Every project has to start somewhere; it could be over an email conversation, an instant message, or a meeting. The downside of messages and emails is that they easily get lost or overlooked. However, a one-on-one meeting effectively communicates the gravity of a new business undertaking.
A project kick-off meeting is a crucial point in any software development project as it sets the expectations bar for both client and the project management team. It is normal for the client to have high hopes for the meeting as the onus lies on the delivering team to live up to their potential. But what exactly should you expect from a kick-off meeting as a client? This article explores the various facets that make the kick-off meeting a success for both parties.
Starting a software development project without a kick-off meeting is similar to setting off a road trip without any concrete plan. You will get to see some interesting sights along the way, but you will eventually end up back home without achieving much.
A kick-off meeting is the first meeting where the client and the project team sit together at a table or their computer screens in case of a virtual meeting to establish the purpose of the project and the teams’ common goals.
It is usually the first formal meeting to ‘kick off’ the project after it has passed the initial approval phase. It may be set up for a new project altogether or before entering a new phase of an existing project’s development process. Some large projects may have two meetings, one to kick-start the planning phase and the other before the executing stage.
A kick-off meeting involves all key stakeholders that will be involved in the software development, including anyone who has the power to influence the outcome of the project.
It is the best time for a project management team to understand the client’s requirements and expectations. On the other end, the client can use this time to outline roles and development stages and explain the deliverables anticipated within the time frame.
Did you know that almost 66% of technology projects end in partial or complete failure? In other words, 2 out of 3 IT projects are unable to complete according to the initial plan. Some overarching reasons for the failure are a lack of formal requirements, weak project sponsorship, and over-optimism.
Completing a software development project requires a substantial amount of organization. Besides innovation and a positive attitude, other deciding factors of the project’s success include objective planning and logistics. The sobering statistics above show how imperative a quality plan is to bring a software development project home.
To avoid ending up with two-thirds of technology projects that fail, a kick-off meeting is an excellent way to start a new venture. This way, you can ensure that everyone understands the project’s scope and is in accord with roles, duties, and fundamental aspects.
When business objectives are seamlessly aligned with team responsibilities, everyone understands what they have to work towards, making it easier for them to assist each other.
The kick-off meeting is an opportunity for the software development team to impress the client with their preparedness and execution. Generally, such a meeting involves addressing the following elements:
Here is a detailed look at the topics a software development team will cover in a kick-off meeting:
The team will introduce its key stakeholders involved in the project, their roles, how they can influence the project’s success, and what they will deliver. Be ready for an icebreaker from the other side to get the ball rolling.
You can expect the project developing team to have studied your company thoroughly to address the main pain points. They will discuss all the ideas introduced over the past meetings with your team to keep everyone up to speed. The team will go over the project charter and share how they got to work on this project.
One of the most important things that the project team will discuss is the contract’s deliverables. This helps bring everyone on the same page and ensures that there are deviances between expectations and deliverables.
You can expect the team to highlight the following:
a.) The statement of work shows what the team will deliver within the time frame.
b.) The project scope will be a detailed description of the project’s purpose and how the team will fulfill it through their work.
c.) The deliverables include the actual items the team will send to the client.
d.) The timeline identifies the project’s duration and when the client can expect to receive the deliverables.
Every project goes through different stages, and a software development project is usually divided into milestones that are dependent on each other. Therefore, the project management team will establish a baseline for how they plan to communicate the completion of milestones and project progress to the client.
They might suggest a status report that keeps the client updated on the project’s budget, completed tasks, and timeline. This status report is helpful because it would be available to everyone engaged in the project on both sides and make it easier to track progress or delays.
Once the team has explained what they will communicate and you and at what intervals, it’s important to understand how the communication will take place. While it may seem unnecessary at first, aligning these things early on in the project makes it easier to streamline communication between teams.
You can expect the delivering team to highlight collaboration tools they’ll use during the project to share status reports and other files. Some popular options include:
i.) A shared document system like Google docs, Microsoft docs, or Confluence.
ii.) A work management system such as Jira, Asana, or Basecamp.
iii.) A tool like Atlas for cross-functional projects.
