
- Adding the right people to your team
- Setting goals and expectations
- Assigning roles and responsibilities
- Participation is key
- Keeping a positive tone, even during rough patches
- Conduct follow-ups after the kickoff meeting
Want to learn even more about what a kickoff meeting is? Read our tutorial: Overview of Project Management Kickoff Meetings.
Plan Kickoff Meetings in Advance
The first step project managers should take to conduct a successful project kickoff meeting is to plan ahead and create an agenda. The kickoff meeting agenda should clearly outline the goals, objectives, and expectations for the meeting. The agenda should also include a clear outline of the meeting, what topics will be discussed, and the expected time (roughly) each topic will take. This detailed planning helps keep everyone on the same page and ensures that the meeting stays on track.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) conducted research showing that a clear agenda is one of the key factors for holding a successful project kickoff meeting. In the study, they found that teams with outlined agendas were more likely to have better understanding of the project goals and deliverables as a group, which, of course, leads to better project outcomes.
Create the Right Team
Another, perhaps obvious, factor that will determine the success (or failure) of a project kickoff meeting is being sure to involve the right team members from the start. The “right” team will include key stakeholders and decision makers who will be involved in the project during each phase. Early on – prior to the actual kickoff meeting – the project manager needs to identify and send invites to all stakeholders, which can include clients, team members, developers, remote programmers, IT support, marketers, and subject matter experts (SMEs).
You can learn more about what, exactly, a stakeholder is by reading our tutorial: What is a Stakeholder in Project Management?
According to research conducted by the Harvard Business Review, projects with a diverse team of stakeholders (with different backgrounds, educations, and skills) are more likely to create different ideas and perspectives than less diverse teams, which, in turn, leads to better outcomes and fewer unexpected issues.
Clear communication is crucial to the success of any project; it is also vital during the kickoff meeting. Project managers need to outline and communicate every project goal, objective, and expectation clearly to all team members. Be certain to highlight the project scope, timeline, and budget, as well as detailing the roles and responsibilities for each team member.
Not all communications with your project’s team members will run smoothly – and there will certainly be times where, even in kickoff meetings, the project manager will need to act judiciously to resolve any issues. We have a great tutorial on how to handle these scenarios and managing stakeholders in general: Tips for Managing Stakeholders.
Additionally, if you need help defining project scope and avoiding scope creep, we have a few article discussing the topics:
Highlight Goals and Expectations
As a project manager of a software development team, you no doubt know that setting clear goals and expectations is the key to successfully completing any project on time and within budget. During a kickoff meeting, project managers need to establish project goals and objectives, as well as discuss anticipated outcomes, deliverables, and any roadblocks to achieving those goals. Providing this highlight ensures that everyone is on the same page and working to achieve the same goals.
Assign Roles and Responsibilities
Assigning roles and responsibilities is another important step for not only a successful kickoff meeting, but the project’s success in general. At some point during the kickoff meeting, the project manager will want to discuss the roles and responsibilities of each team member and make sure those roles and responsibilities are clearly defined and understood by every team member. This helps to avoid confusion and lets everyone know what is expected of them.
Keep in mind that a job title is not always the same as a role or responsibility. For instance, a developer on a project may have the overall job of programming, but on a particular project that might entail creating a specific module, patch, feature, or update. All of this should be defined before entering the kickoff meeting.
Encourage Participation in Kickoff Meetings
During kickoff meetings, project managers want to encourage every participant to engage, contribute thoughts and ideas, and voice opinions. Transparency is crucial to avoiding conflicts and delays in projects and helps reduce associated risks. It also helps to build relationships and trust among team members. Every team member should feel “heard” and valued.
Savvy project managers will pay attention to every conversation held during kickoff meetings to pinpoint any discrepancies in who understands – and who does not – the project goal and their individual responsibility in the project..
Keep Things Positive
As a project manager, you want to set the tone and pace of the meeting. Keep the focus on the project’s potential, any opportunities for success, and how, together, you will successfully finish the project. Establishing a positive tone helps the project manager better motivate the team and create a sense of excitement around the project.
You want to start the project off on the right foot, which means having your team members be enthusiastic about their part in the project itself, as well as its outcome. If you notice a lack of enthusiasm or participation, this can be a clear sign that a stakeholder is not engaged or does not feel comfortable sharing their thoughts or opinions. Encourage them to share their thoughts and address the issue with that main goal in mind: keeping things positive.
Conduct Kickoff Meeting Follow Ups
Conducting follow ups after the kickoff meeting helps stakeholders and programmers stay on track and gives you the opportunity to address any questions, concerns, or roadblocks that might exist or pop-up. Project managers should send follow-up emails to all participants with summaries of the key points discussed during the kickoff meeting. Be certain to outline and define next steps as well.
Collaboration Tools for Kickoff Meeting and Project Management
Having the right tools and resources to complete your project is just as important as having the right team members in place. In fact, you could say the two go hand-in-hand. Project tools can include development environments, email platforms, servers, testing tools, analytical software – the list goes on and on and will change depending upon the needs of the individual project.
Example of Project Management Software, Monday.com
That being said, project management tools and collaboration software are typically a common resource required to work on a project successfully – especially if you work with remote stakeholders, developers, or programmers. To help you choose the right collaboration tools for your project, we have several round-ups to help you decide which is best:
- Best Collaboration Tools for Software Developers
- Top Collaboration Tools for Web Developers
- Collaboration Tools for Game Developers
- Guide to Project Management Software and Tools for Developers
Final Thoughts on Tips for Successful Kickoff Meetings
Successful project kickoff meetings require diligent planning, clear communication, and leadership. Following the tips highlighted in this tutorial will allow project managers to set their projects up for success from the start, as project kickoff meetings are really the beginning of the project. In this guide to kickoff meetings, we discussed setting clear goals and expectations, assigning roles and responsibilities to team members, the importance of participation, and why you should always follow up after your kickoff meetings. Using these project management tips, teams can make certain that all members are on the same page and working towards the same goals. With these strategies, project managers can lead their software development teams on the path to successful project and software product completion.