Leading My First Project Kickoff

With the pandemic raging on, it’s been difficult finding a UX Design position. Rather than continue looking for a new job, I decided to take a break from applying and work on an opportunity that came up at my current company.

The company I work at has something called a Stretch Program. This program provides opportunities for employees to “stretch” into other departments and learn new skills. Employees spend 20% of their time working with the new team on real problems. I applied to the program and was granted a research project to work on with the Product Design team.

The focus of the project is around accessibility learning and documentation within the company. My goal is to provide recommendations for reorganizing the information architecture of our Accessibility page in Confluence to improve usability for the organization. At the end of my project, I will present my recommendations and research findings to the Product Design team and project stakeholders.

Pretty exciting stuff. I finally get to work on a real project!

Now what is a project kickoff?

Image of Lost Man
Image of Lost Man
Image designed by Freepik

Learning about Project Kickoffs

I did my own research into project kickoffs, but nothing tops speaking to a real researcher and learning from them. I scheduled a meeting with a Senior User Researcher on the Product Design team. He explained what usually happens during a kickoff, who should be involved, and why they’re important.

Essentially, a project kickoff is a chance to gather all project stakeholders together in order to help everyone understand the project and align on the expectations and desired outcomes. This will narrow down what needs to be done and gives you a better sense of what direction to take.

I continued checking in regularly with the senior researcher to make sure my kickoff plan was looking good and had the important points: an overview, list of participants, clear objectives, key questions and hypotheses.

Once kickoff plans were complete and reviewed by a couple of researchers, I created a Miro board so that the stakeholders can do a white boarding activity together during the kickoff.

Quick little blurb about what Miro is: It is an online white boarding platform for teams to collaborate and brainstorm together. Very useful in these pandemic times. Learn more here.

I created a Miro board with 3 boards titled:

  • What do we think we know?
  • What do we want to know?
  • What will this help drive?

From this activity, I wanted to learn where everyone’s mind was at. This helps everyone in the meeting understand what we think we know, what we want to learn from the research and align us on what we want this project to achieve. This is especially important as there hasn’t been any research conducted prior to the project. Having that information will allow me to formulate my next steps (interview questions, research methods, etc.) more effectively.

The Kickoff

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Image for post
Image designed by pikisuperstar

After everyone had joined the meeting, I said hello and gave my spiel about the project and my goals for the meeting.

I started the Miro activity by asking everyone to think about how we document and share accessibility learnings at the company.

There were some questions for clarification on what I was asking for, because let’s face it, it’s my first ever kickoff and I’m not going to get it right on the first try. Once the confusion was sorted out, the digital sticky notes started flying about, then ideas and assumptions started to reveal themselves to us.

We repeated the process with the remaining two boards. Sometimes the notes will drive some discussion, sometimes it didn’t, it was mostly quiet.

When we reached the last board, I realized I didn’t have enough time for further discussion. Luckily, one of the participants suggested that we schedule a followup meeting to go over the boards and group common sticky notes together. And that concluded my first kickoff.

The kickoff went relatively well considering it was my first one. Don’t get me wrong, I was anxious.

Thoughts raced through my mind -

What if I blank out?

What if nothing comes out of this?

What if my goals weren’t clear?

Nonetheless, I am happy with how it went. One of the participants even mentioned that this was a useful exercise as nothing like this had been done for this project and that it was very valuable for them to hear each other’s thoughts and gave them a chance to challenge their assumptions.

Leading my First Kickoff?
✅ Done.

Learnings and Challenges

I wasn’t planning to document my experience. Then I started reflecting on the experience and realized that telling my story was a great way to showcase my learnings. Writing about my experience allowed me to think about what I’ve learned and how I can apply those skills in future projects.

Setting Goals and Objectives

I cannot stress how important it is to have clear objectives. If someone in the meeting asks you, “What do you want to get out of this meeting today?” You need to be able to answer that question clearly, otherwise you risk wasting everyone’s time. And we don’t want to do that. 🙅🏻‍♀️

Setting clear goals for the meeting was a little challenging for me, at first I was doing the kickoff because it was the thing to do, and I didn’t know why I was doing it.

You need to know why you’re doing something. Don’t do a kickoff just because you’re supposed to, or conduct interviews just because it’s the next step in the process. It’s important to be able to justify why you’re spending time and resources on something.

I now understand what senior designers were talking about when they mention how newer designers tend to just show off a checklist in their case studies. The last thing you want is to spend all that time on something only to have results that are irrelevant to what you are working on.

Providing Clear Context

I learned that setting the stage for the meeting was very important. You want your stakeholders to understand clearly why they are there, what to expect, and what your goals are.

Understand that not all stakeholders will understand UX terminology. I had a product manager in the meeting, and because I did not provide clear context and used jargon, she was confused about what I was trying to communicate. Even though other participants helped me articulate my goal, that could have been avoided if I had fully set the stage for everyone before jumping into the meeting.

Asking the Right Questions

I found that it was important to think about the right questions that you want answered for your project, as well as providing questions for your stakeholders to think about prior to the kickoff so that they can come prepared. These will also help you in the long run when preparing your research plan.

Knowing Who to Involve

Involving the right people in your project will give you valuable insight. They will provide you key questions to be answered, assumptions, and hypotheses that will guide you when planning the rest of your research.

How to Lead a Meeting / Public Speaking

It was very strange rewatching the meeting recording and seeing how awkward I was at some points. I made too many gestures and rephrased the same thoughts in three different ways which made me seem unprepared.

As difficult as that was, I learned a lot about public speaking and what I need to work on. I still have a long way before I’m comfortable with it, but it’s a skill that I’m keen to develop further.

What’s Next?

After the kickoff, I had a followup meeting with the same participants. We grouped common ideas together to form common themes, assumptions, and questions.

Now it’s time to review those meetings notes and start thinking about how I want to structure my research plan. I’ll need to recruit people for interviews, draft up an interview script and see where that takes me.

An aspiring UX designer trying to find her way.

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