A 1-minute approach to writing a project kickoff agenda
At PARAGRAPH, we pride ourselves in giving every project, report and strategy recommendation a custom, highly crafted feel.
That said, there’s value in finding ways to systematize parts of the process. Especially more procedural tasks that take place at the onset of a project. As client timelines get compressed, burning an entire week to kick off a project feels like a poor use of time. However, at the same time, experience tells us that how well a project ends is largely determined by how well a project begins.
So we set out to create a way to kick off a project more efficiently while still getting fully immersed in the client’s business.
That led us to creating a toolkit we could tap into at a moment’s notice to facilitate a dynamic, collaborative 3-hour Discovery Workshop on day one of a project with little to no prep time.
At the core of the toolkit is a five-part agenda that has worked for us to help teams coalesce around common objectives and opportunities. This agenda has been tinkered with and refined many times over. After putting it to the test in a variety of contexts for a myriad of clients, we wanted to share it with other strategists.
It has saved us a ton of time and headaches and maybe it’ll do the same for you.
The agenda is embarrassingly simple. But that’s what makes it so malleable and broadly applicable.
1. INTRODUCTIONS AND OVERVIEW (20 minutes)
Take a few minutes to do some quick introductions as well as remind everyone of the purpose of the session. List the objectives and agenda on the wall for constant reference.
2. UNDERSTANDING THE BUSINESS (30 minutes)
Give the clients some time to brief everyone on the project and provide background on where they are and what they’re up to.
3. UNDERSTANDING THE BRAND (60 minutes)
Using a few projective techniques, get the group exploring what the brand currently represents, how it compares to competitors and where it wants to be in the future.
4. UNDERSTANDING THE AUDIENCE (30 minutes)
Create a rough thumbnail sketch of who the target audience is. The profile of the target audience will likely be tightened through additional research, but this conversation will serve as a good starting point.
5. WRAP UP AND NEXT STEPS (40 minutes)
Summarize highlights of the conversation and agree on the project’s objectives and next steps.
The agenda is based on the premise that regardless of the company or category a strong strategy is built upon a solid understanding of the client’s business objectives (Section 2), the current and desired perceptions of the brand (Section 3), and customer needs and motivations (Section 4).
Rather than waste precious time staring at a blank screen and thinking about how to organize a kickoff meeting, steal this agenda. Cut and paste this into your letterhead and you have an agenda that will help you kick off pretty much any strategy assignment. In less than 1-minute, you’re on your way.
Now, writing the agenda is one thing. Running the workshop is another. Here are some things to consider to make it all work.
Begin by carving out a 3-hour chunk of time on everyone’s calendars. This is your chance to get all parties aligned on the impetus for the project and identify ultimate goals and success metrics. As such, keep two things in mind: First, the Discovery Workshop is best conducted in person. Second, it’s important to have all key decision-makers attend the session.
When inviting participants, get everyone on the same page by sharing the objectives of the session and providing them with the rough agenda that includes a few questions. This will help get participants in the right frame of mind so that they can walk into the room ready to hit the ground running.
What counts as a successful Discovery Workshop? At the end, you’ll want to have…
The Discovery Workshop is not about walking out of the room with all the answers. It’s simply designed to provide clarity on what needs to be achieved, and to spark ideas on where the team should be focusing its time in the coming weeks.
With all that as backdrop, here’s how to orchestrate each section of the workshop.
Before you hit the ground running, take a few minutes to do some quick introductions. Start off with one or two questions that are relevant to the project, like each attendee’s role or responsibility within the company and what he or she is most looking forward to discussing in this workshop.
To make things more interesting, consider throwing in a lighthearted question to round out the introduction. For instance, if the brand in question is in the automotive space, ask each participant to tell the group about the best road trip they’ve ever taken. If you go this route, after introductions, remind everyone of the purpose of the session.
However you choose to kick off the workshop, be sure to list the objectives and agenda on the wall as a reference point for everyone present.
Next, give the client some time to brief the group on the project and provide background on the financial performance of the brand. Let the client have the floor for 10–15 minutes to explain where the brand is today and how it got here, listening for key events that have impacted the brand’s trajectory either positively or negatively.
During this portion of the workshop, help the team unpack its thoughts on the business and articulate their objectives. A word to the wise: Do expect the group to have an idea of where they want the business to go. But don’t expect them to know exactly how to get there. That’s something that can be explored coming out of the session.
What to keep in mind:
Next, have the group explore what the brand currently represents, how it compares to competitors, and where it wants to be in the future.
We typically use a few different projective techniques to spark these sorts of conversations.
IMAGE SORT. For this exercise, we litter the table with dozens of conceptual images. Each participant is asked to choose one or two images that represents the essence of their brand. Once everyone has selected images, pin them up on the wall, making a collage of sorts. Then, have the group go through the same exercise again, however, this time have everyone select one or two images that represent the brand’s primary competitor. Pin those up on the wall. Discuss the two collages as a group, asking for the meaning and symbolism behind each individual image. Identify common themes and tease out the differences between the brand and its competitors.
WORD SORT. This exercise is all about sorting through 100+ different attributes (each written on its own card) and grouping them into two distinct piles: “Our brand is…” and “Our brand isn’t…” The group should go through and discuss each attribute and determine which of the two piles it belongs in. Be open to debate but force the group to come to a consensus. If there are attributes that don’t fit in either pile, just set those aside. The goal of this exercise is to identify which words best define the brand.
These are just two exercises that playfully force participants to think and talk about their brand in ways they may not have considered before.
What to keep in mind:
By now, you’ll have a good handle on the tone and personality of the brand. It’s time to start dialing in on the target audience. To get everyone in attendance talking about who the target audience is, encourage them to think about this person’s worldview, attitudes, and goals. Demographics are helpful, but they won’t paint a clear picture of what motivates the target. In all of this, remember that some of the strongest brands in the world are successful because they tap into the deepest values and aspirations of their target audience.
Simply put, step into the target customer’s shoes. You can use a standard customer persona template as a framework for this part of the conversation. Fill out each section with a few words and phrases that describe the prototypical customer. Focus on his or her key personality traits. Be sure to reflect this person’s aspirations and goals — not just in regard to your brand but in terms of life in general.
What to keep in mind:
Finally, discuss highlights of the conversation the group just had and agree on the project’s main objectives and next steps. To draw the discussion to a close, ask a few wrap-up questions, such as: “What was the most important thing we learned today?” or “Which discussions did you find most surprising?”
Be sure to also solicit and capture any unanswered questions about the brand, its competitors, or its target audience that could be addressed through additional research.
Throughout the Discovery Workshop, don’t forget to take notes. Better yet, if everyone agrees, record the conversation. As you go, make note of any great quotes about the vision for the brand. This material can be great fodder for the final presentation.
Let’s be clear: This meeting represents just one interaction in a much larger strategy development process. But it’s a meeting that we find ourselves obsessing over, time and time again.
The agenda above can get any project off on the right foot — and fast. It’s intended to help you uncover the true needs and most important hypotheses about a brand in a fun, interactive way.
By using it to engage your team early on in the project, you’ll be helping them quickly embark on a path toward becoming a stronger, more powerful brand.