The Agile Initiate Project Phase

Going from concept to initiate

The initiate phase has three inputs that originate from the concept phase, previously desired outputs, project charter and an initial capacity 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).

Product vision

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 clear write it down and stick it up where people can not 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 broad spectrum of features and capabilities. The flip-side is 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 critical as our priorityization 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 enable 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.

In conclusion

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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