A misconception about agile is that there is a lack of planning and documentation. Conversely, agile projects require a great deal of planning and documentation, so that all the stakeholders of the project—team members, subject matter experts, sponsors, and others—are on the same page. A well-designed project kickoff meeting is a key part of this planning.
Before digging into the aspects of an agile project kickoff meeting, there are a couple of important things to note. First, just as each sprint relies on a well-organized, structured, and self-sufficient team to be successful, agile project kickoff meetings also must be well-organized, structured, and self-sufficient. A project that begins with a well-prepared kickoff meeting sets the tone for a successful agile project. Second, an agile project kickoff meeting happens once, up front. It is not the same thing as a sprint kickoff that occurs every sprint. The project kickoff happens at the beginning and is the dawn of the project.
An agile project kickoff meeting should accomplish the following goals.
Create a vivid and strategic project vision: The meeting should build a shared understanding of the project’s vision by defining what business problem or opportunity will be addressed, who the target customers are, what project outcome meets the needs of both your organization and the customers, and how success will be measured and against what acceptance criteria.
Provide clear communication to all stakeholders: One of the major purposes of a kickoff meeting is to serve as formal notification to every sponsor, executive, and client that the project has officially started. Start the kickoff with a discussion of everyone’s roles, so all the external parties involved have a clear understanding about what their involvement will entail.
Build a strong bond among team members and set expectations: Sharing common goals and having an in-depth discussion of how each team member fits into the project—their roles, responsibilities, and respective accountabilities—will strengthen the team. This helps the team function as a collaborative unit throughout the project in order to get things done.
Discuss potential project bottlenecks, impediments, apprehensions, and risks: Have an open, honest discussion of all challenges. This not only makes everyone aware of the issues, but also sets the tone for honest team conversations that will help everyone prioritize key project requirements, overcome challenges, and deliver better outcomes throughout the project.
Express appreciation for all those involved: Let everyone in the meeting know you appreciate their presence and you are grateful to have them on board and look forward to working together on the project. A formal thank-you is not only a polite gesture, but also can help in building long-term relationships and creating a considerate team atmosphere. This makes people feel like they are important and sets a tone of professionalism and courtesy.
Meeting participants should include the product owner; the facilitator, such as a ScrumMaster or an agile coach; all stakeholders who have insights into customers’ requirements; some end customers, if possible; and the team that is going to work on the project.
The product owner or project manager is the one who will facilitate the vision by putting forth the requirements and the intended goal to be achieved. The team is encouraged to ask questions and have a healthy discussion, which is a sign of great start. Ideally, this conversation will continue throughout the project.
A project kickoff meeting gets the customers and the team together to collaborate in building a successful relationship. As there are usually people on the team who do not know each other, or at least haven’t worked closely together before, this meeting also helps break the ice and jump-start the collaboration process.
If team members are distributed across geographical locations, it is a good idea to conduct a video conference call and ensure that every person is on the same page and they know each other by name and face.
There are also certain items that the team should agree on during an agile project kickoff meeting:
- Duration of sprints
- Scrum call cadence
- Feedback sessions on the ongoing development of user stories
- Demo, development, and test environments
- Start of the first sprint and demo date
- Definition of done for stories, sprints, and releases
By the end of the kickoff meeting, the team should have a very clear understanding of the project as well as their respective roles and responsibilities.
Agile projects in particular are always a collaborative effort among the team members and with the customers. As such, the planning process should also be a collaborative endeavor, striving initially and throughout the project to involve the customers in product demo and feedback loops.
As the saying goes, well begun is half done. A well-planned kickoff meeting sets the tone for a successful project.