How UXPin's Kick Off Meetings Manage Expectations (and Deadlines)

Kickoff meetings set the tone, precedent, and relationships for an entire project, whether that project lasts two weeks or 18 months. The best kick off meetings identify the team’s strengths and weaknesses, and define how the group will work together. Sans trust falls and personality quizzes, they can help teams create real bonds before they embark on an audacious project together. UX content strategist Jerry Cao of UXPin has identified ways your next kick off can manage expectations and minimize surprises down the line.

How to Set Up a Productive Kick Off Meeting

  1. Set the VIP guest list. Get the right people in the room, or don’t have the meeting at all.
    1. Product Lead. The product manager should dictate the requirements based on feedback from the rest of the team.
    2. Designers. Bring in UX, UI, and visual designers.
    3. Developers. Invite technology experts, the people responsible for building the actual product, or someone who can interpret and provide feedback on technical requirements.
    4. User Researcher. Make sure whoever is in charge of customer development and persona analysis is in the room. This person will likely facilitate user testing and usability analysis.
    5. Subject Expert. Select an advisor on the specific type of project. For instance, if you’re designing a new employee portal for mid-size businesses, you might invite your own HR Director.
    6. Data Analyst. Invite someone who knows product metrics and can ground the discussion in quantitative evidence.
  2. Create the kickoff process. This meeting process can also double as the agenda.
    1. Introductions. Focus on project roles, not just job titles. Ask the group what secret talents and skills they’re bringing to the table.
    2. Review the initial project roadmap. A good icebreaker is to review all the previously distributed documentation and discuss what works and what doesn’t. Now is the time to address any questions or concerns. Be sure to capture all of the resulting decisions in Trello or Asana.
    3. Discuss goals. To set a tone of honesty, open with a tough question about the product’s purpose. From there, let the team discuss what objective the product should achieve.
    4. Assess risks. Identify the project’s threats and how to minimize them. What will get in our way? This is a perfect example of why collaboration is important: focus the diverse mindsets and expertise on problems that may surface in more dangerous times later.
    5. Understand the timelines. Remember to thoroughly consider any potential limitations inherent in the tools, processes, and even your team’s bandwidth. The plan should be rough, as it will likely change as you test and course-correct for the market.
  3. Check assumptions. Within the kick off process, carve out time to discuss mission-critical topics that influence more than one workflow. As an example, consider some essential product building blocks:
    1. End Goals (KPIs)
    2. Priorities
    3. Review Target Users
    4. Information Architecture
    5. Content
    6. Aesthetics
  4. Steal some kickoff templates. Who doesn’t love a good template? Here are a few handy guides to compliment your team’s needs. Feel free to take these templates and adjust them accordingly.
    1. Six Revisions Web Development Worksheet: This 7-page packet allows you to fill in the relevant sections for web design, from technical requirements, to member responsibilities, to stylistic decisions.
    2. Pivotal Labs Product Definition Exercise: This short and simple card poses six questions to help you further define the parameters of your product.
    3. Questions to Ask at a Kickoff Meeting: This downloadable Word document from Usability.gov provides several pages of questions to pose to the group, organized by category.

Takeaway: Like all meetings, know what you want to get out of the kick off before you book 60 to 90 minutes on the team’s calendar. This is the time to get clear on why they're working on this project: if a team walks out of the meeting wondering what they just signed up for, then that’s a sure sign of fire drills, late nights, and missed deadlines to come.

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