A Client Kickoff Meeting Done Right
There is a growing realization on part of today’s companies that whatever projects they undertake can benefit more from having a well thought-out meeting. A meeting that is chaired by an inspiring and motivated project leader goes a long way in establishing trust and confidence in the company’s capacity to deliver on its aims. Think of a well planned meeting as a morale and confidence boosting exercise that reverberates throughout the duration of the project.
The company usually calls for a client kickoff meeting after certain parameters have been set and some groundwork and overall vision of a project has been established. Factors such as the scope of the finalized project, designation of team leaders and initial project planning should be very well in place before the commencement of client kickoff meeting. The initial preparedness can go a long way in allaying the concerns of all stakeholders involved in the project. As they say, the first impression counts for a lot. A client kickoff meeting is your only opportunity to convince and involve outside stakeholders so there’s a need to take every feedback into account. Listening to your cross-company partners can convey a positive attitude that lingers well through the life-cycle of the project.
Using the client kickoff meeting, you can foster deeper connections with cross-company stakeholders by developing an idea of their expectations, managing risk factors, setting parameters and going through follow ups. All this can help you and your partners have a clear cut vision of how the project will be envisioned and how to proceed forward with renewed sense and vigor.
A lot depends on the type of project the company wants to pursue. The type of project is directly related to the services that you will be providing. Also the scope of the project is important as well. Keeping this in mind, there are certain guidelines and practices that are suitable for whatever kind of project the company undertakes.
Some of these guidelines should be kept in mind at all times.
1. The company should align itself internally before meeting with prospective clients.
This sounds like an absolute no-brainer that is generally assumed but never fully understood. Align the organization’s project team and the corporate aspects of the project first. See to it that there is an inter-company dedication to delivering the end product. Establishing corporate synergy in your own organization is of paramount importance before you can even reach out to others. Set up an internal project briefing with all aspects such as goals, account background, work statement, etc that should be discussed and prioritized. If your team is prepared then your clients will be more convinced of your company’s dedication to see the project through.
2. Develop a documented agenda for the meeting and take the lead.
When a company takes the initiative and charts out its agenda, the project manager puts to rest any uncertainties the client has. A template meeting agenda is recommended which allow the company to leverage the collective knowledge of the project team and use it in preparation of the client kickoff meeting. Items in this meeting include welcome and introductions, followed by questions about the project such as project definition, assignment review, project scope, confirmation of agreed-upon timelines and responsibilities, risks and assumptions, answering any new queries and setting up next steps.
3. A preliminary project plan should be developed internally.
Any information that needs to be addressed in a meeting with the client should be incorporated in the project plan document. The project will have to undergo several iterations with the passage of time as the project proceeds. However, making the essential information available before the client discussions can send clear and concise info to your project teams and ensure everybody is on the level with project aims. This can help prevent your company from giving conflicting information to the client and it can also set a clear path for addressing any follow up questions the client wants you to answer. Any preliminary project plan should define these parameters clearly: project scope, risks, assumptions, timelines, objectives, responsibilities and defined roles.
4. Always review project scope and plans as part of the client kickoff.
This is pretty self-explanatory but it bears repeating because up to this point the Project Manager must have briefed the project team on the detailed project scope and plans. During the client kickoff meeting, the client may also be joined by their own project leader, IT people, account manager, etc. since this will be their initial look at the full project scope. Your company has to assume that some of the client’s team may not be fully briefed on the project by now so this meeting is your opportunity to make sure everybody is on the same page as far as the project is concerned. This will make the client more comfortable and at ease by having the project plan clearly defined for their satisfaction. The meeting can also help in identifying and charting out mutual responsibilities and follow ups.
The agenda of the meeting can vary due to the nature of the project. However, this meeting should help establish an initial work schedule and high-level responsibilities that should achieve certain key mutual goals and items on launch date (i.e. creative asst delivery, review cycle feedback, etc.)
Go through your timeline and check up on organization’s owner on the call, confirming and clarifying on the item’s status. Any item that you miss on the timeline can hit your project with delays. This in turn can lead to further cost schedule changes. As you can see it is crucial to confirm the agreement on timelines.
Last but not the least, address the risk issues. Identify any risks and bring the appropriate stakeholders on board concerning it. This requires a balancing act on the company’s part depending on who it is at the other end of the kickoff call.
5. Ensure that the meeting closes on a clear note by addressing any questions that arise in the end.
Once you have gotten the client satisfied and clear on the project plan, you should address any queries which have not been answered during the course of the meeting. Doing so can avoid confusion as the project proceeds down the road. Make sure that a communication plan is in place that helps in reviewing follow up items. Identify the point-people. Make sure the whole team receives follow up notes via email after the conclusion of meeting.
As you can see, the meticulous planning of the client kickoff meeting can take a lot of preparation and teamwork. But by getting it right, a company can save itself from many execution and planning hurdles down the road.