How to Host the Perfect Project Kick-Off Meeting

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I recently had the very great pleasure of participating in a project kick-off meeting with one of our educational clients.  We are about to begin building a Cascade-based Intranet for this customer and the kick-off included two days of meetings at the client’s location.  This kick-off was truly one of the best I’ve ever attended and I think it warrants a “how to” list, since they really did it just right…

  1. Be prepared… The customer had met internally with all groups connected to the project before the meeting (in some cases, on numerous occasions) to establish the goals for the project.  I often provide a list of items to think about and review before a kick-off meeting, but this client went above and beyond by giving thought to the site design, content and functionality ahead of time.  In addition, we had a firm agenda and time-line to keep the meetings flowing and on schedule.
  2. Provide documentation (electronic)– At the very least, give some thought to how you’d like the new web site organized and provide documentation as such.  For me, an outline format in Word works best, but PowerPoint slides, Excel lists, etc. work too.  Extra bonus points go to this client for creativity — a couple of the  participants in this meeting are very “visual” thinkers, so instead of just drawing on a white board, they took the time to make really cool Visio diagrams for us which we could take back to the Beacon team and easily share.
  3. Be open to new ideas– The client had a lengthy list of ideas, wants and needs, but was very open to our suggestions and thoughts.  Sometimes we got “No, it is really going to have to work this way,” but sometimes we got “Wow, we never thought about that direction!  Go for it!”  Very satisfying for all involved.
  4. Have all decision-makers participate (at least marginally)– I know that executives and senior management are super busy, but there’s nothing more frustrating for all involved, than getting 80% of the development of a project completed (or, even worse, 99%!!), only to find out that the ultimate decision-maker had not been consulted and that much of the current direction must be scrapped.  That wastes our time and your budget!!
  5. Include stakeholders of the project that are not necessarily decision-makers– We learn so much about the needs of the project from the people that will actually use the final product.  This client devoted at least half of the meeting time to introducing us to content owners and letting them describe, in their own words, what they would like to see the Intranet used for.  We got some surprising and unanticipated responses, which we did our best to include in the final product.
  6. Make sure the technology is adequate– We’re setting up a web site, so at the very least, we need to have Internet access and a projector and sometimes a conference/speaker phone, if we’ll be connecting with other locations.  Ability to hook up my own laptop to the Internet and projector are nice too, but not critical (always keep a backup of your docs on a USB drive!!).  If your meeting facilities don’t provide this, please let me know in advance so I can bring them.
  7. Remember that we are your partners– At every level, this client is professional, pleasant to work with and thoughtful.  I can tell you from personal and painful experience that this is not always the case.  We really want this project to work for your company, so let’s all put on our best behavior and make it a good experience (and bonus points for super yummy cookies!)… See other great tips along this train of thought at “How To Sell Yourself as a Client” and “Does Beacon really want to be your business Partner…“.  I absolutely love this quote from the latter of these articles– “It’s a Two-Way Street – Remember, though, that acting like a partner isn’t just a vendor’s responsibility. You must reciprocate. Beating your vendor into submission on price, for instance, may help you pull off a project and enhance your standing with the bean counters, but it’s no way to forge a long-term partnership. What goes around comes around.”
  8. If at all possible, meet face-to-face– I attend plenty of project kick-off meetings via conference call and web meeting, but nothing beats sitting down face-to-face with a customer and discussing their project needs.
  9. Provide a quiet and isolated meeting place and devote the meeting time to the project work– Though of course we all took periodic breaks to check our email, send a quick text or fight a minor fire, 90% of the meeting time was spent discussing the project.  Nothing more frustrating than sitting in an empty room while the client takes care of matters more important than the project at hand.
  10. Get personal– Similar to item #7, but more action than attitude-related.  This client took us on a campus tour and then out to dinner, making for a very long day for them indeed!  However, during the tour and meal, we had the opportunity to learn more about the university, and the client, in a less structured and informal environment.  The better we can get to know the company and the people involved, hopefully the better we can meet your needs.

Good luck with your next project kick-off meeting.  Hope it is as great as ours was!