Planning a client kickoff meeting

Last week, we officially launched our project at our client kickoff meeting at MaRS. Beforehand, we took some time to design the meeting. Here are some pieces of advice we have on planning for a UX kickoff.

Set goals.

Before going into the meeting, we met as a group not only to plan out the agenda, but to discuss what we wanted the outcomes of the meeting to be.

We set some high-level goals around understanding how our stakeholders view the product, their goals for the project, constraints, and communication protocols. We also wanted to know who else who we should talk to and what other products we should look at.

“A solid kickoff meeting produces countless action items, one-on-one discussions, and future group meetings.” Clark Wimberly, InVision Product Blog
Setting meeting goals helped us develop a kickoff meeting plan.

Having our goals in mind helped us steer discussion to make sure we got the answers we needed.

Break the ice.

Note how her hair grows into a point. Props to the designer of Animorphs book art.

It was our first time meeting our clients as a group, so we wanted to tell them a bit about our backgrounds, and to hear about their roles in the organization.

And of course, we also wanted to know which animal they would morph into, were they an animorph.

It’s silly, but icebreakers are a tried and true way to get people talking — in our case, it started our meeting on a fun note that left everyone feeling open and attentive for our design activity.

Try something different.

One of our central goals for the meeting was to get a sense of our client’s vision for the product. We decided that we would get this information using an activity. This would also meet the goal of showing, rather than telling, how we want to run the project — with an emphasis on participatory design activities engaging stakeholders and users in the UX process.

We had everyone fill in Product Definition Forms that we adapted to include constraints, and to be oriented towards our project more broadly. We then opened the floor to sharing ideas and discussing areas where we diverged and areas where we converged.

From left to right: Aislinn, Victoria, Danielle Klein, Therese Owusu and Prof. Olivier deep in thought while completing their individual product definition forms (📷: Aditi Bhargava)

Using an activity rather than holding a discussion helped get everyone thinking creatively, establishing a collaborative dynamic for our project. It also helped us to begin to define both our product and our project.

Download our Aligning our Vision activity.

Understand communication, constraints, and timelines.

Our rough project timeline which we brought for discussion and approval during our kickoff.

It’s critical to go into a project understanding communication protocols, constraints (technical, political, financial, and otherwise), and timelines. We broke up this discussion at the beginning and end of the meeting to keep energy up, but we still made sure to ask lots of questions and get the information we needed to develop a project plan and get started.

ABC — always be capturing.

This applies in all meetings, of course! Don’t lose your work — take notes and make sure discussions are documented so you can refer back to them when you need them. We split note-taking between the three of us, took pictures, and collected the Product Definition forms.

The major key in all this? Meetings can be a huge waste of time and a lot of people dread them, fairly so. Starting a new product design project is exciting — and the kickoff meeting should reflect that energy. Take the time to plan it to make sure you capture valuable logistical details, make headway in defining your product, and get your client feeling good about what you’re doing.

Some useful resources for planning UX kick-off meetings: