At the risk of bringing you back to 2003 and being incredibly cheesy, leeeeeeeet’s get it started. In here! We’re talking about kickoff meetings — the very meeting that gets everyone prepared, excited, and ready to work on a project. Kickoff meetings set the tone for the entire project.

At DT we treat kickoffs (and most formal meetings) with extra care to ensure they are productive and build trust & alignment amongst the attendees. We have a surefire method to making kickoff meetings a success, and we’re sharing the parts that matter most so that you can get the most out of those sometimes awkward first-time meetings.

So, shall we get started? (in here?)

5 tips for planning an awesome project kickoff

Great kickoff meetings don’t just happen by accident, they happen because of careful preparation. A thoughtfully planned kickoff meeting will go better than a haphazardly thrown together meeting any day. Here’s what you should consider when planning a kickass kickoff meeting:

1) Introduce The Team

Send an introductory email to clients introducing the team and setting up a time to connect. Be sure to discuss project stakeholders & their roles so you know all of the players involved ahead of time.

2) Office Prep!

At DT, our culture team has a template used to schedule and record our client visits so we can properly help us plan each client’s visit. Typical things we do to go the extra mile are help out with a client’s itinerary, set up an awesome working space in the office, and plan client visit gifts or goodie bags. If there are a lot of people involved we might make name tags or place cards.

3) Meeting Prep!

The more prepared you can be for a meeting and do your due diligence, the greater your chances for success. Prepping for a kickoff can entail anything from reviewing your client’s sales deck to their Google Analytics data, interviewing project stakeholders, competitive research, etc. The most important thing is that the internal team is on the same page and shares the same knowledge about the project.

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4) Write Up An Agenda

Creating and sending out a meeting agenda beforehand will help set expectations and keep the meeting organized and productive. Including brief breaks (in the agenda) throughout the day will also help combat creative fatigue and keep it fresh, whether it’s a room change or incorporating bathroom breaks.

5)   Have Clearly Defined Questions Ready

Asking brutally honest questions will help bring the clarity and information you need to light. Having clearly defined questions beforehand will help you come prepared and highlight any inconsistencies with team viewpoints or answers. Coming up with tough questions for the client to think about will help you identify what problems need to be solved based on answers.

Advice for running a kickoff meeting

You’ve prepared, you’re pumped up, and it’s time to kick off that kickoff meeting. But facilitating an awesome strategy session takes the entire team, and a good attitude. Double-check your agenda and make sure it matches your client and their needs. Set appropriate expectations and take breaks) to achieve the right feel. Read on to get the details of what happens inside a kickass kickoff meeting.

1)   Run the right exercises

Running exercises during a kickoff meeting can help get the feedback you’re looking for and also create alignment. Depending on the client, exercises may be anything from finding commonalities in a high level IA sketch to running a proto-persona or competitive landscape exercise.

2)   Set Expectations

A kickoff meeting is a great place to set project expectations, ranging from everything on how we communicate and which tools we use, to feasibility of timelines and DT’s process. Using the kickoff to establish realistic expectations from the start will help ensure smooth communication and help minimize any misunderstandings during the engagement.

3)   Switch up locations & plan breaks

Breaks are usually a good time for non-work conversations and building client camaraderie. Allowing for bathroom and email breaks within your schedule will help foster better collaboration with your client. Physically changing your meeting’s location can also help freshen up ideas and perspectives and make the day feel less drawn out.

4)   Draw out any tension in the room

If any tension is sensed in the room, there is an opportunity to draw it out by asking more questions to guide the conversation. It’s ok to point out that it seems there are two different needs or opposing viewpoints and talk through them to create alignment and better understand the client’s objective.

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5)   Build camaraderie

Forging bonds with your clients and building camaraderie goes far beyond just becoming acquaintances. Showing clients your team is trustworthy by doing what you say, sharing industry knowledge, and admitting when you don’t know something are a few tactics that contribute to strong client camaraderie and relationships. More often than not, it is better to start collaborative discussions with your client rather than presenting your ideas to them.

What to do after a project kickoff

It ain’t over until it’s over. And it’s not over until you follow up. The post-kickoff meeting schedule is just as important as preparation. After all that hard work, why would you ever just throw it to the wolves? Save yourself (and your team) from getting the post-kickoff blues with these important wrap up steps.

1)   Send A Follow Up Email (with notes and/or exercises)

While it’s important to discuss action items and next steps during the meeting, it is equally important to follow up with a written summary. If you ran any exercises during your kickoff meeting, it’s important to send those out after to make them shareable to your client’s team and any other stakeholders. Including any notes from the meeting in your follow up email is another way to keep everyone on the same page and focused on where the team is headed next.

2)   Establish Meeting Cadence and Project Tools

In your follow up email, it is great to either reiterate or state the project and/or communication tools you’ll be using throughout the project, in addition to meeting cadence and expectations.

3)   Regroup Internally

After a kickoff meeting, it is easy for everyone to forget what was discussed and/or promised in the meeting. Have an internal regroup (preferably within 1-2 days after the meeting) to discuss the client’s personality profile, what went well, and what could be improved upon.

4)   Consider Appropriate Deliverables For Client

Some clients prefer designs or deliverables to be a bit more polished, while others are perfectly fine giving feedback on lo-fi deliverables. After the kickoff meeting, solidify with your internal team what type of presentation of deliverables best suits the project’s stakeholders and their personalities. Some clients are highly collaborative on check-in calls, while others prefer to circle deliverables with their team internally first, take a little time to consolidate feedback, and get back to you.

5)   Create a Project Roadmap

A project roadmap is a great way to get everyone on the same page internally and give the client peace of mind. Establishing an order of priorities may also work instead of a full-blown roadmap, depending on your client’s formality and needs.

Kick back and relax

Craft beer anyone? San Diego is the heart of America’s small brew movement. We love to enjoy a cold one after a long day of meetings. Dinner isn’t out of the question either 🙂

Hosting a kickoff meeting is a lot of work, but it’s worth investing the time and effort to make sure it’s done well. By following these steps, you can make sure that your team is prepared, excited, and focused to get down to business.

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Comments
  • Great article Allison! Sometimes it’s easy to forget about small thinks like breaks during long meetings or good agendas that set expectations. Thanks for sharing the advice!

  • Mark Campbell

    Thanks Allison… would be great to see some follow up articles delving into the exercises you run. We’re always struggling to find interesting ways to get client’s more involved and draw out those useful insights.

  • Ernie Kucera

    Some wonderfully good points. I think our team does well with almost all of these points at one time or another. I think we struggle doing all of these points consistently every single kick-off. Also the majority of our clients are “Internal” so i think a certain comfortableness gets in the way of executing the above plan. Thanks for the write up!

    PS. “San Diego is the heart of America’s small brew movement. “. I live in Oregon and beg to differ. 😉 http://oregoncraftbeer.org/facts/