Better Meetings

The definitive guide to project kickoff meetings [with template]

Illustration of person scaling a mountain

You’ve got a green light on a project idea and the work is set to begin. Congratulations, you! But before the real work starts, you need a project kickoff meeting. It’s the opportunity to align all the key stakeholders, set expectations for team members, and get a clear understanding of everything.

A good kickoff meeting can be just the thing to ensure project success in the long run. This guide has all the info you need to set one up and run it like a pro. 

Table of contents

  • What is a kickoff meeting?

  • What’s the purpose of a kickoff meeting?

  • What happens at a kickoff meeting?

  • How to prepare for a project kickoff meeting in 3 steps

  • What to include in your kickoff meeting agenda

  • Project kickoff meeting template + best practices

  • What happens after a project kickoff meeting?

  • Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What is a kickoff meeting?

A kickoff meeting is the first meeting between the project team and the project stakeholders, so you’ll need:

  • the project manager

  • the project team

  • the client (if it’s an external project)

Most often,  a project manager hosts the kickoff meeting as soon as the contracts are signed (if applicable) and there’s an agreement on the project scope, budget, and timelines. For a smaller project, the kickoff meeting happens only at the beginning. On bigger projects, a project manager can choose to have a kickoff meeting for each phase.

Kickoff meetings can be internal or external, based on whether the project is in-house or one where you're working with external clients. A quick breakdown:

Internal kickoff meetings

These relate to internal projects in your company. For instance, you may be rolling out new project management software, building a new product, or launching a new service. 

External kickoff meetings

When you’re working on a project for a client, that’s when you have an external kickoff meeting. It’s a good opportunity to introduce the client to the team that will bring the project to life — and it builds a positive working relationship between key stakeholders.

What’s the purpose of a kickoff meeting?

A kickoff meeting formally notifies all project stakeholders that work on the project has begun. Its function is to introduce the project to the team and help them understand what the project purpose and timeline is, as well as requirements, deliverables, task assignments, and other details. 

This meeting is a chance to get everyone on the same page from the get-go and reduce any chance of misunderstandings later.

Ideally, after a kickoff meeting, each stakeholder and member of the project team should have a clear understanding of how the project will unfold and who owns what.

What happens at a kickoff meeting?

This depends on your company and the kind of projects you do. But everyone should leave with a clear understanding of the next steps and where the project is heading. 

To that end, project managers should aim to do the following:

  • Introduce the team members (to each other, if necessary, and to the client team).

  • Make sure everyone understands the project background. 

  • Make sure there’s mutual understanding between the key stakeholders on what a successful project outcome looks like. 

  • Align everyone with what needs to be done to achieve your project goals. 

  • Ensure there’s agreement on how everyone will work together effectively (including what tools you'll use). 

If someone has a question or they’re unsure about something, they should have an opportunity to ask before work starts on the project. 

How to prepare for a project kickoff meeting in 3 steps

Preparation is key. Here are three quick steps to get you ready. 

1. Know your talking points

First things first: you need to have an overview of the points you’re going to cover in your upcoming kickoff meeting.

Knowing your talking points allows you to prepare a presentation that gets the point across and makes the most of your meeting.  Remember to succinctly cover the project background and objectives (the why), the scope of work (the what), and the deliverables and timeline (the how), and team roles (the who).

2. Set a meeting agenda

This should list the talking points you’re planning to cover during the meeting, as well as time for questions and action items. We’ll go into more detail about what a kickoff meeting agenda should look like later, but for now, just know that writing one needn’t be the time-consuming task you think it is.

Meeting platforms like Vowel have built-in meeting templates that make it easy to create your own thoughtful agendas to align teams before the meeting even starts.

A screenshot of the Vowel meeting agenda feature

These agendas can be shared right from the app so you don’t need to maintain separate documents and think about managing shared access.

3. Decide who’s going to keep notes

Because the kickoff meeting includes all the key stakeholders, there will likely be questions and discussion — perhaps around a slight change in the scope or a new project deliverable agreed upon.

Either way, you’ll want someone to take meeting notes. That way, everything that you discuss and all action items you agree on will be written down for future reference. Having meeting notes is also great if a team member can’t attend the meeting, or if new team members join the project team down the line. 

Shared meeting notes in Vowel

With Vowel, you can take real-time collaborative meeting notes during the meeting. It's still a good idea to have a designated note taker for kickoff meetings, but the option for anyone to contribute means that it's easier to record everything attendees think is important.

As a bonus step, turn on recording and transcription so you have a back-up of the whole conversation (and the notes will be time-stamped to the point in the meeting when they were taken). 

What to include in your kickoff meeting agenda

Think of a meeting agenda as a roadmap to your meeting. A kickoff meeting is one of the more important kinds of meetings you’ll hold, so it makes sense to go in as prepared as you can be. 

Also, kickoff meetings typically involve a larger number of people. So, if you don’t want chaos, prepare a tight agenda to keep everything on track.

1. Introduction (~5 min)

Yes, the kickoff meeting is important because its purpose is to bring alignment, clarity, and excitement. 

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room to establish rapport with some well-placed icebreakers and introductions. 

If your project or your company is large, then it’s very likely there’ll be cross-functional activities going on. Your kickoff meeting might include a lot of people who’ve never talked to one another before. That’s why creating a relaxed atmosphere at the beginning is useful – people can get to know each other on a more personal level, establish trust, and promote mutual understanding.

