Project Kickoff Meeting Guide
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A Beginner’s Guide to Successful Project Kickoff Meetings

Do you remember your first project kickoff meeting? The memory of mine is burned in my brain. I was the project manager on a large, complicated marketing campaign and felt pretty nervous. It was an important meeting because it was a big chunk of business, and I really wanted to make a good impression on my new team. 

The kickoff meeting went well that day, and my nerves wore off once we got going. Apparently, you could only tell my voice was shaking in the first few minutes!

Of course, there are things I wish I’d done differently in that meeting, but I took a lot away from the experience. In the years since, I’ve learned more about what makes a project kickoff meeting successful. That’s what I’ll share in this beginner’s guide. 

We’ll talk about what a project kickoff meeting is, why you should have one, how to prepare, and what to do after the meeting is over. We’ll also cover facilitation tips to keep the conversation on track and hear from quieter teammates in the room.

Let’s dig in!

What is a project kickoff meeting?

A project kickoff meeting is the initial gathering of the project team to discuss key project information, such as goals, scope, constraints, and milestones. It typically happens during the project initiation phase, once the project charter is complete, and sets the tone for the work to come.

This interactive meeting is a project leader’s first opportunity to communicate critical project details, collect insights, and boost team morale. It should feel like a conversation, with information shared and plenty of time for questions and feedback. 

Why kickoff meetings are worth your effort

Some argue that a kickoff meeting isn’t necessary, and I used to be one of them. I thought most of this information could be communicated in a team’s existing meetings or shared via email. 

But skipping a kickoff meeting invites chaos into your project. Goals and critical dates get mixed up. Important approvals can be missed. Legal requirements might be accidentally overlooked. Trust me, I’ve seen it all happen.

While I’m all for eliminating unnecessary meetings, a kickoff meeting isn’t one of them. When done well, a kickoff meeting is indispensable for a successful project.

There are all kinds of reasons to include a project kickoff in your plans. Here’s how your team, stakeholders, and project managers can benefit from an effective kickoff meeting.

  • Gather the team’s buy-in and support on goals and project deliverables
  • Answer team questions on key project information
  • Establish clear expectations on communication and work management
  • Boost team morale by rallying around common goals
  • Identify potential problems early in the planning process
  • Demonstrate stakeholder support for the team’s efforts
  • Gain confidence that team and stakeholders are aligned on next steps

Of course, you can only experience these benefits with adequate preparation. Next, I’ll explain how I apply the prep work I do for any meeting to project kickoffs.

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Preparation steps to set your kickoff up for success

Anytime I want to schedule a new meeting, I use the 5 Ws: who, what, when, where, and why. This framework helps me determine if the meeting is needed, how to structure the time, and what to do beforehand. 

If I can answer these questions satisfactorily, then I know I’m calling a meeting that matters and will be a good use of time. Let’s apply this framework to project kickoffs.

WHY have the meeting

If you can’t answer this question clearly, don’t have a kickoff meeting—or any meeting for that matter! Hopefully by now you’re already clear on the value of a good kickoff meeting. But if you need a refresher, scroll up a few paragraphs to review the benefits. 

WHO should attend

When it comes to project kickoff attendees, there’s no perfect formula for figuring out the invite list. Many folks stop building their list at the people who will be directly involved in the work, but you risk missing key groups if you do.

Let’s flex those critical thinking muscles and think about the project from different angles to ensure you get the right people in the room. 

  • Who will contribute? You want to invite the project sponsors and stakeholders, of course. Individuals and teams who will execute the project tasks should also have a seat at the table.
  • Who are we doing all this work for? Failing to include the voice of the customer means you’re missing out on the most valuable perspective of all—whether the customer is an internal customer, client, or end user. That could mean inviting a product manager, marketer, or customer success team member to the kickoff. 
  • Who will be impacted by the project? One group that’s often overlooked is people who don’t have an active role in execution but are impacted by the project results. I’m not suggesting inviting everyone impacted to the kickoff, but do include someone who can advocate for this group in your attendee list.

Taking all these groups into account might mean you end up with a bigger list than you want. But giving people a chance to speak into the project early on helps increase buy-in. The more chances team members have to shape the project, the more likely they are to act with a sense of ownership.

Of course, having more people at the table can hamper participation. But there are plenty of ways to address that. The problems that arise when key players get left out are usually much harder to overcome and tend to pop up at the worst possible times. I’d rather deal with a larger meeting.

