The kickoff meeting is an essential part of any project undertaking. The amount of effort and preparation that goes into it may very well depend on how large or small the project is and how mission critical it is to your company. If it's a new type of project undertaking, or extremely visible, or for a very high-profile client the detail and effort put into the kickoff meeting may need to be very high. Let's discuss these 8 topics to include in the kickoff meeting agenda.

If it's a project that is similar to many others that you or someone in your organization has performed, it my require only a small amount of preparation and just a couple of hours of actually face-to-face meeting. The key for any kickoff meeting though, is to go through the statement of work, the expectations, roles and assignments, deliverables, and high-level schedule. At a minimum, all of those must be discussed and agreed upon.

Here is my list of 8 topics to include in the kickoff meeting agenda:

1. Explain why the project is being undertaken

The project manager should draw on discussions with project sponsors, recounting the ideas and concerns that led up to undertaking the project; explain the perceived need and the expected rewards following successful project completion; and point out the priority the project has within the organization. This explanation helps the team to recognize the importance that management places on the project and assures that management will support the resources committed to the project.

2. Present the project specification

The project manager should note that the specification explains exactly what the project's product is intended to be, and that the project's success is measured by how closely the finished product measures up to the specification. The project manager also explains the procedures for implementing changes to the specification. Experienced team members typically are accustomed to project objectives being changed during a project's execution. They will need assurance that these interruptions and intrusions are well recognized by the project manager and will be carefully monitored and controlled.

3. Introduce the team members

The project manager should introduce the team members and explain how their expertise will be used in the project. He or she should introduce each person according to when they will participate, following the order the project will take from beginning to end. This order will demonstrate the flow of activities. Each person can speak for him- or herself with the smaller projects. However, with larger projects, the project manager should make the introductions to save meeting time. Team members may or may not know each other, but even if they are acquainted, it is important to foster good communication and cooperation by pointing out the specific role that each person is expected to play. In addition, it is useful for the project manager to handle the introductions so these important points are covered and be certain that the introduction period does not suffer from a long-winded team member.

4. Discuss the importance of communication and how it will happen on the project

The project manager should explain good communication skills and how to give and receive feedback. He or she should stress that the project manager makes the critical project decisions, which are achieved through discussion during team meetings. It also should be noted that this can only be accomplished through effective team member communication. Good communication and effective feedback can never be overemphasized.

5. Develop team norms

The project manager should explain that the norms serve as guidelines for participation in team meetings. One thing that is learned through the operation of self-managing work teams is that norms (also called rules of procedure or engagement) play an important role in team meetings and in team collaboration. The project manager must explain the norms and ensure overall understanding and importance of concepts such as: "never let a meeting run over two hours," "arrive on time," "stick with the agenda," "come prepared," "do not interrupt each other during discussions," "focus disagreements on project outcomes, not personalities," etc.

6. Discuss collaborative leadership

The project manager should discuss collaborative leadership, stressing that team members share in this leadership, and that this is done through spontaneous leadership role-playing. However, it needs to be stressed that critical decision-making responsibility still lies with the project manager and critical communication and decision-making must go through the PM.

7. Cover conflict resolution and consensus decisions

The project manager should lead a discussion of the personal conflicts that can arise between team members during a project. It must be explained that if conflict does not become personalized, it can be channeled toward reaching good project decisions. The principles of reaching a consensus decision also should be explained.

8. Review the draft project plan and schedule

The project manager should pass out a copy of the project schedule with tentative task dates, to each team kickoff meeting participant. Discuss with the customer and team that they will be following a series of steps to complete the project. Review the draft dates and milestones in the project schedule and ensure that all participants understand the tasks and expected dates. Gaining agreement - especially with the customer - on key project dates at this early stage of the engagement is critical to moving forward on the project. Without such agreement, the project really can't begin because you'll be working toward a project schedule that has not yet been accepted.

One final note - it is imperative that the project manager emphasize how important it is that each team member stay focused on their assigned tasks and communicate any issues they are having as early as possible. Delays in taking corrective action on issues can cause significant problems with the project timeline and budget, which can ultimately be responsible for the success or failure of the entire project. Stress that prioritization must be given to the assigned tasks and the schedule must be adhered to.

For my next article, we are going to find out the 4 steps how to nail the project kickoff meeting