Jory MacKay
Jory is a writer, content strategist and award-winning editor of the Unsplash Book. He contributes to Inc., Fast Company, Quartz, and more.
August 24, 2020 · 14 min read

The Ultimate Guide to Running a Successful Project Kickoff Meeting

Master Your Next Project Kickoff Meeting with These Tips

When you’re heads-down working on a huge project, it’s easy to forget that the smallest things can sometimes have the biggest impact on your success.

Let’s say you’re working for NASA and your job is to get a rocket to the moon (no biggie, right?) But during your pre-launch checklist, you discover that you’re off target by 0.1 degrees. There are so many other major factors to worry about. And what’s 0.1 degrees anyways?

Well, a mile into space, you’ll only be off by 9.2 feet. But by the time you get closer to the moon, you’ll be 416 miles off target!

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand the importance of properly starting a project. But just like heading into space, if your team is slightly off course at the beginning of a project it can have a huge impact on where you end up.

A project kickoff meeting is your chance to get your entire team on the same page and moving in the right direction from the start.

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Done properly, it’s an opportunity to establish common goals, re-iterate the purpose of the project, and get everyone excited and bought in on your plan. But get it wrong and you’re setting yourself up for failure before you’ve even begun.

So what does it take to run an effective, exciting, and inspiring project kickoff meeting?

In this guide, we’ll cover the step-by-step processes you can use for preparing and running a kickoff meeting with your team, stakeholders, or client (plus provide agendas and templates to give you a headstart).

What is the purpose of a project kickoff meeting?

The main purpose of a project kickoff meeting is to build consensus and excitement around the core aspects of your project including the main objective, high-level scope, proposed schedule, responsibilities, and any assumptions that went into the planning process.

It’s the first meeting between the project team and either the client or key stakeholders and should take place after you’ve agreed upon a Scope of Work (SOW), budget, and timeline.

Your goal is to get your team, project stakeholders, or clients feeling inspired (i.e. “I can’t wait to be an integral part of this!) rather than ambivalent (i.e. “Whatever…”) or even dejected (i.e. “This is going to be such a bomb.”)

However, just because all kickoff meetings serve the same purpose, doesn’t mean they’re all run the same way. Context is king and depending on the type of project you’re running, who’s involved, and your role, you’ll want to craft a slightly different approach.

In this post, we’re going to cover agendas, instructions, and tips on how to run three of the most common project kickoff meetings:

  1. Internal: This is when you’re launching a project and engaging with your core team. In pretty much every case, this meeting should happen first so your team feels prepared and confident before meeting with stakeholders or clients.
  2. Sponsor: This is a kickoff meeting that involves project stakeholders and sponsors. It’s essentially another opportunity to get buy-in for your plan and secure the resources you’ll need to be successful.
  3. Client: If you’re working at an agency, you’ll want to do a separate kickoff meeting with your client. This is a highly polished version of the previous meetings and is important for making a good impression.

No matter who you’re working with or what type of kickoff meeting you’re running, your success will come down to more than just reading through a checklist. You need to be prepared to answer questions, keep everyone on track, and inspire your team to do their best and your stakeholders (or clients) to feel confident in you as a leader.

Let’s dig into the specifics of what’s included in this almighty meeting and how you can learn to master them.

How to run an effective Kickoff Meeting: The Basics

Every project kickoff meeting needs to hit a few specific points to elicit the response you’re after.

At your kickoff meeting be prepared to not only answer questions and keep everyone on track, but to inspire everyone to do their best.

Let’s look at a few of the basics and then dig into agendas and templates for the specific meeting types we listed above:

How do you start a kickoff meeting?

It can be tempting to jump right into the project details you’re excited about, but as we said before, context is king when it comes to preparing for your project kickoff.

At the start of your project kickoff meeting, you want to make sure that everyone’s coming in with the same level of information. That means asking a few key questions, such as:

This is especially important when working with stakeholders or clients. However, even in a small company, a project might involve teaming up people who’ve never worked together. Start your meeting by introducing everyone and laying out the sandbox you’ll be working in.