WHERE to have the meeting

If your company works remotely, the answer to this question is likely obvious. But for in-person companies, put some thought into the meeting venue you choose. 

For example, let’s say you’re planning a 60-minute kickoff meeting., You’ll want to consider the comfort of your attendees and make sure everyone has a seat. Just avoid choosing a room that allows attendees to spread out or sit at the back, as they’re less likely to be engaged. 

If your team is hybrid and there’s no option to gather everyone in person, then default to a virtual kickoff. It’s less likely to alienate the remote team members, which could be a real hit to morale.

WHEN to meet

Some project managers like to present a completed project plan and timelines at the kickoff meeting. I recommend bringing the basics instead and letting the team help shape a plan. 

If you have answers to these questions, you’ve got enough information to kick your project off: 

  • Why does the project need to happen?
  • Who are the project stakeholders?
  • What are the project goals and outcomes? 
  • Do you have a rough budget?
  • Do you have a timeframe for project delivery or go-live dates?
  • Who are the key decision-makers?

Still not sure when to schedule a kickoff meeting? It never hurts to bounce your thoughts off a project team member, stakeholder, or fellow project manager to get their take. In fact, it’s wise to consult with the core team about all the details of the project kickoff meeting so everyone’s aligned on the purpose and agenda.

WHAT’s the agenda for a kickoff meeting

As with most aspects of the project kickoff, there’s no one-size-fits-all meeting agenda. It depends on factors like the project goals and scope, team size and culture, complexity of work, people involved, etc. 

That said, there are topics you should include, no matter the situation. I recommend including these items on any agenda you write for a project kickoff meeting.

  • Welcome & introductions
  • Icebreaker
  • Meeting expectations and project purpose
  • Project goals and outcomes
  • Project constraints
  • Key project milestones
  • Wrap-up and next steps

Every topic on your project kickoff agenda should support the meeting’s purpose—information-sharing and starting a dialogue with the team. It can be challenging to do both without needing a 2-hour meeting, but most kickoffs shouldn’t last longer than 1 hour. That’s why it’s helpful to share your agenda—with context—beforehand.

When you send the agenda to attendees, make it clear you’re seeking their perspective and questions in the meeting and want them to come prepared. Many people need time to process information before they’re ready to give feedback, so this will help keep the meeting on track and support valuable discussions.

Project kickoff meeting agenda example and template

Now let’s look at how much time you might schedule for each agenda item. Here’s an example of a project kickoff agenda I created for a 60-minute meeting, with a simple template you can customize to your project.

  • Welcome & Introductions - 2 min
  • Icebreaker - 3 min
  • Meeting Expectations & Project Purpose - 10 min
  • Goals & Outcomes - 10 min
  • Constraints - 15 min
  • Key Milestones - 10 min
  • Wrap Up & Next Steps - 10 min

Download our free project kickoff meeting agenda template.

How to run an effective project kickoff meeting

You’ve done the prep work. Now it’s time to gather the team and officially kick your project off. These 10 steps can help you make the most of your time together.

1. Set a positive tone at the door

Since the project kickoff meeting is the first time the whole project team gets together, think about the kind of mood or attitude the team should bring to this project. Here are a few simple ideas that can inject a little fun into your welcome:

  • Play some music as everyone settles into the room
  • Provide snacks to keep the energy up 
  • Give everyone a small token that represents the project 

If your kickoff meeting is virtual, don’t let Zoom keep you from having some fun. Why not play music as people join your call? (Just be sure it works ahead of time.) You could also share a project-themed background for everyone to use. 

Those are just a couple of easy ideas. A quick Google search will offer plenty of others.

My favorite example of a project kickoff meeting

I attended a kickoff meeting for an e-commerce team's Christmas campaign. It kicked off in July, but when you walked into the room, it was like stepping into the North Pole.

The project manager and core team had gone all out on Christmas decorations. There were lights and a tree. They had peppermint oil diffusing. And each team member had a candy cane at their seat.

The planning and execution phases for this marketing campaign were long and often felt like a slog. But the core team did everything they could to set the mood they wanted from the start.

2. Settle attendees in with an icebreaker

It’s important to engage attendees right from the start. Just because people are in the room (or logged on to the call) doesn’t mean they’re mentally present, too. This is where icebreakers come in handy. 

