The Key to Starting a Project Off Right

Jillian Kuhn, Former Viget

Article Category: #News & Culture

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You've put together the proposal, made the pitch, and sold the project. Great! Now, it's time for the kick-off meeting.

Kick-off meetings can be intimidating. In some cases, it's the first time you'll meet the client, and it's always a key moment in determining the course and tone of the project. A great kick-off can lead to smooth sailing, while a not-so-great one can initiate months of misery. Make sure you don't go into this meeting unprepared.

Here at Viget, to prepare for kick-off, we start each project with an internal kick-off meeting. That's right; we kick off our kick-offs. A few days before the real, client-facing meeting, we gather the whole internal team together to get everyone on the same page.

This is crucial. Going into a kick-off with an informed team and a deliberate plan helps you get the most out of your discussion -- learning as much as possible and making important project decisions without wasting valuable hours, money, and face-to-face client time. In my experience, project kick-offs without internal preparation often feel disjointed. There is no clear team vision or cohesion, and the kick-off becomes more about about educating the internal team than about laying the foundation for a successful project and relationship.

My internal kick-off agendas typically include:

  1. Information on the internal team. We'll be spending the next several weeks or months working together, so we set expectations early about who is on the team and each individual's role. We also discuss internal communications methods, like which systems we'll use to share deliverables or outline details of specific tasks or tickets.
  2. A basic introduction to the client and the project. We review the history of our relationship with this client, the client's main stakeholders, and the "10,000-foot" overview of the project -- including high-level goals and motivation. I also provide links to any relevant documents or research: contracts, notes from the sales process, analytics, client-provided documents, etc.
  3. Scope details. Although the PM will largely be the only one concerned with money, schedule, and contractual obligations throughout the project, it certainly helps if the whole team is aware of the constraints from day one. We discuss the budget, timeline, process, and deliverables. Everyone knows what is expected of them -- both individually and as a team. This also gives us a great opportunity to discuss anything we might want to change about the project process or any new approach we might want to try.
  4. A discussion of next steps. Now that we're familiar with the nitty-gritty, we decide how to actually kick off the project. We not only figure out the logistics of the kick-off meeting -- like meeting location, transportation, dress code, and technological requirements -- but we also start to set the agenda. While many kick-off agendas cover the same basic topics, we deviate from the standard and customize our discussions for each project. We make sure to touch on any red flags or important questions that came up during our internal discussions, and we suggest any exercises or "games" we want to run with the client.

After the internal kick-off, there is still more preparation to be done. The team does research, reviews project documents and analytics, and prepares any visuals, slideshows, data, or exercises needed for the kick-off meeting. We also ask our clients to fill out an introductory survey about their business, users, goals, and preferences -- so we review those responses, too.

Meanwhile, the project manager uses the internal kick-off conversation as a guide to create the kick-off agenda. The whole team will review and approve the agenda before it gets finalized and sent to the client. Also, here's a nifty PM trick: create two versions of the kick-off agenda. The client-facing version is the "official" version, and the internal version includes additional questions, notes, and info on who will be leading each point of discussion.

I'm sure every project manager starts his projects differently. Even Viget PMs have their subtle differences! How do you start your projects? Do you kick off your kick-offs, and what do you discuss?


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