2. Project goal & background (~5 min)

Giving background info on the project such as the pain points it addresses for the clients (or your company, in the case of an internal project) helps you to set the scene and reinforce why the project is important. 

Next up, you should share a high-level overview of the project and its goals. You don’t have to be too detailed, and it’s a good idea to use a visual representation of the project milestones.

An example of a project milestones timeline

Image Source: Microsoft Office

The most important thing here is to be inspiring and make your team members feel like they will be doing something worthwhile. Consider drafting a short project mission statement which will cover the problem you’re trying to solve or the goal you’re looking to achieve. Additionally, it will include the approach your team will take to reach your goals and deliver. 

 3. Scope (~10 min)

This is probably the most important thing you’ll discuss during your kickoff meeting. Scope creep, which refers to changes in a project’s goals and happens due to lack of project control or structure, is a serious challenge for all teams and here’s your chance to get ahead of it. 

Make sure there’s complete alignment between the project team and the stakeholders about what work the project entails and how it all shakes out in terms of deliverables. 

This is also the time for key stakeholders to voice any potential concerns about budgets and timelines, if there are any.

4. Deliverables + timeline (~10 min)

A project timeline is a detailed schedule of a project and lists all the tasks included together with their deadlines.

During the kickoff meeting, you should share the project timeline with everyone. Using a visual representation like a Gantt chart is best because it gives everyone all the necessary information at a glance. 

While project requirements and timelines evolve, this part of the kickoff meeting is a chance to get everyone aligned. If the project team understands the timeline well and has a chance to voice any concerns, you’ll minimize the risk of missed deadlines later on.

 5. Who will be involved and their specific roles (~10 min)

You might already know how your team members fit with the tasks in the project plan, but your client or other stakeholders probably don’t.

But discussing who will do what tasks and clarifying who owns what parts of the project before the execution stage ensures that everyone is on the same page, thus boosting team accountability.

Note: You should talk to team members beforehand so they’re not going into this meeting surprised at what’s being asked of them. After your kickoff meeting, you want people to get to work – not get bogged down in questions of ownership and assignment.

 6. Teamwork and organizational points (~10 min)

At this stage, you’re explaining how the team will work together. That includes the project management software that will be used, the frequency of check-in meetings, and when and how to send status updates, among other things. 

7. Next steps (~5 min)

At the end of the meeting, it’s time to discuss your next steps. Share the relevant contact information with your team members, give access to the software platforms that you’ll use, and share all relevant documentation. 

The goal is to have each stakeholder leave with total clarity on what they should do next. 

Project kickoff meeting template and best practices

A screenshot of the Vowel kickoff meeting template

Download our free kickoff meeting template!

Best practice #1: Keep the meeting brief

Nobody likes team meetings that drag on and on. So, keep it brief and focused on the agenda we outlined in the previous section. In the context of a kickoff meeting, “brief” means no longer than one hour. 

That should give you enough time to discuss everything without disrupting everyone’s workflow with a lengthy meeting.

Practice your presentation and talking points beforehand to make sure no section is too long, and set timers during the meeting to ensure you’re on track.

Best practice #2: Save time for questions

Clarity is the name of the game in a kickoff meeting.  Don’t assume everyone understands everything about the project's purpose. Go into the meeting prepared to answer questions and address concerns. 

A screenshot of how Vowel allows you to share emojis and reactions in a meeting

If you’re using Vowel to power your virtual kickoff meeting, participants can use the hand-raise feature to show they have a question, and emoji reactions to react without going off mute. 

Best practice #3: Don’t just broadcast information

A kickoff meeting is an essential team meeting, not a lecture. It should involve the entire team and give everyone a chance to contribute to the discussion. Don’t just get up in front of everyone and drone on.

If there’s a lot of background information and context to give, consider sharing it asynchronously in advance or after the meeting, using Slack or email.

What happens after a project kickoff meeting?

Sending a meeting recap is the best way to make sure nobody forgets anything important and loops in anyone who couldn’t attend. The recap also gives attendees a chance to raise any clarifying questions before the project begins.

Recapping a meeting is much easier with Vowel as it allows you to take advantage of the automatic transcription to prepare meeting minutes and recaps – you can share the whole meeting or just clips of certain parts!  

Add bookmarks to meeting transcriptions

Streamline project kickoff meetings with the right tool

When done right, a kickoff meeting results in every team member having clarity on the scope, deliverables, and roles involved in achieving project success. But hosting kickoff meetings can be daunting — it can be easy to lose track and forget about an important agenda item or folllow-up.

If Vowel is powering your video calls, you can check off agenda items one by one as you go, using the shared notes feature. That gives you a handy visual reference for the things you’ve discussed and those you still need to cover.

Find out more about how Vowel can help you have great meetings!

FAQs

How long should a kickoff meeting last?

Kickoff meetings should be brief. While there’s usually a lot to discuss, try to keep it under an hour. That’s the optimal length to make sure you cover all important points without causing distraction or boredom.

Who should be in a kickoff meeting?

All relevant project stakeholders should be present, including but not limited to: the project manager, the project team, the client, and any other internal stakeholders. 

What do you say in a kickoff meeting?

First off, you introduce the participants and talk about the project’s background, goal, scope, and timeline. After that, it's time to discuss how the team will work together, their roles, and the next steps. Don’t forget to leave some room for questions!