What is discussed in a project kickoff meeting?

Every project is unique. And what you discuss in detail during your project kickoff meeting will depend on who’s there and what type of project you’re running. (We’ll get into the specifics of how to run an effective kickoff meeting in our agenda section below!)

However, at a minimum, your kickoff meeting should cover some key aspects:

Who should be at the kickoff meeting?

The kickoff meeting is all about consensus, which means that if you’re a part of the project, you should be at the meeting. In more practical terms that means:

These lists might grow or shrink depending on the size and scope of the project and your relationship with clients and stakeholders. When unsure, err on the side of bringing more people into the meeting.

How long should your project kickoff meeting last?

In almost every case, a project kickoff meeting should last a maximum of one hour.

Whatever you do, make sure to time block your project kickoff meeting and then stick to your schedule. This is where having a clearly defined agenda becomes so important. Know what you need to cover and set time limits for each.

No one feels bad leaving a meeting early. But everyone hates when they drag on and on.

As humorist Dave Barry wrote:

“If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be ‘meetings’.”

Remember, the point of the kickoff is to inspire and excite, not drown in the details.

Remember, the point of the kickoff is to inspire and excite, not drown in the details.

Sample of kickoff meeting agendas, templates, and tips

A project kickoff meeting is a structured event. And you’re the one in charge of keeping it moving. This means you need to know exactly why you’re having it, what you’re going to cover, and how you’re going to run the meeting.

That’s why the most important tool you can have for a successful project kickoff meeting is a clear agenda.

A kickoff meeting agenda gives you a script to work off. It also sets expectations early on for everyone involved so you don’t go off track early on. And lastly, it’s a great tool for telling people it’s time to move on (without sounding like a jerk!)

We’ve put together some sample project kickoff meeting agendas and tips for three different scenarios: Internal/Team kickoff, Sponsor and Stakeholder kickoffs, and a Client kickoff meeting.

1. Internal team kickoff meeting agenda: How to inform and inspire your team

An internal kickoff meeting with your team is your chance to go from project planning to project management. It’s an opportunity to bring your entire team together and get everyone on the same page. But more than that, a team kickoff meeting has a few key benefits:

Sample of an internal team kickoff meeting agenda

Each project will have unique needs that require a bit of a different approach. However, it’s important that you cover the basics in your team kickoff meeting:

  1. Introductions: Who’s here? (5-10 minutes)
  2. Client and/or context: Why are you here? (5 minutes)
  3. Scope and deliverables: What are you building? (20 minutes)
  4. Approach: How are you going to build it? (10 minutes)
  5. Roles and responsibilities: Who’s responsible for what? (5 minutes)
  6. Teamwork: How are you going to work together? (5 minutes)
  7. Timelines, schedules, and milestones: What’s the project’s timeline? (5 minutes)
  8. Next steps: What’s next? (5 minutes)
  9. Q&A: What haven’t you covered? (5–10 minutes)

An agenda like this gives you a script. But to be successful you need to know how to adapt to each unique project. Here are a few best practices to help you out.

Share your vision with a clear elevator pitch

There’s a famous quote from Albert Einstein that says:

“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

The same goes for your project. If you can’t explain why you’re doing it quickly and simply, you’ll never get the support you need to see it through. That’s why you should come into your kickoff meeting prepared to summarize the project in a few sentences. The easiest way to do this is with an Elevator Pitch.

To put your pitch together, answer the following questions:

Your final pitch will go something like this:

“For [customer] who [their need], the [project] does/provides/solves [key benefit]. Unlike [competitor], it will [key differentiator].”

Let people bring up issues but don’t dwell on them

With everyone on the same page with what’s being done, it’s time to go through your scope.

There’s nothing like talking through a project’s scope to get your team talking about what could go wrong. And while what’s being made shouldn’t necessarily be up for discussion (it’s already been decided on in your SOW), this is a good opportunity to talk about risks.

