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Kickoff Meeting

A kickoff meeting is a meeting of all the members of a design team, plus any other stakeholders involved in a design project.

See also the page on successful meetings.


Holding a kickoff meeting is the first task of a design project. The goals of the meeting are to become acquainted, agree to the general intention of the project, develop a document specifying the team's expectations for the project, and to develop a set of questions the answers to which will inform the team's immediately subsequent activities.

If you don't believe in the importance of kickoff meetings, then please read the short article the best laid plans, by Edward P. Youngberg.

Here's what you need to do for a proper project kickoff.

Step 1: Introductions

Goal: Team members get to know each other.

First things first. All team members should exchange their names, phone numbers, and email addresses.

Each team member should introduce himself to the rest of the team. Talk about yourself and your skills. Do you have any engineering experience? Do you have any experience that relates to the goals of the design project? Do you work on your own car? Have you worked in a machine shop or taken shop classes? Have you done any creative problem solving? Why are you studying engineering? Where do you want to end up working?

Spend some time (say, 10 or 15 minutes) getting to know one another. Teams that perform well are usually those whose members can get along relatively well with one another. You do not have to become best friends, but you have to learn to work together.

Step 2: Familiarization

Goal: All team members agree on the intention of the design problem as given in the design brief.

Having “broken the ice,” now a team should turn to the design problem. Read it over and discuss it to make sure everyone understands it.

Seniors and grad students may also choose their design projects at this point. Your instructor will explain the details.

Is there anything vague about the problem? Remember, these are design problems: they're naturally open-ended and somewhat vague. If there is agreement that some part of the problem is too vague, ask your instructor for clarification.

Does every team member agree about what has to be done? Consider the following scenario.

A design team is given the task: “Your client has contracted you to design a new retractable pen.”

Stan: “Okay, we need to design a retractable ballpoint pen.”

Martha: “Wait a minute. It says 'pen' here, not 'ballpoint pen'.”

Tom: “Oh come on – have you ever seen a retractable fountain pen?”1)

Martha: “No, but so what?”

Stan: “Okay, let's ask the instructor.”

In this case, Martha and Stan see the same problem in two different ways. There are two questions here that the team has to answer:

  1. What does the client really want? This goes to the vagueness of the problem. If the client actually intended a retractable ballpoint pen, and you deliver a retractable fountain pen, then the client will be dissatisfied (to say the least).
  2. Does everyone on the team understand the same problem? Say the client says: “A retractable fountain pen? Gee, I never thought of that! If you think it's possible and it'll sell, then sure I'd consider it!”

In this case, it's up to your team to reach an agreement about the meaning of the word “pen”. If Martha thinks the word includes fountain pens, but Stan does not, then there'll be difficulties further along in the design process, because Martha and Stan are actually working on different design problems.

So, when considering your design project, ask yourselves why does your client want that particular thing? No matter what the project calls for - a lift, a machine, or an airplane - ask yourselves what the client and user will do with such a thing that they can't already do without it?

People will usually ask you to design them something, because they want to do something with it. What they don't know is that there may be better ways of doing those things than with the product they've asked you to design. Your job as a designer is to help your clients and users sort those things out.

Step 3: Confront your ignorance

Goal: Figure out what you don't know about your design project.

Once you've settled on any changes or enhancements to the design brief (and gotten approval from your instructor, of course), you will be faced with your ignorance of the kinds of products that might be good solutions. This is perfectly natural.

Think about questions, the answers to which will help you understand the nature of your design problem.

For instance, if you have to design a retractable pen, then some questions you might ask yourselves are:

  • What kind of technologies exist for pens?
  • Who uses existing retractable pens? What kind of abilities or disabilities might those people have? Why do they use retractable pens rather than other types?
  • What are the different ways to implement the retraction mechanism?
  • Why do pens retract at all? What functions does that behaviour serve? How else might those functions be achieved?
  • Is there any correlation between the types of mechanisms and the cost of the pen?
  • How are pens made/manufactured?
  • What are some really weird pens?
  • What are the ergonomic issues surrounding the use of pens?

Of course, if your project were about something else - say nuclear reactors - the kinds of questions you would ask would be very different. Don't just use these questions given above as if they always apply, because they don't always apply.

You do not need to answer the questions during the kickoff meeting, but you do need to assign them to individual team members who will try to find answers.

Step 4: Scheduling

Goal: Set up reasonable deadlines for completing major tasks.

By the time you have your kickoff meeting, you will know all the most important deadlines for your project: when the report and presentation will be due, when the milestones will be due, when peer reviews will be due, etc.

You also will have a rough idea of the major stages of the design project (per the design roadmap).

Block out, in rough terms, a schedule that runs from the kickoff meeting through to the final deadline, on a weekly basis. Set rough estimates for when each major stage of the project must be completed. (Don't forget to leave yourself time to actually put together both the final report and the oral presentation.)

Also, set a day and time when the entire team can meet - either in person or virtually via, say, a Google Meet - on a weekly basis and outside the regular lab time for this course. You may only need 15 minutes or so, to quickly bring each other up to date and make sure that the project is still on target.

You can read Ryerson's Guide to using Google Meet. You should schedule your team meetings using Google Calendar; you can add a Google Meet to any meeting with a single click. Use only your Ryerson accounts for this. You are urged to never share your personal email or online ID with anyone.

Remember, many students have very busy lives outside of school.

Remember, also, that you will likely need to revise your schedule. That's also perfectly normal. Set targets, but do not be too disappointed if you cannot achieve all of them. Be flexible. The only hard deadlines are the ones set by the instructor. So long as you can meet those, you can afford to be flexible with the deadlines you set for yourselves.

Step 5: Set up important documents

Set up the important documents you'll need to collaborate for the rest of the semester.

These are all described in the Project Deliverables section of the Design Project page for your course.

Late or incorrect preparation of these documents will result in grade deductions and penalties.

Deliverables from a kickoff meeting

At the end of your kickoff meeting, you should have the following items in hand:

  • Each team member should have, in their design journals and possibly elsewhere (e.g. in their mobile phones), the names, email addresses, and telephone numbers of their teammates.
  • The design brief. This may also include annotations explaining how your team has chosen to define certain vague terms.
  • A list of issues and questions that must be researched by the team members, each assigned to a team member.
  • A basic schedule indicating the major tasks and the project gates.
  • A proper team contract.
  • Set up the other important documents.
design/kickoff_meeting.txt · Last modified: 2021.05.03 16:45 by Fil Salustri