“Dear Elizabeth: I ran a kick-off meeting for my
project, and it was a disaster. I tried to do the detailed
planning, but the group wouldn’t focus, and no one seemed to
share the same view about what the project was going to deliver.
The experience has put me off running kick-off meetings in the
future, but I have another project starting soon, so I’m going to
have to do it. What are some rules of engagement for kick-off
meetings, and how can I stop it being like last
Your original email was a little longer than the question I’ve
put above and helped me realize that what you were doing in that
disastrous meeting wasn’t exactly what I would call a kick-off
The Point of a Kick-Off Meeting
You were using the time to try to get a project schedule put
together. You do have to get a schedule prepared at some time, but
a kick-off meeting isn’t the place to try to do that.
The point of a kick-off meeting is:
- To manage introductions for people who haven’t worked
- To ensure everyone knows what their role is in the project
- To get everyone on the same page about what the project is
going to deliver
I wouldn’t use that time to do a detailed planning session,
and I think that might be where it all started to go wrong for
So how should you approach this next kick-off? Let’s look at
what makes a good kick-off meeting.
The Project Kick-Off
The project kick-off meeting is a way of making sure everyone
has a shared understanding of what is going to happen and how it is
going to happen.
Start with an agenda that should feature introductions and roles
and responsibilities where these are already known.
If you have critical dates set in stone already, share them.
While we all know it’s better to do detailed planning and then
come up with the significant delivery milestones, that’s now how
the world works. You might have to get a product out before the
busy holiday buying season or finish something before the budget
runs out at the end of the financial year. These are constraints
your project has to work around, so get them out in the open now,
so everyone knows about them.
Talk about how the project is going to be run. Are you using a
predictive methodology? Are you using agile approaches for the
work? Or a hybrid of both? Talking about how the work is going to
be done continues on the theme of setting expectations for the
month to come.
Ask for input from attendees as well – the meeting shouldn’t
be you (or the project sponsor) talking at them for the whole time.
Your attendees are key project stakeholders. They will have a view
on assumptions and constraints, dependencies on other work, and
probably other things you might not have even thought about yet. At
this early stage of the project, their ideas might not be
thoroughly considered, but all input is useful in helping the team
shape the next steps.
The major failing of your prior experience with kick-off was
that people had different ideas about what the project was for. The
easiest way to stop all of that chatter is to utilize your kick-off
meeting. That is the opportunity to say exactly what the project is
going to do. On iterative projects, you may not have a finished
idea in mind, but you’ll have some indication of the journey and
The best way I’ve found to position the project is to ask the
project sponsor to talk at the beginning of the meeting. They are
usually the most senior person in the room. If they set out their
expectations and objectives, then the murmurings of dissent and
dissatisfaction are vastly reduced! You may find some challenge,
but let the sponsor deal with that.
Another tactic is to have conversations about expectations and
project scope with each attendee before the meeting. Then all you
are doing in the kick-off session itself is to confirm what
they’ve already been told. You avoid some of the conflict because
you’ve had the opportunity to have those discussions outside of
the group forum.
Chairing the Meeting
Kick-off meetings can be hard as everyone is new to the project.
The group might not have worked together in the past. They might be
busy with other work and resent being told this project is now the
most important thing. They might have concerns about what they are
being asked to do or how the project will be managed.
And all of these feelings can bubble up to make the meeting
Plan for these situations, and you’ll find the meeting is much
smoother. Those conversations outside the room, before the meeting,
are also helpful here.
Get a junior project manager or a PMO colleague to take notes
for you, or to act as a scribe if you are brainstorming information
on flip chart paper. Have a piece of paper pinned up for ‘parking
lot’ points – topics that are worth discussing but don’t
align with the discussion at hand right now. Don’t be afraid to
use the parking lot to shut down a conversation that is derailing
The more experience you have chairing and facilitating meetings,
the easier it will be for you. So practice!
After the Meeting
Close the kick-off meeting by asking for input into the next
steps. How will you take the project forward by creating a detailed
plan? Ask for volunteers from the room or for subject matter
experts in their teams to help you create the schedule. Set up
separate meetings with these people to understand the work at the
next level, so you can put it into a project schedule and share it
for everyone to see.
The kick-off meeting is only the beginning. You’ll move on to
those detailed planning workshops, and beyond. Keep everyone
up-to-date by making sure the key players have access to project
management software to see real-time information on the dashboard
and project reporting.
Take these considerations into account, and I’m sure your next
kick-off will be a better experience for everyone. Good luck!
Ask A PM: How Do I Run an Effective Kick-Off Meeting? appeared
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