The benefits of a kick-off meeting

To thoroughly understand the role of the kick-off meeting on the success of a project, we must be clear about the purpose(s) of this first project meeting. A kick-off meeting has four basic functions:
a) Publicly state the beginning of the project;
b) Outline the project goals as well as the individual roles and responsibilities of team members;
c) Clarify the expectations of all parties;
d) Create a commitment by all those who influence the project’s outcome.

In terms of length, the kick-off meeting may last from a few hours to 1-3 days, depending on the scope and characteristics of each project. Who should attend the kick-off meeting? Well, at least the ‘core team’ should be present, but quite often it also involves most of the team. The ideal number of attendees, however, should not exceed 15 people. Generally speaking, this is a gathering of the project team, executive management, stakeholders, and other parties who need to officially recognize the commencement of the project. Project managers know that the kick-off meeting can be understood as a perfect ice-breaker situation where all attendees also gain a common understanding of the project’s objectives and priorities.

Although the format of a kick-off meeting varies depending on the size and complexity of each project, it usually consists of several sessions each one focused on a different key topic. For example, some common sessions are the following:

Business Plan In this session, the topics discussed mainly involve determining how much money is to be made from the project and what are the levers to make that money. It is important to use the business plan as a decision-making tool.

Project Charter or Project Framework This session includes determining what the project statement is (its scope, definition and objectives), and who are the stakeholders (the client, management committees, etc). The general schedule, budget and activities are also discussed. The project manager usually goes over the project charter, including the project background, description, milestones and timeline, etc, with the objective of aligning the project with the reality.

Team Charter This session obeys to the purpose of clarifying who the project manager and key project members are, and who does what on the team. Generally, the project manager introduces the organization chart along with the roles and responsibilities of each project team member. It is crucial to clearly explain what is expected of all the concerned parties, i.e. quality, plant, procurement, legal, controller, etc. Typically, the program quality manager is involved and the team decides on a number of key procedures, i.e. change control management.

Master Planning This is a reasonably high-level type of planning that usually does not comprise more than 50-100 tasks. It is not a detailed planning, but includes all the tasks that are necessary for the completion of the project, from the beginning until its closure.

Risk Analysis This session involves a through assessment of all the risks that the project team members might face in order to accomplish the project goals. It involves identifying those factors that could jeopardize the success of the project and develop ways to overcome them, as well as a corrective or preventive action plan if needed.

Team building It is always a good idea that the kick-off meeting ends with some kind of team-building activity or exercise aimed at teaching some rules for efficient teamwork. This task is best handled by an experienced facilitator and is usually a combination of physical and mental agility with an emphasis on teamwork.

Some project management experts believe that in those cases in which the project team has no responsibility on profit, there is no point in having a Business Plan session. Given that the start of a project is an important event, notification of the kick-off meeting’s occurrence should be formal and in writing. It is a common practice for one or more designated attendees to take notes during the meeting and then write a short document or ‘minutes of meeting’ with a summary of all topics and issues discussed during the meeting as well as the conclusions reached. This document should be distributed to all meeting participants.

When an ‘industrialization’ process is included in the project, often a second kick-off meeting is held. Also known as ‘plant kick-off’, this meeting starts when the industrial project team begins to take possession of a project; that is, at what is called 'tool launch' - when the project team starts placing massive orders to suppliers in order to 'build the plant'. This concept is also applicable to IT projects, where a large number of orders is placed to purchase servers, peripherals and other large equipments.

Some Final Thoughts

By now, we hope that the vast majority of us agrees on that the kick-off meeting is probably the most important project meeting held during the life of the project. Not only it is the first time that the entire project team is gathered but also, it is a great opportunity for the project manager to meet his team and gain commitment from it.

In this article we have intended to provide you with some basic and practical guidelines on the key themes or topics that a successful kick-off meeting should cover. Nevertheless, you should keep in mind that since each project is unique, slight modifications to these guidelines might be needed in order to perfectly adjust them to your specific project. Finally, even though some discussion and exchanging of points of view are involved in the process, a kick-off meeting should be a clarifying and enriching experience for all parties involved.

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