When you're approaching the start of a new project, it's easy to get ahead of yourself and be overly concerned with the creative execution and final product. Before work begins, though, it's important to find time to align expectations, brainstorm with your team, and decide on the major goals and themes driving the project. In this article we review our process to leading a productive project kickoff meeting, and the way we structure those conversations.
No matter the project, having dedicated in-person time to meet, converse, and collaborate is the critical first steps towards starting a project. When kickoffs go well, the ideas and potential strategies of a project flow quickly and there’s alignment between all teams from the start. When kickoffs go poorly or don't happen at all, it can create awkwardness and hesitation within the team, resulting in unclear expectations that can doom a project before the work even begins.
To start all of our projects, we schedule a project kickoff meeting to dig into the details and establish a solid project foundation, making sure we're as prepared as possible for the creative work ahead.
To begin a kickoff, we want to understand what brought us to the table so we’re aligned on the most high-level objectives of the project. What are the project’s goals, and the opportunities you see as being most important?
In addition to looking forward with goals and objectives, we want to learn about the project’s backstory.
By the end of this section, we want to understand all the variables leading to this project, and the “north star” goals of the project we will collectively aim for.
Any business, organization, or project doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You want to position yourself relative to the industry you’re in, and make sure what you’re building brings unique value to market. To make sure your project aligns with this positioning we discuss your industry context and the implications it has on the project.
Here, we ask questions like:
It’s important to discuss how the project can help the work you’re doing, but also how it can set you apart from others, solidifying your unique place in your industry.
For many people, thinking about a project from the intended audience’s perspective can be challenging. It’s easiest to think of it from one’s own standpoint. This is usually one of the most challenging parts of kickoff, but also one of the most important. How will those outside of your organization view your project?
During this process, we want to define all of the important groups visiting and using the site, and make sure that the site addresses what they find as necessary -- not, necessarily, what the clients find as necessary.
The issue is that people often struggle with defining who exactly these groups are, or sometimes they'll create a single audience segment and try to speak to everyone at the same time, but unfortunately resonate with no one.
For example, a new hotel might want to focus on the architecture, design, and history of their building, but find themselves literally forgetting to put contact information on the home page.
During this section of the kickoff, we walk clients through an exercise that helps us establish principles and attributes of the site that they think is the most important. These include things like flow, user experience, performance, safety and security, and brand.
We have approximately 30-40 of these principles that we sort and prioritize to distill decision makers' unique view(s) of the project.
In short, these exercises are a good way of capturing the subtleties someone has about a project, that they might not explain during the course of our conversations. It's a great way to get direct, concrete feedback on what's most important about a project and in a way that's prioritized and actionable.
For the last strategic part of the kickoff, we talk about the ways the site or app can turn some of the goals and principles we've defined into design and functionality within the site.
This varies from project to project, but often we'll create sitemaps, document user journeys, or review competitor websites to review inspiration for our project. It's a great way to start thinking about the project in more literal terms and sets the stage for our design phase.
To wrap up our kickoff we'll discuss the design, development, and launch process, and discuss roles and responsibilities in more detail. We'll give a rundown on the pace of communication and expectations for project management.
Kickoffs ensure that both parties are fully understanding of each other, and the project. Making expectations and desires clear early on is essential in delivering a successful site, but also in fostering a productive relationship.
Each project is different, and project needs vary from site to site, which is why laying the groundwork early is crucial. For the most effective, successful site delivery, a collaborative kickoff meeting is the first step towards the end goal.
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