4 things - before starting a large Agile project

Question Backlog.jpg

In my classes, I often ask participants to create a question "backlog" of the things they would like to have addressed before the end of the class. The participants write questions, prioritize them, and decide when a question has been satisfactorily addressed. As the trainer, I determine whether a question is in or out of scope and facilitate discussion. Sometimes, toward the end of class, I'll ask the question's author to share with the class the answer they have learned.

In a recent class, a participant wrote, "What are the top 5 things that must be done in the 12 months before embarking on a large Agile project?" You may be thinking, "But Jim, you wrote '4 things...' in the title of this post. For those of you that have been reading these "4 things" posts, you know by now that I never stop at just 4. ;)

By the end of the second day of the class, without a specific, targeted discussion around this question, the question's author put together this poster from various related discussions that gave him insights for a possible answer.

Top 5 Activities.jpg

Top  5 activities to prepare for flagship Agile Product

  1. Educate the team/stakeholders of the benefits & expectations of the change
  2. Create a Meta team [a team to focus on the change initiative associated with the Agile adoption]
  3. Pilot 1 small product
  4. Create Product Backlog/Release Plan
  5. Choose the right Product Owner



Note that the list implies a faster start than 12 months with an experimental pilot to accelerate learning. Also, note the shift from an "project" to a "product".

Not a bad list. What would you include in your top 5?

4 things - Product Owner

4 things - Product Owner

A potentially fatal flaw for Scrum Teams is to step into execution before aligning on fundamental intent. A "ready, fire, aim" strategy can work if a Scrum Team is effective in the adapt phase of the inspect and adapt cycle, but for a new team that is not yet proficient in adjusting course, getting started in the wrong direction can be an impediment that the Scrum Team is not yet able to overcome.

Aligning on fundamental intent is the job of the Product Owner in Scrum. Getting this role right is key to success. The Product Owner is responsible for 4 key things:

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Advice for Starting Your Agile Project

In their new book, Liftoff: Launching Agile Teams and Projects, Diana Larsen and Ainsley Nies partner to address an often neglected aspect of an Agile project — the start. Getting the start right is a critical step in enabling the overall success of the project. Diana and Ainsley share helpful insights on the elements of a successful launch including pragmatic guidance for planning, designing, running, and improving your launch process (the latter draws on lessons from Esther Derby and Diana Larsen’s excellent retrospectives book, Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great.)

In addition, a significant portion of the book addresses Agile Chartering. In fact, Diana and Ainsley debated writing a book exclusively on this topic as they deem it so critical to the success of Agile projects. Instead, they have integrated a chartering discussion and charting model into their Liftoff framework. Their decision makes for a better book, in my opinion.

While there are a lot of good examples, checklists, and stories, Diana and Ainsley emphasize the values and principles behind the ample practical advice they give throughout the book.  In this vein, they stay true to the Agile principle expressed in the Agile Manifesto, "Individuals and interactions over processes and tools."

Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to the book, so I may be a bit biased, but I think Diana and Ainsley’s contribution to the Agile canon will ultimately result in better agile projects and better business results. Anyone who is thinking about or getting ready to start an Agile project should check out Liftoff .

(And, if you get a chance, flip to pages 76-79 and give me some feedback on my story, “A Tale of Two Projects.”)