In practical terms, the project kickoff is the equivalent of a grand opening. It's the start of your project, where all key stakeholders come together for a common purpose and to share common expectations. It's a way to set the stage for all the work to come, laying a foundation of information and enthusiasm. And, like any other "grand opening" timing is everything. Read on for more.
The project kickoff is your chance to create a lasting, positive "impression" (and sufficient good will) to carry you and your team through the steps, tasks and decisions that lie ahead. For management purposes, a well planned and executed kickoff meeting will accomplish the following:
As this list demonstrates, the project kickoff is largely a team building and "public relations" event, but that makes it no less critical to the technical aspects of effective project planning and execution. No project can be successful without a dedicated project team and committed stakeholders. It takes shared perceptions and a common vision to reach this level of engagement, and the project kickoff is the best means to achieve those ends.
It may seem counterintuitive at some level, but kickoff does not equal "first". Chances are you will have already held numerous meetings before the project kickoff (including meetings to plan the kickoff event itself). Before a project can be "kicked off", it has to be proposed, selected and defined. You have to know what you are working towards, why it matters, who is involved, and what will be accomplished. While the timing of any given kickoff event will vary based on project size, complexity and related circumstances, it cannot serve its intended purpose unless and until the project vision and scope has been sufficiently defined. (Example: An accepted Statement of Work is a viable checkpoint for a project kickoff).
The primary goal of any effective kickoff event is to share and communicate that approved vision, and to empower the team to make that vision a reality. Without an approved vision, there is nothing to "kickoff". An actionable kickoff agenda must reflect these needs and requirements, covering all of the following executable elements:
The time and effort put into kickoff planning should be appropriately "sized" to the needs and complexity of the subject project. Larger, more complex projects will likely require more substantial and formal kickoff events. But no matter how formal or extensive, every kickoff should be planned to ensure that all "kickoff" goals and objectives are met, within existing constraints (time, funding, resources):
From a content perspective, kickoff agendas should begin with a discussion of the project background (e.g. how did this project come to pass?). The project team should be introduced, individually, and as part of the overall project organizational structure. All essential project elements and variables should then be discussed, including project goals, objectives, scope, deliverables, budget, risks, assumptions, constraints and success criteria. Each element should also be presented in sufficient, engaging terms so as to demonstrate expected value (e.g. why is the project important).
"Process" timelines and practices should also be clearly communicated, showing how the project will be executed, including procedures to be followed, the expected timeline, key milestones, stakeholder roles, and related responsibilities. The kickoff should conclude with a clear specification of "next steps" in order to build and maintain momentum. The key to an effective kickoff agenda is to present the required information in an entertaining manner, encouraging questions, feedback and an open exchange of ideas, generating excitement for the project that lies ahead. Be creative, be humorous when warranted, serious when needed, and always realistic. Be honest about the unknowns, open about the risks and upbeat about the opportunities.
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