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Just as a project should have a formal end-of-project meeting to signify that it is complete, you should also hold a formal kickoff meeting to start a project.
The purpose of the kickoff meeting is to formally notify all stakeholders that the project has begun and make sure everyone has a common understanding of the project and his role. Like all formal meetings, there should be an agenda. There are a number of specific things you want to cover at this meeting:
Introduce the people at the meeting.
Recap the information in the Project Charter, including the purpose of the project, scope, major deliverables, risks, assumptions, etc.
Discuss the important roles and responsibilities of the project team, clients and stakeholders. If there is confusion about the role of any person or organization, it should be discussed and clarified now.
Go over the general approach and timeline of the project. This gives people a sense for how the project will unfold. In particular, you will want to ensure that people understand what they need to be doing in the short-term to support the project.
Answer any outstanding questions. The purpose of the discussion is not to rehash the purpose of the project, but to allow people to voice specific questions or concerns they have as the project begins.
Confirm that the project is now underway. If the project has not started yet, it should now be ready to start immediately.
In general, the project team, sponsor and major stakeholders should be in attendance. If this results in too many people for comfort, you can consider having only the major players attend. You can then meet with others in subsequent mini-kickoff meetings or you can send the relevant meeting information to the people who could not attend.
Although most kickoff meetings can be conducted in an hour or two, others might require a day or two. The longer kickoff meetings are especially important if the project is very complex or controversial.
It is said you never have a second chance to make a good first impression. This is true with the kickoff meeting. You are using the meeting to help set expectations for the project. If the meeting is unorganized, chaotic or a waste of time, the participants will probably carry those perceptions into the project as well. The project manager needs to make sure that he has prepared well for this meeting and that it goes smoothly.