The beginning of a new project is always exciting, energizing, and a little nerve-wracking, especially when you’re getting to know a new client. A project kickoff is a great way to set the stage for successful collaboration–and though the coronavirus has us working in different ways, Tandem’s recent experience shows that it’s possible to have a productive and fun kickoff experience even when the team can’t be physically together.
What is a project kickoff?
Normally, we host an in-person kickoff workshop to share expectations and information about the project plan, and build rapport and trust amongst the client and Tandem teams. When it comes down to it, the main goals of a kickoff are to:
- Get buy-in on the project process from the client
- Build empathy between the Tandem and client teams
- Accomplish something small but tangible so that the project begins with momentum
- Determine the decision-makers on both sides so that there’s no ambiguity
- Answer or acknowledge the questions that are keeping our client up at night
How to lead an online kickoff workshop
Tandem recently kicked off a cool new project–but we were challenged to do it remotely, due to current safer-at-home restrictions that are helping stop the spread of COVID-19 across the United States. We felt confident that we could convey basic project plan information digitally, but it’s harder to build relationships, establish trust, and show our personalities through the screen.
Here are our team’s top takeaways from the experience:
- Lead with empathy. Right now we’re all adjusting the way we work, and it looks like it may be a long time before anyone truly feels comfortable in the ‘new normal’. When planning your kickoff, put yourself in your client’s mindset and think about what activities and information they would most enjoy and find valuable. When you lead with empathy, you won’t go wrong.
- Adjust your schedule. Our in-person project kick-offs have a full-day agenda, which includes a mix of presentations, structured activities, and casual breaks for food and socializing. But the thought of making everyone sit in front of their computers on a video conference all day was just too much. We adapted our agenda to two half-days (one morning and one afternoon). This helped avoid computer fatigue and also gave participants some flexibility to take care of the things we’re all figuring out how to juggle right now, like childcare, household chores, and other remote work.
- Use digital tools creatively. During in-person kickoffs, we use activities and games to get people moving while illustrating agile processes and collaborative iteration. To transition these same ideas to a digital format, we used tools like Mural to replace a whiteboard and post-it notes. There are so many digital tools out there to accomplish whatever your goal might be, and they might not be ones you’ve used before–so do some creative Googling to find the resources that will best substitute for in-person interaction.
- Practice, test, and adapt. There’s a weird, awkward feeling when everyone is silent in an online meeting–but the more prepared you are, the fewer awkward silences will happen. Have all your files organized and easily accessible so you don’t waste time searching for them while presenting. Make sure you and your team know how to use the digital tools you’ve selected, and make sure the tools work well together–for example, we learned that when using Google Meet to host your kickoff, Google Slides presentations work much better than Keynote presentations. Being organized and prepared will help you build trust in your plan, your process, and your abilities–with a minimum of awkward pauses.
- Trust your client: we’re all in this together. We always want to put our best foot forward, but by showing vulnerability and acknowledging that this is new to us too, we were able to forge authentic connections with the client team. Trust that your client will be understanding, and remember that we’re all in this together–everyone is navigating the COVID-19 pandemic experience, which connects us as human beings. Our client is just as excited about the project as we are, and they came to the kickoff with energy and engagement. Our rapport grew naturally from there.
We’re proud of ourselves for pulling off our first online kickoff, and since then, that project has been progressing with great momentum. Going forward, we’re excited to be able to offer the same benefits of an in-person kickoff to clients who aren’t able to travel, for whatever reason.