As a Project Manager, you will often be the person responsible for arranging and coordinating the meeting, as well as being the most involved in the project throughout. It is important that you begin the project with a good and effective kick-off meeting.
As the name suggests, these meetings are used to formally kick off a new project. They will be used to gather information, set expectations, discuss requirements and set out the process that the project will follow. In many cases – especially if you are working with a new client – this may also be the first time you will meet the client face-to-face, so it is important that you instil confidence and trust in your client.
Following these simple steps will help you to manage these meetings and make the most of the people and knowledge available in the time you have.
1. Have a Purpose/Agenda
For the meeting to run effectively and be the most productive it can be, it is important that everyone involved knows the purpose of the meeting prior to the day.
Write up an agenda for the meeting with an outline of the topics to be covered with timings for each, and send to all attendees prior to the meeting. One or two days in advance of the meeting is preferable.
Kick-off meetings will involve project stakeholders as well as people from different areas of the business, such as web developers or designers, who will have input in different areas. Sending an advanced agenda allows for everyone involved in the meeting to plan and gather any information they may need, or think of discussion points they want to raise during the session.
If possible, you should print copies of the agenda to take into the meeting so that everyone has their own copy and is able to reference it throughout.
Being aware of the agenda also helps to keep the meeting on topic and, more importantly, on time, as everyone is aware of the main points and the desired outcomes that need to be reached.
Kick-off meetings will often follow the same structure and cover the same or similar topics. However, it is important to discuss the agenda with your team members who are attending, as the project may have different and specific requirements that will need to be added to the agenda. Remember, every client is different.
2. Be Aware of Time
One of the most common reasons that meetings can be inefficient is when the timings proposed in the agenda are not kept to.
To combat this, remember that the most important thing you can do is ensure that the meeting both begins and ends on time. It is also important that you are aware of the time throughout, so try to keep speakers and discussions on track and on topic. For example, introductions are important, especially when working with new clients, but should be kept brief and to the point – whilst we all love dogs, we don’t need to know people’s dogs’ names!
It is important to make participants aware of the time remaining, along with the points left to cover, and try to interject if it appears that a person is ‘hijacking’ the meeting by talking too much or straying off topic. This should be done politely and when appropriate, and you should not appear to be rude, as if you’re cutting a person off mid-sentence.
3. Encourage Discussion/Input
This may appear contrary to the previous point, but it’s important to encourage discussion within the group.
You may find that kick-off meetings are often dominated by one or two people who tend to do most of the talking and give their input above others. Whilst this is often valuable, it is important to ask for input from others as they may be reluctant to speak, or feel that they are unable to, as they don’t want to step on any toes.
Be careful not to make anyone feel uncomfortable if they don’t want to speak, but welcome input from those who feel they can add to the point in question.
It is important that all attendees feel valued, otherwise they can become disengaged or lose concentration, and valuable input or opinions may be lost. Keep in mind that information gathered will be used throughout the project, so it is important to encourage input.
4. Take Notes
It is essential that notes are taken during kick-off meetings, and they’re as comprehensive as possible with as much information captured as you are able to. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification or additional information on a particular point when writing notes, as it is vital to capture as much detail as possible.
This is important for a number of reasons:
- It ensures that all discussion points, ideas and outcomes are captured and not lost, especially as these may form the basis for the project requirements or user stories
- Previously discussed points can be accurately referenced at any point throughout the project
- An overview (or minutes) can be sent to all participants following the meeting
- Meeting outcomes (requirements, follow up tasks, ideas etc.) can be agreed
- It allows for points to be cleared up, or questions to be asked that may not have been thought of during the meeting
5. Follow Up
It is not uncommon for people to leave a meeting with different interpretations or understandings of the same discussions. To avoid any confusion, you should follow up the meeting by tidying or, if necessary, rewriting your notes and sending them to all participants. You should also confirm any tasks or actions as soon as possible after the meeting.
As these meetings are held at the very beginning of a project, this is important as it sets a precedent for regular communication between you and the client throughout the project.
6. Own the Meeting
This final point may be the most important. In order for the above tips to be carried out effectively, it is important that the meeting has an ‘owner.’ There should be one person who takes ownership of a meeting, but should not dominate it.
If you are the Project Manager, this should be done by conveying confidence and ensuring that everyone knows that you intend to keep the meeting on time, useful and relevant, all whilst ensuring that people know you value their time.
Meeting attendees should know that you are working to ensure that the meeting is productive and efficient, as opposed to it appearing like a free-form discussion, which can often go off topic.
In essence, you need to actively steer the meeting in the right direction and ensure that the discussion does not become derailed.
The Best Start to Your Project
By following these tips, you will find that your kick-off meetings are more productive and that the information and data you gather is more relevant and, therefore, more valuable. Running a good and efficient meeting will also ensure that your client has trust in you from day one of the project, and the meeting will serve as the foundation of your new client relationship.
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