The Kickoff Meeting is the first meeting with the project team and the client of the project. It sets the precedent for the entire project.
The meetings are not just about generating ideas — they’re also about setting expectations and minimising surprises later on. There’s also the group aspect to kickoff meetings. They are where you determine how you and your teammates will interact throughout the project, and they provide the opportunity to size up each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
However, without careful planning and right collaboration, kickoff meetings are just expensive people discussing obvious things. In this post The Website Marketing Group will discuss the details of what makes a successful kickoff meeting. You will learn the philosophy behind them, explain how to conduct helpful design studios to get your creative juices flowing, and discuss kickoff activities and templates to get you started.
The Philosophy Behind Kickoff Meetings
The kickoff meeting is more than just a business meeting for solidifying goals. Don’t forget about the relationship building. It is the opportunity for the different members to get to know, to interact and to mingle each other. Forging these bonds early on will make collaboration easier throughout the rest of the process. Try to maintain a casual atmosphere, while simultaneously staying focused and on point.
All the key players gather in the same room (sometimes via teleconference) and unite under the same goal. Treat the kickoff as a special meeting where everyone feels energised as the team sets the initial course for the best possible product. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In reality, kickoff meetings can feel like a drag as certain people try to talk over each other or push their own agendas. The key to success is involving people instead of just reviewing documentation.
Treat documentation as tools that create context for the kickoff activities. Review the documentation to get people in the right direction, then dive into the activities and let the ideas flow. This is exactly what Amazon does, since they actually make their product manager write a mock product press release for discussion during the kickoff and beyond.
The VIP Guest List
As for who to invite, the size and range depends on what the key decision-makers are comfortable with. For the following list of essential attendees, use your best judgment in determining the level of seniority for each:
- Product Lead. Usually the product manager. This person may also dictate the requirements based on feedback from the rest of the team.
- Designers. UX, UI, interaction and visual designers
- Developers. technology experts (someone who can interpret and provide feedback on technical requirements)
- User Researcher. whomever is in charge of customer development and persona analysis (usually a usability analyst or UX researcher, but could also just be the designer)
- Expert on subject. an advisor on the specific type of project (if you’re designing a new employee portal for mid-size businesses, you might invite your own HR Director)
- Data analyst. someone who knows product metrics and can ground the discussion in quantitative evidence
While these are the essential members, invite as many relevant people as possible. This means copywriters and even marketing operations, not just the people who could fire you. Remember that you always want to address concerns as early as possible, and you never know who might uncover the fatal flaw.
Kickoff Meeting Process
The length of the meeting depends on the amount of talking points and activities you have planned, but you should aim at around 2-3 hours, give or take. This provides ample time to flesh out ideas, without testing people’s patience and concentration.
Let’s take a look at an ideal kickoff process:
- Introductions. A natural place to start. If you’re collaborating with people from other product teams, explain some of their past relevant projects. Most importantly, focus on project roles, not just job titles.
- Review initial project roadmap. A good ice-breaker is to review all the previously distributed documentation and discuss what works and what doesn’t. If there are any questions or concerns, now is the time to address them. This will also set the seeds for defining a more concrete project roadmap later in collaborative tools like Asana, Trello, Confluence or Aha!.
- Discuss goals. Have a list of questions ready beforehand, but you should also open up discussion topics to the floor for new insights. To set a tone of honesty, open with a tough question about the product’s purpose.
- Conduct ideation exercises. They can range from ways to help people concentrate to artistic tasks to explore concepts.
- Assess risks. With the more meatier topics already out of the way, it’s time to move on to the project’s threats and how to minimise them. If anyone at the table has any fears or concerns, they should mention them for creative problem-solving. This is a perfect example of why collaboration is important — diverse mindsets and expertise directs attention to problems that may surface in more dangerous times later.
- Understand the timelines. Remember to thoroughly investigate logistics, and consider any potential limitations inherent in the tools or processes. This step fulfills the objective for creating a rough plan. Just remember the plan should be rough, as it will likely change as you test your designs and course-correct for the market.
One of the most important phases here is step 3, the discussion phase. This is where all the important stakeholders weigh in with their expertise (and of course, opinions).
As such an important phase, here are some common discussion points here, to help inspire you to think of your own:
- End Goals (KPIs): the project’s objectives
- Priorities: agree on a prioritised list of the end goals
- Review Target Users: explain the results of your research so far, including typical behaviors, workflows, pain points, and frustrations
- Information Architecture: for digital products, this refers to how the product will be organised (e.g. navigation)
- Content: a basic approach to content, including layout, themes, and tones
- Aesthetics: general creative approach, including atmosphere and any inspiration (refer back to any sketches or mood boards)
Feel free to amend or add activities or talking points to suit your needs. This is just one agenda that’s proven useful, but it’s by no means the only way to conduct a kickoff meeting.
It’s always hard to get VIPs in the same place at the same time, so make the most out of this opportunity by coming in prepared. Know beforehand what you want to get out of the meeting, and invite everyone whose presence you think would benefit the project. Follow the agenda based on your needs, and make a good kickoff meeting.