The Agile Initiate Project Phase
In the previous article we looked at the Concept phase of Agile projects. In this article we look at the Initiate phase. The goal of the Initiate phase is to confirm feasibility, and design and plan for development. The initiate phase is about
- Understanding quality goals of the product
- Defining key features to be built first
- Drafting a release plan
- Agreement on how product development runs
Going from concept to initiate
The initiate phase has three inputs that originate from the concept phase, namely desired outcomes, project charter and an initial capability list. In the initiate phase we have closer conversations with the customer to ‘hear the voice of the customer’. We should have a value management team that works to flesh out the product backlog. This includes defining success criteria and the Minimum Viable Product (MVP).
If the product vision is unclear its worth investing time now to pin it down. If the vision needs a bit of panel beating we can accommodate these collaborations in the initiate phase. It’s important for value management team to sell and get buy-in on the vision. As the vision gets clearer write it down and stick it up where people cannot miss it. This will be the creed by which the project team lives and breathes by for the next few months.
Fleshing out high level capabilities and MVP
Originating from the concept phase is the high level capability list. From this list of features we perform a user story map workshop where we map high level capabilities as user interactions. Stakeholders slot in user stories below the high level capabilities. User story mapping is used as a way of fleshing out the walking skeleton while keeping the golden rule of “breadth and not depth” in mind. Focusing on depth of the story map yields a broader spectrum of features and capabilities. The flip-side is a a deep spectrum with limited features or capabilities.
On completion of this exercise the product owner and his value management team is able to prioritize the user stories. The aim is to have a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) segmented into a MVP1 and MVP2 release (as a guideline). We now have our initial product backlog.
Quality goals, definition of done, estimates & release plans
The quality goals of the project is crucial as our prioritization effort takes into account which technical user stories are enablers of said quality and which are not. The definition of done and the way we set up our delivery team is largely dependent on the quality goals.
Having the MVP’s identified enables us to sit with the delivery team and derive initial high level estimates. Typically these early estimates take on the form of t-shirt sizes. Armed with an initial backlog and MVP’s prioritized and sized, the product owner can proceed to craft the product road-map that will naturally feed into the release plan.
During the execution of the initiate phase, and if our project environment requires us to have artifacts like a project charter (or inception deck), these artifacts are to be updated with key decisions, scope, initial release plans, cost, and whatever else that needs recording.
To wrap up the Agile Initiate Project Phase, we have a few artifacts to produce to aid the downstream efforts in our product’s life-cycle. These include SMART goals (specific, measurable, actionable, relevant and time-bound), an initial backlog, release plan, project charter and the project’s definition of done.
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