In this article, I will provide tips on how to conduct a virtual project kick-off. One of the most enjoyable aspects of a project for me is the kick-off seminar. Previously, it used to be a full-day physical event, where all team members gathered at a venue, ideally located close to where the project deliverables would be used. The seminar was a low-tech affair, with planning and risk analysis done using sticky notes.
However, in our current time, it is becoming increasingly rare to have the luxury of conducting a physical kick-off seminar. The reality is that teams are becoming more global, and starting a project cannot be delayed due to the practicalities of gathering an international team. Thankfully, the tools for online collaboration and meetings have improved significantly. As a project manager, you can leverage these tools to create a virtual kick-off that is nearly as effective as a physical seminar.
To get started, let’s review the topics you should cover during the kick-off. My standard agenda for an old-school physical project kick-off seminar looks like this:
09:00 Welcome (Project Manager)
09:10 Seminar purpose and expected outcomes (Project Manager)
09:30 Introduction round (All)
10:00 Purpose – why this project? (Sponsor)
10:30 Project deliverables (Project Manager)
11:00 High-Level Milestone Plan with Workstreams (Project Manager)
11:30 Project organization (Project Manager)
12:00 Roles and responsibilities (Project Manager)
13:00 Break out sessions – Team Leads define minor milestones and estimate work.
14:00 Update milestone plan with minor milestones and dependencies (All)
15:00 Risk analysis (All)
16:00 Update plan with preventive measures from risk analysis (All)
17:00 Share plan and risk analysis with sponsor (Project Manager supported by Team Leads)
18:00 Dinner and team-building (All)
Tip 0: Don’t Do a Virtual Kick-off
Despite the advancements in online collaboration tools, I still believe that you should try to avoid doing a virtual kick-off. Face-to-face communication, preferably in front of a whiteboard is more effective. However, if a virtual kick-off is inevitable, follow tips below.
Tip 1: Set Basic Requirements for Remote Teams
To ensure your virtual team works efficiently, ensure they have the necessary technical and physical setup, such as:
- Computers with webcams.
- Stable internet connections for virtual meetings with webcams on.
- An office environment where microphones don’t need to be muted when not speaking.
- Access and licenses for the collaboration tools you’ll use.
Tip 2: Remote Work Agreement
Establish clear guidelines for time registration, response times, and media usage. As a project manager, be a role model for adhering to these guidelines.
Tip 3: Small Sessions with Preparation and Action Lists
Instead of booking a full-day online kick-off, divide the agenda into shorter 1-2 hour sessions. Set clear expectations for participation and engagement, such as turning on webcam. Encourage participants to prepare for sessions by providing input on plans or risk analysis. Record the sessions and share them afterward to accommodate packed schedules and different time zones. Maintain good minutes of meetings with action items, responsible parties, and deadlines. And after the meeting follow-up on the agreed actions.
Tip 4: Share Purpose and the “Big Why” via Video Recording
Have the project sponsor record a video explaining the purpose and significance of the project. Share this recording with all team members to ensure everyone is aligned with the project’s objectives.
Tip 5: Shared Online Planning Tool
Use a simple shared online planning tool that allows team leads to update the plan as they receive new information. Excel, MS Project, SharePoint List, Azure Dev Ops, Jira, PowerPoint, or Word are viable options. The project manager defines major milestones, while team leads define minor milestones and report status on them.
Tip 6: Online Planning
You can do the online planning by following these steps:
- In a video intro session, introduce the high-level plan with major milestones and workstreams, along with the planning tool.
- Team leads update the planning tool with minor milestones and dependencies.
- In a video session, the project manager and team leads update the plan based on team input.
- Share the plan with stakeholders.
Tip 7: Online Risk Analysis
Perform the risk analysis online by following these steps:
- Store a simple Excel document on your collaboration platform.
- Request the team to brainstorm risks and add them to the spreadsheet.
- Conduct a video call to discuss and update the probability and impact of identified risks.
- Update the plan with preventive measures based on the risk analysis.
Bonus tip: Ensuring Personal Connections in a Virtual Setting
Virtual meetings often end up being impersonal when meeting participants haven’t met before. To ensure better team collaboration, make the project team get to know each other on a more personal plan through a simple game like a virtual scavenger hunt (https://teambuilding.com/blog/virtual-scavenger-hunt) or asking the meeting participants to talk about what they do in their spare time during the round of introductions. (Thanks to Malte Øster for contributing with this bonus tip.)
I hope these tips can inspire you and help you to create a successful virtual kick-off for your projects and effectively collaborate with your global team.
How do YOU conduct online kick-offs? Please share your tips in the comment section.