Another powerful project management document we’ve written about is your risk management plan. Use your kickoff meeting to help identify risks, assumptions, and issues but don’t let them derail your agenda.

When a teammate brings up an issue, simply respond with something like:

“That’s a great point. I’ll add it to our risk management plan so we can dig into it more after this meeting.”

This way, everyone feels heard and respected, and your kickoff meeting doesn’t devolve into a free-for-all.

Get everyone clear on responsibilities by using the DACI framework

Nothing slows down a project like unclear responsibilities. While it can be tempting to use this portion of the meeting to just shout out job titles, it’s more important to clarify how different people will be responsible for decisions.


One of the best ways to do this is with the DACI framework. For each major milestone or portion of the project (i.e. planning, wireframes, design, testing, etc…) assign people into four categories:

Here’s an example of how you might communicate this to your team (as well as clients and stakeholders):

Milestone Driver Approver Contributor Informed
Testing Project Manager Senior IT manager Developers, designers, UX, dedicated testing team Project sponsor, client, key stakeholders

Run an internal team meeting before meeting with clients or stakeholders

Finally, a team kickoff meeting should take place before you meet with stakeholders or clients. This way, you have time to work out the kinks, hear any concerns from your team (which you can work into your pitch), and get everyone on your team ready to move forward.

If you’re running this meeting before starting an external project, you can include a few other client-specific elements, such as:

2. Sponsor kickoff meeting agenda: Getting buy-in from your project stakeholders

Depending on the size of your team, company, and project, you might want to run a separate kickoff meeting with your main sponsor and any project stakeholders. This is an opportunity to get buy-in and set expectations around communication and success metrics.

Rather than focusing on the scope and potential issues like you did with your team, this kickoff meeting should focus on the high-level vision, communication plan, and company-level risks and issues.

Sample of a sponsor or stakeholder kickoff meeting agenda

You’re probably sick of hearing it, but context is key. At this point, your team should be briefed and ready to start but your stakeholders might need a bit more handholding. A typical stakeholder kickoff meeting should follow an agenda like this:

  1. Introductions: Who’s here? (5-10 minutes)
  2. Project history & vision statement: Why are you here? (5 minutes)
  3. Scope and deliverables: What are you building? (10 minutes)
  4. Success metrics: How will you measure success? (5 minutes)
  5. Approval process: Who has decision-making power throughout the project? (5 minutes)
  6. Roles and responsibilities: Who’s responsible for what? (5 minutes)
  7. Timelines, schedules, and milestones: What’s the project’s timeline? (5 minutes)
  8. Communication plan: How will progress be tracked and reported? (5 minutes)
  9. Next steps:What’s next? (5 minutes)
  10. Q&A: What haven’t you covered? (5–10 minutes)

The focus here is on all of the places where a project stakeholder can either help or hurt your project (approval, communication, the definition of done, etc...). To make sure you’re not missing anything important, here are a few best practices to follow.

Make sure everyone’s clear on what success looks like

The most important thing you can do before you start a project is know where you’re supposed to end up. When meeting with project stakeholders, it’s important to clarify that you’re pointed in the right direction.

During the kickoff meeting, take a few minutes to make sure you have answers for the following questions:

Bring up the RAID: Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies

Project stakeholders often have a different perspective on your company or project goals than you do. During this kickoff meeting, it can be good to go through some of the things that are outside of your control but might impact your ability to get things done.


As you go through the project’s scope and deliverables, use the RAID model to help identify problem areas such as:

Again, these are powerful things to add to your risk management plan. To keep them even more organized, move each into an issue in Planio so you can see your risks alongside tasks and deliverables.

Learn more about tracking risks in Planio with our Guide to Risk Management

Make sure your stakeholders are happy with your communication plan

The less uncertainty your project stakeholders have about what you’re doing, the less they’ll get in your way when you’re working.

