Teams

4 steps to a solid kickoff meeting

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The humble meeting. Few things have such a varied reputation. Some folks view them as a cornerstone of collaboration, while others see them as the scourge of the earth. Sometimes these people are on the same team, and that’s even less fun.

It doesn’t have to be that way. With planning and some practice, a proper kickoff meeting will pay dividends for the entire length of the project. To make sure everyone’s getting the most out of your kickoff, follow these 4 basic steps. 

Do some leg work

One of the biggest pitfalls of the kickoff meeting is people’s tendency to treat it as the literal first step of the project. 

Over the years, I’ve attended countless kickoffs filled with folks (sometimes myself included) with nary a thought to what we were about to discuss—as if the meeting were merely an introduction to the topic.

“Don’t walk into a kickoff meeting without a game plan.”

Don’t walk into a kickoff meeting without a game plan. The meeting’s success is directly related to the planning that goes into it. It’s a time for the team to bounce around ideas and discuss obstacles—something you can’t really do if you haven’t taken the time to actually consider said ideas and obstacles.

If you’re leading the kickoff, make an agenda ahead of the meeting and share it with the attendees. If you’re attending, study the agenda and looks for places you can contribute. 

No agenda? Suggest making one. A meeting agenda is just fancy talk for an outline, but it keeps a meeting focused. Don’t get too detailed here—just a simple list of topics and talking points will do the trick. Try including several questions in the agenda to jumpstart thinking.

“A meeting’s success is directly related to the planning that goes into it.”

Invite the right people

A big part of an effective meeting is who’s sitting around the table (or in the cloud, if you’re lucky enough to be on a remote team). For the best results, round up a diverse selection of folks from across the project.

If you’re holding a kickoff meeting to discuss a new marketing initiative, it might not be necessary to have the entire engineering team present. Even if there’s engineering involved, sometimes a single delegate from the team is all it takes.

Having representatives from larger teams attend on their behalf not only saves working time for the members not attending, it focuses the feedback during the meeting down to a single voice.

Not that an overload of engineering talk is bad. It just probably means you’re no longer in kickoff territory—you’ve started a build meeting.

“A big part of an effective meeting is who’s sitting around the table.”

Discuss goals and expectations

This might sound like a no-brainer, but I’ve been to plenty of kickoff meetings over the years where small talk reigned, leaving the project talk to a few obvious yes or no questions.

And that’s a real bummer, because the kickoff is the perfect time to discuss what you want from the project. Defining a tight set of goals and expectations keeps the project on track during the design and build process.

If you’re feeling really ambitious, try to land on some actual stats you’d like to see from the project. For example, you might ask: Exactly how many new users should this landing page generate? 

Once the team agrees on key results, you have a measuring stick for any disagreements that might arise. Does this late-arriving feature really support the goals defined up front? If it doesn’t, file it away and work on it some other time.

Make lots of action items

The most important part of a kickoff meeting is what happens next. A solid kickoff meeting produces countless action items, one-on-one discussions, and future group meetings.

The trick is logging and actually acting on all the things touched on during the meeting. Having someone take notes is good, but a shared note space is even better. Fire up a Google Doc or gather around a whiteboard (those are in the cloud now, too).

After the meeting, take some time to digest the notes and start planning the next steps. Do this as soon after the meeting as you can—sometimes even a few days will make me lose track of some finer details I thought I’d stashed in the ol’ noggin. 

With the initial steps in place, start making assignments—the project has begun.

Let’s get it started

It’s time to take back our meetings. To make them a valuable tool instead of a dreaded time-sink. With a bit of planning, the kickoff can be transformed from perfunctory to productive. And everyone on the team can appreciate that.

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Author

Clark Wimberly
Clark is a UX designer in Austin, TX. Equal parts freelance, startup, and agency, he’s been rebuilt into a content producer with a designer-friendly interface.

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