If you’re an entrepreneur, or are leading an important project within your company, you have an opportunity to take individuals and turn them into a well-functioning team during the project kickoff meeting. But, as I’ve discovered the hard way, you sometimes only discover that you didn’t run a successful kickoff meeting much later, when you’re reflecting on a project that failed.
Follow these 4 steps for an effective project kickoff meeting to avoid that fate.
1. Make sure everyone knows each other
It seems obvious, but if people don’t know each other, they’re not going to be that comfortable working together. You don’t want anyone on your team to leave the kickoff meeting thinking, “Who were all those people in that meeting?”
After welcoming everyone, jump into introductions. I’m not talking about you just going around the room and saying everyone’s name. At a minimum, have people introduce themselves. Even better, follow that with some sort of ice breaker.
It can be very easy to skip this step, because, let’s face it, introductions can feel awkward and ice breakers always seem a bit lame. Make it fun and you’ll see the benefits early in the project. And, to earn your “organized leader” sticker for the day, after the meeting send the team an email that includes everyone’s name and contact information.
2. Share the vision for the project
Now it’s time to get into the core of the meeting and share the vision for the project. This is where you, as the entrepreneur or project lead, can infect the rest of the team with your enthusiasm. Have an extra shot of espresso and start exuding energy — just don’t get too jittery or no one will know what you’re talking about.
While explaining your vision, focus on who the customer is — this could be a certain customer demographic you are targeting, or even an internal customer for an internally-focused project — and the customer problem you are trying to solve. You can make this clear by telling a story about the current customer experience, and pointing out where it falls short.
Make sure everyone comes out of this meeting with a shared vision for the project and a deep understanding of the customer problem they are working together to solve. If the team doesn’t have a common understanding of why they are working together on this, and why it’s important, they’ll start drifting off in different directions from the start.
3. Explain what each person adds to the team
Now that everyone has a common understanding of the vision and is excited about the project (you got them excited, right?), it’s time to talk about why each of these individuals is important to the team. Go through each person on the team and talk about why they are critical to the project’s success. What unique experience or perspectives do they bring to the team? What are you expecting them to contribute?
For example, you could say, “Jane, I know you have a lot of experience with this technology so I’m counting on you to ensure we’re making intelligent long-term choices here.” This individual attention clarifies expectations and also helps each person understand why they are part of this team. Even if you think Jane is an absolute moron — or, maybe, especially if you do — it’s important to make it very clear what you expect from her on this team.
Make sure you prepare for this in advance of the meeting! You don’t want to be going around the room and then stare at someone and say, “Well, you don’t actually have any value to add; I don’t really know what I was thinking when I invited you.”
4. Make the rules of the game clear, but focus on the end result
On most projects there is an internal customer, whether that is the entrepreneur, project lead, or a steering committee. You need to make it clear who the internal customer is, and how they will be involved in the project.
For example, this may be one of a dozen projects the entrepreneur has going, but they may be the main internal customer. If this is the case, make it clear to everyone that the entrepreneur might not be able to join every meeting, but they are final arbiter. If, instead, a steering committee is calling the shots (good luck with that), make it clear from the start of the project.
While you are discussing the process, don’t forget to keep the team focused on the end result. What’s the outcome you are looking for from this project team? Reducing friction within the company? Getting a new product out the door? Figuring out which customers to target to maximize profits? Using up some extra money you found in your budget?
Focus on the ultimate goal, and make it clear to the team that they will be judged by their ability to achieve that goal, even if the process changes along the way.
Project kickoff meetings are critical and they can get a project off to a great start. When you don’t plan for them, though, it can feel like a visit to a dentist who had too much garlic at lunch and decided not to wear his surgical mask.
Get the team members comfortable working together. Share your vision and excitement for the project. Make each person on the team feel like they are important to the project’s success. Talk about the process, but focus on the end result.
Make it a focused and efficient meeting, and you’ll set the tone for the rest of the project.
I hope these four steps give you a framework you can use for any project kickoff meeting. Did a terrible project kickoff meeting come to mind while you were reading this? Are you a horrified dentist who now knows that garlic-filled lunches are a gift that keeps on giving to your patients throughout their visit? Share your stories in the “What do you think?” area below. And if you had too much garlic at lunch, don’t forget to wear a surgical mask!