A kickoff meeting framework for customer onboarding projects

Best practices and tips for running the ultimate kickoff meeting for customer onboarding projects
March 7, 2021
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Krishna Kumar

This blog is part of a two-part guide on how to prep for and run a successful kickoff meeting. Head here for part one.

A successful kickoff agenda should leave your customer and your team confident and bought in on everything -  from a shared understanding of the vision to the nitty-gritty details, like who signs off on deliverables. Here are the aspects of such a meeting:

  1. Introductions - 10 min
  2. Goals, ROI, priorities - 30 min
  3. Blueprint walkthrough - 20 min
  4. Rules of engagement - Processes, Tools, Risks - 20 min
  5. Key personnel and steering committee -10 min
  6. Resource commitments, assets, and approvals - 10 min
  7. Next steps and Q&A - 15 min

Let’s look at each of these in detail: 

1. Introductions

A good way to set the stage is by providing some initial context and outlining the client’s high-level goals. Next, introduce your key team members. This is the time to highlight your team’s diverse skills and relevant experience. If your team has worked on similar projects before, make sure to weave this into the conversation. It’s a great idea to let people speak for themselves, but we recommend prepping them beforehand with some key talking points. 

2. Goals, ROI, priorities

Aligning the teams clearly on the top goals of implementation goes a long way in establishing a framework for all subsequent decisions made in the project. It’s important to remember that project team members are more invested when they can understand how their work is impacting their company and their individual functions. 

To build this investment, it is important to help the entire customer team see value and ROI - for the company and individual functions/teams. Quite obviously, this is more effective when it comes from their own management/leadership. 

Make sure that the project champion and sponsor articulate the goals and the value for each function and team. The best way for this is for them to demonstrate and establish the quantitative value unlocked by hitting the project goals and metrics. 

3. Blueprint walkthrough

While a kickoff meeting isn’t about the specifics of task management, showcasing the project blueprint in an easily consumable fashion to the whole team shows both - your commitment to delivery and your attention to detail building confidence and trust. 

This also helps drive home the point that "3 months to going live" is not wishful thinking, but is driven by a clear methodology that needs their involvement. To start off, keep the discussion high-level and cover the broader schedule, milestones, and any key decision-making stages. 

Tip: At this stage, we recommend that you keep open to some changes to the original plan. 

Now is a good time to set expectations in terms of not just delivery but also your team’s availability and response time. 

4. Rules of engagement - processes, tools, risks

Use this time to discuss how you will track and communicate progress and document/resolve issues. It’s important to see that you don't overwhelm your clients at this stage - a new project is daunting as it is without having to worry about managing multiple platforms and tools. We highly recommend using a platform that combines collaboration, tracking, reporting, and communication. 

You can showcase your approach to project management, and how you identify with scenarios where you are blocked or the project timelines are in danger. Since the steering meeting is set up, the time is right to understand how both parties will deal with change requests or increases to the scope. 

While it’s a good opportunity to discuss risks and issues,  steer the conversation to understand how they’ve dealt with these scenarios in the past. This will help you understand their response to risk and where you should be most mindful throughout the project’s lifecycle.

You might want to use this free, customizable project communication template.

5. Key Personnel and Steering Committee

Key Personnel

From both ends, identify and discuss the key players and decision-makers in the project. Discuss the process and personnel for signing off deliverables. For decision-making, the DACI (Driver, Approver, Contributor, Informed) framework is a good place to start. You could identify the key responsibilities for activities planned for the first week after the kickoff using this framework to drive home this understanding.  

While a DACI framework is helpful to assign responsibilities and decision-making, you need a higher-level committee to steer the project at multiple points in the journey. 

Steering Committee

Use the kickoff meeting to ensure that top executives and senior leaders commit themselves to be part of the steering committee. The job of the committee is to be able to evaluate progress, validate key decisions made and value delivery, and re-align the team as may be needed. 