No matter how well you plan out a project, there are bound to be surprises along the way. You can anticipate the project team to explain how they will identify unexpected issues and what their plan of action will be for their mitigation.
Good project risk management involves a continuous assessment and mitigation of risks that could get in the way of delivering a project within the determined budget and time. The delivering team will explain the methods they will employ to track discrepancies and identify developing risks early on. This includes monitoring their billable hours and keeping track of upcoming software updates or changes to technical tools during the project’s time.
You don’t have to impress the project development team as a client, so your job is a little easier. You do, however, have to prepare at your end to make sure the kick-off meeting is successful and benefits both teams.
1. Read the meeting agenda
The management team will most likely send you a meeting agenda before the kick-off meeting takes place. It should clearly state the purpose of the meeting, the scope of what they will cover, and a timeline for the session.
Ensure that your team has read the meeting agenda and is well-informed about what will happen during the meeting.
2. Identify your attending team
A kick-off meeting should have all key stakeholders from both sides; therefore, you should identify the people you want to accompany you in the meeting. Once you have acknowledged the members of your team, make sure they have read the meeting agenda and are apprised of the topics that will be discussed.
3. Note down your expectations
For a kick-off meeting to be effective, both teams must have clear expectations regarding the deliverables. It would help if you listed all the topics you want to cover in the meeting; this would include any questions your team has regarding the software development process, the communication tools, or anything else that comes to mind.
In a perfect setup, the delivery team should be prepared with all the right answers before the question is even asked, but the world is not an ideal place. That’s why you should go into the meeting prepared even if the project management team isn’t. At the end of the day, the goal of the kick-off meeting is to establish a baseline for future collaboration and ensure the timely completion of project objectives.
4. Evaluate project deliverables
Go over the project details and evaluate whether you agree with the statement of work and the project deliverables. Talk about the project scope with your team members to bring forth any concerns about timelines or budget. You must ensure that the project scope proposed by the software development team contains critical features and functionalities.
5. Define milestones
The project management team will suggest milestones and methods for progress tracking. Assess their effectiveness and check whether they suit the complexity of the project on hand. It’s essential to set achievable targets and define when and how you want to be updated on their progress.
6. Identify the Risks
Risk assessment is a valuable tool that saves your project from failure due to over-optimistic expectations. You should also take this opportunity to evaluate if your goals are achievable and realistic within the project constraints. It’s imperative to communicate to the delivering team how flexible you are in terms of budget management and fluctuating timelines.
You should identify issues or roadblocks you foresee coming up in the software development process and explore ways to prevent them. When discussing challenges, it is vital to agree on how both parties should solve them when they arise.
7. Align communication tools
The project management team will suggest the technology and tools they will use to communicate milestones and progress. Make sure your team’s resources are aligned with the proposed mediums and inform the other team if you prefer pre-installed communication tools for progress tracking and collaboration.
8. Facilitate collaboration
A software development project should anticipate a high level of involvement from both teams. While it is the delivering team’s job to dedicate adequate time to identify what you need and deliver a product that meets your expectations. The only way for them to be productive is through tangible feedback, as it proves whether their work resonates with the client.
As a client, you should speak up if you don’t like something and point out how things can be improved with effective solutions. Collaboration is key to the success of your project, so it’s best to learn how to work together in harmony.
9. Ask the right questions
Once the software development team has presented its case, it’s time to address any concerns left unappraised. Note down any questions that come to your mind during the presentation and ask them at the end of the meeting. This will help clear any ambiguity and provide greater clarity wherever needed.
A kick-off meeting is an excellent way to start a new business venture. Whether you are transitioning from one phase of the project to another or initiating a whole new project, a kick-off meeting helps set realistic expectations for both parties.
This initial communication makes executing and completing the project without too many obstacles a reality. A client can also use this opportunity to foster confidence in the delivering team and build a positive rapport with all stakeholders involved.