Whether it’s a game, question, or tiny giveaway, set aside the first 3-5 minutes of the meeting to help people transition into the room. 

Lighthearted, polarizing questions are a fun way to get the group’s attention. I’ve seen these questions used with great success in the past. 

  • Pineapple on pizza—yay or nay?
  • Is it pronounced “giff” like gift or “jif” like the peanut butter?
  • Is a hot dog a sandwich? What about a taco?
  • Should toilet paper hang over the roll or under the roll?

The goal is to get as many people to respond as possible so their attention shifts to this conversation. Remember to keep an eye on the clock. Once everyone is engaged, move into the main agenda.

3. Set expectations for the kickoff meeting

Begin with why you’ve gathered everyone. Set the intention for the time together: to review the project basics and start a discussion with the team. 

Let attendees know you’re interested in dialogue, and invite questions in the room. Be sure they understand you’ll also give them a chance to share questions and feedback after the kickoff meeting. 

4. Explain the purpose of the project

After setting the stage, you’re still not done sharing the why. Now you need to address why this project? Why now? 

Stakeholders often jump in here, and asking key stakeholders to take part in the agenda is a great way to ensure they’ll attend. 

Even if it’s a recurring project of some kind, don’t skip this part. There are probably new employees in the room that have never heard the why. Plus, it’s a good reminder for veteran employees.

5. Share project goals and outcomes

Focus this part of the discussion on the project background. Explain what the project objectives are and why they were chosen. Bringing the project team into the thinking that led to the goals will help them make better decisions throughout the project. 

Be sure to leave time for feedback and questions before moving on to the next step.

6. Review important milestones

While I’m not a fan of coming to a kickoff meeting with every task and date mapped out on a project timeline, it IS important to show up with key dates noted.

Got a contract expiring? Or legal/compliance dates to hit? List those out, and share them in the meeting. That way, if there are conflicts, they’ll surface earlier in the planning process. It’s also helpful to share key dates just so the team can get a feel for what’s coming.

If you’d like, go ahead and drop those dates into a TeamGantt project. Project management software can be an effective communication tool at this stage, even if you don’t have a bunch of details to share yet. Just be aware of how sensitive your team is to polished documentation or anything that feels “official.”

Sometimes when a team sees a detailed task list, robust project schedule, or pretty slides, they assume there’s no room for discussion. This is the opposite of the tone you’re trying to set in the meeting! Keep visuals super-simple at this stage to avoid accidentally shutting down conversation.

For example, you might want to present project milestones in List view instead of a gantt chart at this stage. Here’s what that could look like:

Screenshot of high-level milestones for a mobile app project for presenting in a project kickoff meeting

7. Discuss key constraints

Share whatever constraints you’re aware of at the kickoff meeting. Even if you don’t know how to work around them yet, it’s better to put everything on the table from the beginning.

Discussing key constraints early not only gets your team thinking about possible solutions. It also opens up the floor to identify other risks, assumptions, or constraints the core team hadn’t considered. 

This conversation can be robust. Be sure to have plenty of time for it in the agenda, and plan on follow-up discussions.

8. Outline important project roles

Even the simplest projects get tripped up when roles get confused. This happens most often with approvers and decision-makers. 

If these roles and responsibilities aren’t clarified from the start, people either make wild decisions or work stalls out. Avoid unnecessary confusion by letting the project team know who makes what decisions and who approves what.

9. Set the stage for clear communication

On the surface, it might seem simple, but poor communication is usually what drives projects off-track. That’s why it’s important to clearly outline how and where project communication will occur—especially for long-term projects.

  • What tool(s) will the team use for communication? 
  • Will there be weekly meetings? Daily standups? A Teams or Slack channel just for the project? 
  • Who needs to know what, and how should they get information? 
  • How will you keep each other up-to-date on project status and anything blocking progress?

These questions don’t have to be discussed in detail right now. You’ll answer them in the planning stage and can document decisions in a communication plan. As long as you tell the team when and where these decisions will be made (e.g., a weekly or biweekly project meeting), you can check this box for the kickoff meeting.

10. Explain what to expect going forward  

Wrap up the meeting by recapping key takeaways and setting the team’s expectations for what comes next. Here are the things you’ll want to cover:

  • Review any actions that surfaced.
  • Reference the list of unanswered questions collected.
  • Remind the team what you want feedback on and how they can share their thoughts.
  • Explain next steps and when you’ll meet again to discuss project plan details. 