Securing time from top executives and leaders is hard, but you need to get them to commit to a schedule for the steering committee meetings. Seeing their leaders commit their time in advance helps build ownership and pushes the project team towards accomplishing their goals on time. 

6. Resources, assets, approvals

Based on the blueprint and the methodology discussed, this is the time to get the customer team leaders to commit to getting their people as needed by the blueprint.  

Make sure you have everything you need to get started (assets, credentials, approvals, etc.). Discuss how these will be saved, shared, and/or used throughout the project.  

7. Next steps and Q&A

At the end of your kickoff, leave some time for final questions, and then explain what’s going to happen next - the scoping and requirements meeting. Make sure you block the time for this - for detailing the project phases, key deliverables, phase-wise decision-makers, etc. 

Pro-tip: Make sure you have someone taking notes for this meeting. You could use your communication or project management tool for documenting and sharing the kickoff meeting - it’s a great way to demonstrate your focus on documentation and communication, besides being an easy way to build familiarity with the project tools you use. 

Tips for a perfect kickoff meeting

While the nitty-gritty details are important, the perfect kickoff meeting is a delicate balance between pitching and planning. It’s not just important what you say, but how you say it can make all the difference. Here are a few best practices to help you hit the right note: 

  1. Take your time with introductions: When you talk about your client, show that you have gone the extra mile to learn more about them. When you talk about your team, make sure that key stakeholders feel heard, recognized, and involved. 
  2. Demonstrate authority and show value: Based on the client’s past challenges, talk about the value your service adds - while providing the assurance that you’ve solved for it already. 
  3. Get a simple project mission statement: This is optional, but we’ve found this to be very effective to build alignment. Using a whiteboarding or post-it exercise, get the two teams to come up with a statement that’s short, clear, and motivating. 
  4. Show them how it’s done: It’s a good idea to weave in a short demo or walkthrough of your project management tool - especially if any standout features help ease the process. 
  5. Show them a new way: A common mistake most teams make is trying to map an old process at the customer end with their new solution. It’s important to critically look at arbitrary requirements that customers might bring up in these discussions. Probe deeper to understand if these are actually needed to reach the project goals or just a hangover of their previous experiences. 
  6. Immediate support and follow-up: To ensure that things don’t lose momentum after the kickoff, agree on an immediate timeline within the next 2-3 days to follow up - for the scoping meeting, and to address any concerns they have with processes or tools. 
  7. Keep time: The ideal kickoff meeting is no longer than three hours. Plan your agenda to make sure that it doesn’t overwhelm the participants or appear stretched.  

After the project kickoff meeting 

Share minutes of the meeting with stakeholders

Send a documented record or minutes of the meeting to the client after the kickoff call to ensure both parties are clear about what to expect next. Include the key decision-makers and ensure their next steps are detailed. Make sure the kickoff meeting is documented in the project management tool as well. 

Email - to open up communication

It’s possible that the client team wasn’t comfortable raising questions in a group setting. By sending out an email, you open up this line of communication to address any questions, concerns, or just get some feedback. 

Schedule the scoping meeting

Follow up right after to set the date for the scoping meeting where you will define the project phases, key personnel, deliverables, and timelines. 

Over to you

While it’s tempting to reduce kickoff events to another item on a long onboarding checklist, they have the power to excite, engage, and inspire. We hope this post helps you design and execute a kickoff meeting that gets all hands on deck and your project on the right course. 

We hope these steps help you run a kick-ass kickoff meeting. While it might seem like you have your plate full, doing this right sets you off on a much smoother sail ahead. Are there any tips and tricks that we may have missed out on? We’d love to hear from you - what do you think is the secret sauce to a successful kickoff?  Let us know in the comments below!

More resources

  1. A 'Readiness Kit' for customer onboarding 
  2. How pre- and post-sales interactions impact your business
  3. Customer onboarding templates for every stage of your onboarding journey

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Srikrishnan Ganesan
Co-founder, Rocketlane

Love technology and start-ups. Your friendly neighbourhood CX and onboarding enthusiast. Follow me on Twitter @srikrishnang

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