What is a Product Feature Kickoff?
A product feature kickoff is a meeting in which a product manager and relevant stakeholders set plans, goals, and responsibilities for the team’s work on a new feature. For most organizations, the product feature kickoff is the event that marks the company’s official start date for the feature’s development. It also sends an important signal to the team: the company has prioritized building this feature and is ready to begin right away.
If a product feature kickoff meeting is successful, the team will leave with both a shared vision for what the feature should accomplish and an agreed-up set of tactical next steps to begin development.
Who Attends a Feature Kickoff Meeting?
The product feature kickoff is a cross-functional meeting and should include representatives from each team or department who will contribute to the product’s success. Including:
- Product manager
- Product owner (or a project manager)
- Customer success
- and possibly an executive stakeholder
How do You Prepare for a Product Feature Kickoff Meeting?
Before the meeting, the product manager who will run the meeting should do the following:
1. Build a positive, inspiring story around the feature
A primary goal of feature kickoff meetings is to create enthusiasm among your stakeholders. After this meeting, everyone is going to scatter and work on their own tasks.
So this is the time to build anticipation, excitement, and a shared sense of purpose among the cross-functional team. Craft your meeting to inspire your stakeholders before they begin their work.
2. Polish up the feature’s mini brief and/or journey map
To communicate the feature’s strategic goals and ideal outcomes, the PM running the meeting should be prepared to walk attendees through the feature from the user’s perspective.
This might include reviewing the mini brief, customer journey map, and maybe a wireframe or other high-level sketch of the feature’s details and UX.
3. Invite the right people
A successful feature kickoff should end with all people contributors across the organization understanding why the team is prioritizing this feature, how it will help the customer, and what it will do for the company.
With this in mind, all relevant stakeholders should be a part of this conversation. For most companies, this includes the product team, development, marketing, sales, and support.
What are the Benefits of a Feature Kickoff Meeting?
If the product manager runs it correctly, a feature kickoff meeting should yield benefits including:
1. Team alignment and enthusiasm
A well-run kickoff meeting gives stakeholders across the company an opportunity to see how building the feature will add value for both the user and the company itself. This meeting should end with everyone understanding the team’s intent in building the feature. It should communicate what customer problem it will solve, and how doing so will improve the product or portfolio.
2. Important stakeholder insights
As a Stanford University research paper on project leadership explains, a cross-functional meeting can unearth insights most individuals on the team might miss. Because stakeholders from different departments will be in the room, your feature kickoff meeting can benefit from various points of view and insights you hadn’t considered. This is an opportunity to uncover potential issues that your sales reps, for example, have encountered, or that your developers can foresee with some aspect of the feature’s development.
3. An action plan
Another benefit of a feature kickoff is that it allows the team to collaborate and establish a strategic plan for how to move forward. If run successfully, a feature kickoff will end with all stakeholders knowing exactly what they need to do next to support the feature’s development.
Examples of next steps:
At the end of a feature kickoff meeting in an agile development organization, the team might agree to the following set of next actions to move the feature’s development forward:
- Develop epics for the product backlog.
- Groom these epics into user stories.
- Groom the stories into actionable work for the development team.
- At the next sprint planning session, prioritize the stories and other tasks needed to begin developing the code for this new feature.
Another way to think of this is that at the end of the feature kickoff, you should have defined what you’re building, why, and how it will benefit the company. All that should be left is to determine the “how”—the tactical action steps for the team to work on.
When Should You Hold the Feature Kickoff Meeting?
The feature kickoff meeting should take place when the team is ready to begin work on the feature immediately. This means the product team has completed the following steps:
- Discussed the featured idea internally, and received and incorporated the feedback from various groups, such as customer success and sales.
- Earned executive approval to move commit development resources and move forward with the feature.
- Prioritized the feature on the product roadmap and is ready to begin working on it.
The 6 Stages of the Feature Kickoff
As you can see from the points we’ve outlined, the meeting should come only toward the end of a series of steps needed to kick off the development of a new feature. A full feature kickoff process might look more like this:
- Feature kickoff meeting
- Outcome assessment
What Happens in a Product Feature Kickoff?
A product manager should structure the feature kickoff meeting to accomplish the following objectives:
1. Make sure all relevant stakeholders understand the strategy behind the feature.
You want everyone in your feature kickoff meeting to understand how your new feature will add value to your customers.
Pro tip: A great way to open your feature kickoff meeting is by talking about your customers, explicitly describing the challenge they’re facing, and then explaining how this new feature will help them solve it.
2. Build enthusiasm among the team.
Another mark of a successful feature kickoff meeting is that the cross-functional becomes inspired by the promise of this new feature: to add value for users, enhance the company’s reputation, and grow the company’s bottom line.
When you host a product feature kickoff, one of your goals should be to make the meeting upbeat and aspirational. It’s fine to have disagreements about tactical details, resources, or timelines. But it would help if you tried to keep the meeting’s overall tone positive. Building this new feature is going to be great!
3. Create a plan for the next steps.
The third objective of your product feature kickoff will be for the team to establish a set of next actions. Remember, this meeting marks your company’s official start date of work on this new feature, and each stakeholder in the meeting should know what tasks they will be responsible for completing.
This action plan could include next actions such as:
- Product will review the backlog to prioritize the first user stories to work on.
- Development will draft a resource-allocation plan for work on the feature.
- Marketing will begin crafting customer-facing messages to communicate the benefits of the feature.
- The cross-functional team will get together again for a follow-up meeting to discuss progress on the feature, questions, challenges, and new thoughts or insights.
- Product will send all stakeholders access to the product roadmap online, so they can monitor progress and be alerted to any changes in priority.