How To Run a Kick-off Meeting for Any Project

No hectic, stressful projects kick-offs anymore! Follow this easy 3-step workshop for clear goal-setting, clarity and team alignment.

New projects are exciting! They are a sought-after clean slate, a breath of fresh air, an opportunity to get everything right this time around.

Sadly, all too often the start of a project is everything but effective, inspiring or smooth. The team is not being taken along for the ride with selecting the challenge, so they disengage immediately. Unstructured open-ended discussion drags out the meeting into hours, and by the end of it no one is excited about the new endeavor and energy levels are at the rock bottom.

That’s surely not how you’d want it to go (or so we hope!) That’s why today we’re revealing the workshop which we use at the beginning of all of our projects to ensure alignment between all team members and a strong foundation for future work.

Say hello to Problem Framer, a super simple, super quick way to help your team go from a broad range of undefined issues and challenges to finding the perfect one to work on. To set the scene for this workshop, let's imagine that your Product Manager or client called a meeting because the "Facebook Advertising costs of their online product are increasing and we need to do something about it".

For context, in this scenario, the company you're working with sells online products that teach people how to run workshops... sounds familiar.... Ok, so, with that very broad challenge statement in mind, let's jump right into Problem Framer!

Workshop Overview

Workshop name: Problem Framer
Workshop outcome: A clear, well-defined challenge for the team to ideate on
Time: Approx 30 minutes
Materials needed: A whiteboard or a flip chart + A block of square sticky notes per participant + 1 sharpie per participant + Voting dots Minimum participants: 2
Maximum participants: 10 per table

Introduction to 'Problem Framer'

The core of Problem Framer uses the classic "Sailboat exercise" used in retrospectives in many companies working on software products. The sailboat may seem silly at first, but it's a fantastic way to get a good overview of the challenges present in the room before deciding what's really important. Let's just jump right into the Workshop so you can see how it works.

Step 1: Draw the Boat (1 minute)

We couldn't think of a more catchy name for this step, sorry. Simply draw this on a whiteboard:

It's a sailboat, with some water and an anchor underneath.

Step 2: What's moving us forward? (10 minutes)

The sailboat is a nice metaphor to help us, as a team, figure out what's moving us forward (the wind in the sail) and what's holding us back when it comes to the challenge presented in the beginning of the workshop. The first step, though, is more of a warm-up to bring some positive vibes into the room.

1. Give each team member a block of square sticky notes and a sharpie.

2. Ask them to silently write 3-6 things that they feel are moving the team forward when it comes to the challenge we're working on. Since our issue here relates to the price of Facebook ads increasing, you as a facilitator would say: "When it comes to our Facebook ad prices... what's moving us forward... what positive things are happening?" Give the participants 3 minutes total to write.

3. They should write simple statements, one per sticky note. Here are some examples of what the team members might write:

4. Once the time is up, you as the facilitator will ask each participant, one by one, to stick their sticky notes to the top part of the Sailboat drawing and read them aloud to the group. The goal here is not for each person to explain each sticky in detail, simply read what's on the sticky note.

5. Once everyone is finished presenting, this part of the exercise is over and the sailboat will look something like this:

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Step 3: What's holding us back? (10 minutes)

Now we're moving onto the more negative part of the exercise and the rules for presenting change here too. In fact, there will be no presenting at all. Much like the 10 for 10 exercise, the team will be working completely anonymously! Together Alone, remember that?

1. Now you'll ask the team to write as many sticky notes as they can in 8 minutes on "What's holding us back". In this case, *"When it comes to Facebook Ad cost, what's holding us back? What's hurting us? What's slowing us down?"*. Remind participants that their stickies will be anonymous this time, so they should write whatever they like.

2. Once the 8 minutes is up, ask everybody to stick their stickies to the bottom part of the Sailboat. They should do this fast and randomly without discussion. If there isn't enough space underneath the sailboat, simply have them spread them out on the white board as seen below.

3. As quickly as you can, remove duplicates from the board. Just you, no-one else, and no discussion.

Step 4: What's causing the most trouble? (8 Minutes)

Next step is going to remind you a lot of 10 for 10 workshop, these workshops have a pattern to them if you haven't noticed already:

Write Alone
Stick things up
Vote Alone

Next step will be... you guessed it: Voting!

1. Give each participant 8 voting dots

2. Set the timer to 8 minutes and tell them to vote on what they consider to be the biggest issues holding the team back when it comes to the problem we're tackling. Remind them of the voting rules: They can vote one their own stickies, they can put as many votes on one sticky as they like, they need to use all their votes. And remember: NO TALKING!

3. Once the 8 minutes are up, tell everybody to sit down and you create a vertical stack of the stickies in order of most votes to least, ignore anything with 2 votes or less. It should look something like this in the end:

Step 5: Create the challenge (5 minutes)

You see what you've done so far? Imagine doing this without a workshop, how would this have played out? People would still be talking about what the challenge might be at this point! Maybe we would have set another meeting to come back to this later, but not with Problem Framer! By using this workshop we're now very easily able to see what the team really believes the most pressing issues are. So let's take one of these issues and turn them into something we can really work on.

1. Take the top voted sticky from the prioritised list. If there are more than one on the top level, simply start with the top left one. This is about progress, not perfection.

2. Let's say this sticky note says: "People don't care about Workshops". So, in this case, the team believes that the ad costs are high because we're having to try too hard to get people to care about workshops.

3. Now, "People don't care about Workshops" is not a challenge, it's not an opportunity, it's just a negative statement. What you're going to do now is turn this into a positive, opportunistic "How Might We" statement. Instead of "People don't care about workshops", you're going to change it to "How Might We get people excited about workshops". That's our challenge. That's what the team should be working on. We've found it!

So this is the challenge the team is going to work on... but what about all the other top voted issues? Turn those into HMW's too, and if the problem is not solved by the work the team does on the first challenge, come back to them. But there's a very good chance you won't need them.


Problem Hunter, just like 10 for 10 and Action Board are all very simple Workshops with very powerful outcomes for teams. Workshops, in their purest form, are a way of bringing people together, making sense of multiple streams of information and taking action. You as the facilitator, "the Workshopper", are the person who brings it all together. Who can help a team make decisions, who can reduce the noise and cut through the busy work. Being the person who can help others "get work done" more efficiently is an absolutely incredible career booster!

Jakub Michalski