The questions on everyone’s mind after a project kickoff are usually: So what does this mean for me? What do I need to do and by when? The sooner you can answer these questions, the better. Let the team know when to expect that meeting.

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Facilitation tips to keep your kickoff meeting on track

If you’ve worked your way through this guide, then you’re going to be well-prepared to kick any project off. So let’s look at some next-level tips that can help you lead a smooth project kickoff meeting.

At this point in my career, I’ve facilitated at least hundreds of hours of meetings. And while we won’t dive deep into meeting facilitation tactics, these best practices can keep your meeting on track.

Capture notes in a visual location

Use a virtual whiteboard or shared document for note-taking so everyone sees their contributions as a valuable part of the meeting. You’re asking attendees to participate, and this enables you to be proactive about capturing their questions, feedback, and concerns.

Collect questions as you go

Don’t save questions for the end of the meeting. Invite them along the way. If a question is relevant to the topic at hand, answer it in the moment. Or tell the person you’ll get to it later on if they’re getting ahead of the agenda.

Make a parking lot for follow-up conversations

At this stage of the project, there will be a bunch of unanswered questions. If you don’t have the answer for a question, it’s okay to table it. Write the question down, assign an owner, and commit to reporting back to the team once an answer’s found.

Capture open questions someplace that’s visible to the entire team so the person asking it knows they’ve been heard. You might want to keep your parking lot in the same document as your other meeting notes.

Assign agenda items to others on the core team

The kickoff meeting shouldn’t just be the project manager’s show, so vary presenters on the agenda. If you’re the only person droning on the whole time, people are more likely to zone out.

Have stakeholders speak. Get department leaders from the core team involved. This not only shows attendees that everyone at the table is important to the project’s success. It also helps them stay engaged. 

Draw out engagement 

Despite your best efforts, people may be hesitant to speak. So ask questions, and be okay with silence until people respond. Pay attention to which disciplines are highly engaged and which ones stay quiet. 

Avoid singling out individuals by asking groups of people for feedback. Say something like, “Hey, development team, you’ve been fairly quiet. What do you think about what we’ve shared so far? Any concerns or feedback?”

Be flexible

Yes, you have an agenda to get through. But there are also times you’ll need to adjust the agenda on the fly. 

Pay attention to body language and level of engagement in the room. Feel free to change the order or time devoted to topics as needed to ensure you cover the most important information.

Post-kickoff strategies to keep the project energy alive

Congratulations! You just guided your team through a critical project meeting!

As a project leader, you know better than anyone the work is only just beginning. So how do you keep the momentum going from here? These post-kickoff strategies can help.

Share a meeting recap with relevant resources

Try to send a follow-up email to everyone invited 24 hours after the kickoff meeting, and include the following details in your recap: 

  • Meeting agenda
  • Discussion notes
  • Action items 
  • Parking lot
  • Where to send questions/feedback 
  • Link to the meeting recording (if applicable)

Ideally, you’ll also outline next steps in this email—what’s expected of the project team and what you’ll send in the coming days (meeting invites, answers to questions, etc.).  

This is a great chance to to include links to relevant project resources, like a Slack or Teams channel, shared documents, and project roadmap. Send whatever you’ve got so far.

Send invites for regular project meetings

Once you’ve sent a recap and next steps, send out any project-related meeting invites as soon as possible. I get better response rates to weekly project meeting invites when they’re sent closer to the project kickoff.

Give the project team access to the plan

Key project information, like a gantt chart, should be highly available to the project team. This way, everyone has access to the same info at all times, and it allows individuals to look up project info whenever needed. 

Sharing your TeamGantt project plan after the kickoff meeting is a simple way to support your team and keep everyone on track.You can share a view-only link of the project via email, or invite everyone to the project in TeamGantt.

Screenshot of project invitation email for adding team members to the plan

Take a moment to celebrate your hard work

Seriously, do it! A project leader’s life is a blur of micro tasks that usually feel too small to be celebrated. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself only celebrating the big wins that come far too infrequently. And that’s a recipe for burnout.

The project kickoff meeting done well sets a team up for effective collaboration and gives them a real chance to hit their goals. That’s worth celebrating! So find a way to mark the moment in a meaningful way, then set your sights on the next phase of your project.

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