A project communication plan outlines who gets what update, when they go out, and how they’re sent. Are you doing daily stand-ups? Will you be creating a project Wiki or knowledge base? How will you communicate progress to your stakeholders?

While nobody likes a meeting about another meeting, quickly going over your communication plan ensures that you can move quickly later on.

3. The client project kickoff meeting agenda: Getting buy-in and setting expectations with your client

Last up is an entirely different beast: The client project kickoff meeting.

While the stated purpose of a client kickoff meeting is to introduce everyone and get on the same page, the unstated purpose is to set expectations. Every time you start work with a new client they come in with their own project management baggage that you’ll need to uncover and, at times, change.

Sample of a client kickoff meeting agenda

This kickoff meeting is all about preparation and presentation. Someone already did the hard work of getting you in this room and now it’s time for you to remove any lingering doubts or concerns your client might have before you get started.

  1. Project summary and client goals: Why are you here? (5 minutes)
  2. Introductions: Who’s here? (10 minutes)
  3. SOW review: What are you building? (10 minutes)
  4. Timelines, schedules, and milestones: What’s the project’s timeline? (5 minutes)
  5. Success metrics: How do you know if this project is a success? (5 minutes)
  6. Roles and responsibilities: Who’s responsible for what? (5 minutes)
  7. Collaboration: How will progress be tracked and reported? (5 minutes)
  8. Assets: Do you have access to everything you need? (5 minutes)
  9. Next steps: What’s next? (5 minutes)
  10. Q&A: What haven’t you covered? (5–10 minutes)

The client kickoff meeting is a delicate balance between pitching and project management. Here are a few best practices to follow to help you hit both successfully.

Do your prep work on the client, team, and project

A client kickoff meeting isn’t the time for uncertainty or insecurity. Before you start, make sure that you’ve prepped across all of your responsibilities:

Take your time with introductions

Teamwork makes the dream work. If you and your clients don’t know each other and get along, it’s going to be harder than it needs to be to make this project a success.

Start by setting the stage. Give some initial context and outline the client’s high-level goals.

Next, introduce your key team members. Make it personal and share a bit of their background and experience. Why are they the best person for this job? Let people speak for themselves but prep them beforehand with some key talking points.

This is also your first real chance to build rapport with the people you’ll be dealing with on a day-to-day basis. Ask them about themselves and their background. But remember, the most important part of effective communication is listening.

Everyone’s busy and has a million things on the go. That’s why one of the most effective things you can do is to give someone your full attention and make it clear to them that you’re hearing what they’re saying.

Pay attention to the person you’re talking to and give them visual cues that you’re listening. Nod along. Repeat what they’re saying back to them to quiet your inner mind. And encourage them to go on with open-ended questions.

Teamwork makes the dream work.

Focus on success metrics (while also getting a sense of their risk tolerance)

Take this opportunity to show your client a vision of a positive end result. Instead of focusing on risks and issues (you did that already as a team), talk about success metrics and make sure everyone knows what a good result is.

As part of this, you can also try and get a feel for how the client handles change requests or uncertainties. Don’t just come out and ask (i.e. “Do you have any extra budget if issues come up?”) Instead, ask how they’ve dealt with these scenarios in the past.

This will help you understand how they respond to risk and where you should be most mindful throughout the project’s lifecycle.

Make sure you have everything you need to get started (assets, approvals, etc…)

Lastly, don’t forget the little things that can derail your progress.

This also means understanding the nuts and bolts of how you run projects. At a minimum, make sure you establish the following:

Keep it light, but make sure you both leave feeling confident that you can pull this off in the best way possible.

What happens next? How to follow-up on your kickoff meeting and keep your project moving

A project kickoff meeting is an important step in any project. But what’s more important is what you do next.

To keep up the momentum and positive energy, send a follow-up email covering what you went over and what happens next. Make sure everyone has access to your project management tool (like Planio!) and start assigning tasks.

If there any issues, get them out of the way now so you have a clear map to success from the beginning.