I am working for a big retail client and we follow an inception technique which is very lean and effective. The technique is definitely leveraging Eric Ries's Lean Startup and Jeff Patton User Story mapping fundamentals but has been tailored for enterprise need. This technique address few core questions:
- How to ensure the team starts the project with a shared understanding and an effective plan?
- How to understand the MVP and start an agile project as quickly as possible?
This method is based on Paulo Caroli's book called "To The Point". This technique has some obvious benefits:
- It focuses on validate hypothesis based project development - Build, Measure and Lean approach.
- Team comes out of inception with a value associated to every feature.
- Team completes higher-level features in less than a week time for a 6 to 9 months long project.
- Saves the work/time of breaking down all the projects work in order to get an estimate for project's length/cost.
- Entire team get a holistic picture of the product
- Release planning can be done very quickly based on the features
This is a technique to understand and plan for incremental delivery of MVPs. The technique organizes ideas and features in a model that seeks to understand the main purpose of project. It suggests some pre-defined steps.
- Describe the product vision
- Prioritize the business goal
- Describe the main users, their profiles and their needs
- Understand the main functionalities
- Detail perceptions of risk, effort and business value by functionality
- Describe the most important user journeys
- Create an incremental product enhancement plan, driven by MVP
- Estimate effort by sampling
- Calculate costs and specify dates and delivery schedule
We consolidated above steps in 7 high level categories:
- Create the product's Vision;
- Define the product's Objectives;
- Identify the product's Personas;
- Discover the product's Features;
- Associate features to Risk, Effort and Value - Review;
- Plan the product's Releases;
- Consolidate Time and Cost.
Lets discuss each step in details:
Somewhere between the idea and the launching, the vision of the project helps team to understand the business value. In our situation project was pretty identified and had a clear goals. Hence I requested our Product Owners (POs) to come up with initial project vision and asked to field team’s questions. Book suggests involving entire team but I would suggest starting with PO if you are building a project, which has been well thought by PO. This saves lots of teams frustration, which we faces during initial adaptation phase of this technique. I would suggest you should engage your team if you are building a product whose scope has not been defined or loosely defined. It definitely helps team in getting aligned around the product they're building, creating a clear vision of the path ahead. Ask team to think about product vision in below format.
For [final client],
whose [problem that needs to be solved],
the [name of the product]
is a [product category]
that [key-benefits, reason to buy it].
Different from [competition alternative],
our product [key-difference]
Each team member must share what is his/her understanding of an objective for those who use the product, and the several points of view must be discussed in order to reach a consensus on what is really important. This activity helps raising and clearing these objectives. I again started with PO first and then asked team members to shares theirs objective. The main aim is to know where project is going, and what it aims to achieve, ensuring a good mix of technical and business objectives are captured.
Once the vision is defined then try group they by similarity and prioritize them collaboratively. To prioritize, answer this question: "If your company only has time and money for one more objective, which would it be?"
Once goals/objectives are captured, do the activity of understanding trade-offs. Trade-off is a trade in which you let go something in order to get another one you want more. A lean product reflects decisions of the team regarding trade-offs. The activity “Understanding trade-offs” helps building and recording a common understanding about trade-offs of the lean product. Many decisions and conversations are based on individual visions and premises between choices. Some examples: what is most valuable: security or usability? And what about performance and security? And usability and performance? This activity promotes an open and collaborative conversation on trade-offs. Clearer trade- offs avoid misunderstandings and help to make decisions quickly. Below picture is taken from the book to show the outcome of the trade-offs.
To build right thing that will provide the most value, you need to keep in mind who is using your product, and what are their needs. A persona represents a user in the system, describing not only his role but also his specific needs, creating a realistic representation of users, helping the team to describe functionalities from the point of view of those who will interact with the final product. Book suggests couple of ways to come up with them. We preferred answering below questions:
· Who has a stake in our product?
· What exactly do they need from our product?
Once you have the list of personas, try answering below questions in groups:
What, I ____ (see / think / hear / say)?
Feature is the description of an action or interaction of a user with the product. For example: print invoice, see detailed statement, and invite facebook friends…
The description of a feature should be as simple as possible. The user is trying to do something. The product should have a feature for that. To discover features make your team think about below questions:
What the product needs to do or have in order to enable the Personas to achieve the Objectives?
In a big table or whiteboard, place the cards with Personas as rows and the cards with Objectives as columns. Then, starting from the most important Objective, brainstorm on what features should be built to achieve each Objective. This technique is more like Story Mapping, where you are mapping Objectives and Persona’s need and coming up with actions/features. I am not allowed to share my project real data, hence again copied from the book for reference.
To plan the work and the releases, it's important to understand the levels of risk, effort and value in each feature identified by the team. This is again similar concept like story-mapping, focusing on specific target outcomes is the secret to prioritizing development work. This activity aims to discuss how the team feels according to the technical certainty and the business agreement for each feature.
Create a common canvas, a graphic, in which the axis X represents the technical certainty (how to do) and the axis Y represents the business agreement to the requirement (what to do).
Ask for a member of the team to read a feature out loud and put it on the canvas according to his/her understanding of it (technical certainty and business agreement). Question if everyone in the team share the same opinion. Of somebody disagrees, the team must discuss the requirements and the technology involved in a way that an agreement is reached about the feature. Everything that is mentioned and that helps to achieve a better understanding must be noted and attached to the feature. The picture above shows features in post-its that were glued in green, yellow or pink index cards, indicating low, medium or high uncertainty levels, respectively. Repeat the exercise for each identified features.
Create one more canvas, which has Effort (the level of the work that needs to be done) and Value (what is the return or saving that it will bring) as their axis. Rank each Feature with the following options:
The activities Technical Certainty and Business Agreement and Effort and Business Value can and should be held together. In the first activity the feature gets a color. On the second activity, the feature gets two marks. The color represents the feature ́s uncertainty level: Red for a high level of uncertainty, Yellow for a medium level of uncertainty, and Green for a low level of uncertainty. The marks are about effort and business value, and vary on a scale of one, two or three times in comparison to each other; for example E, EE, and EEE. Such color and marks will help the team in subsequent activities to prioritize, estimate and plan.
Project Release Roadmap
Book suggests mapping the User Journey but we moved to release planning after the above outcome. I would say, do what you feel right for your project.
Based on the feature ranking now it’s time to group features together. We focused on creating multiple slices, which has equal balance of risk, effort, and value. Our main focus was building features, which will prove our idea was worth building and we can learn something for future features. We definitely selected sea level features first. Also we tried to make sure each slice can be achieved in less than 3 months and they are almost equal. We focused on measurement pieces of the feature. This is key exercise and requires lots energy and communication.
We can’t move inch further in enterprise world without telling leadership, how much would it cost J. I did spend few days in Jira learning team’s working pattern by studying control charts and other reports across multiple projects. Based on my observation I created three big buckets. (Small, Medium and Large). We as a team agreed on a time range for each bucket. We start picking each slice and placed each feature into the big bucket. We only did this exercise for first two slices and left the rest of slices as is. Once we had rough timeline it was easy to put together budget for senior management for approval.
We did couple of mini-inceptions with external teams i.e. Risk/Infrastructure/Compliance/Security/Other dependent team etc. and adjusted the notes at feature level based on their feedback. We came up with multiple spikes for our iteration zero at the end of inception close and roadmap for project.
Let me know your feedback.