The discovery phase sets the tone for your entire project or product, but if done incorrectly, it can be disastrous. Here's what NOT to do as your technical, business, and sales teams collaborate to design a high-ROI project.
Setting the Stage
Agile allows us to deliver software incrementally. We prioritize the most valuable features to be delivered first so that we can start delivering value faster. This methodology promotes transparency, flexibility, and, most importantly, collaboration.
But using Agile doesn't mean we don't need to plan before we start the solution implementation. It's very important to have all team members and stakeholders looking to the same North Star that will guide the product development. To define the North Star for the project, everything starts with the Inception.
The Inception is dedicated to understanding the project's objectives and scope. The outcome of the Inception is a clear idea about the project's viability. During the Inception, the team and stakeholders will:
- Have a shared understanding of the Business Objectives and GOALS for the Product they want to build;
- Focus on early and continuous delivery of Value (ROI) so that value is realized faster for the Right Users led by the Business Objectives;
- Identify Risks and Mitigation beforehand;
- Identify Technical Feasibility;
- Identify the high level of Effort to develop the Product;
- Have sufficient input to support the Go/No Go Decision.
To prepare the Agile Team and Stakeholders to have a productive and assertive Inception, the Discovery phase comes into play. The Discovery consists of meetings and collaboration sessions between Technical, Business, and Sales teams to:
- Identify the Business Problems the product should solve;
- Identify key Stakeholders;
- Select the Inception Team;
- Define the Timeline for the Inception phase (normally varies from 2 days to 2 weeks);
- Review Expectations for the Inception phase;
- Propose the Inception Roadmap (where, when, duration, roles, etc).
The Discovery phase is the first phase of the Inception process. It sets the tone for the rest of your project/product, and because of that, the Discovery phase is incredibly important. In this snippet, you'll learn about the 5 biggest disasters to avoid during a Discovery.
01) THE PROBLEM TO BE SOLVED IS NOT CLEAR
Converting ideas into actions might be a challenge if you don't know what you want to solve. Especially when we are talking about Digital Transformation, the problem/product/improvement you want to achieve must be clear before you start the Discovery process. The Inception is the time to align project goals with the Agile Team and Stakeholders. This alignment is key for success.
During the Discovery, you will define project visions and goals, but to do so, it's very important to understand the problem solution or outcome you expect from the project. If you don't know what you are using the Inception to solve, I strongly recommend taking a step back and using Design techniques to help you frame the problem.
02) YOU ARE NOT INVOLVING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Assuming that the problem you want to solve is clear and that you are ready to start your Inception with the Discovery, the second biggest mistake you can make is: not involving the right people because you never analyzed who is directly impacted by the project. It's fundamental to have the right people aligned to have a successful project. Once again, Inception is all about alignment.
It's important to understand which areas of your organization will be affected, which areas you need help or information from, and in which areas you might change the process. Are you involving the subject matter experts that you need? Are you considering the right people to collect the right information to solve the problem you have in mind? After defining the problem you want to solve, always consider it as a next step to identify the right people to be involved in the Discovery and throughout the whole Inception.
03) A DECISION MAKER IS MISSING
You know the Problem to be solved and you have the right people to help you solve this problem, so what can go wrong? It's simple: you don't have a decision maker. Most of the time, the sponsor of the project will also be a decision maker, but sometimes, depending on your organization's structure, the decision maker is not clear. Yet this role is fundamental.
During the Inception phase, a lot of decisions regarding the solution you are creating must be made, and the Decision Maker must be identified. Without this role defined, you will not be able to have a successful Discovery and the rest of the Inception will be impossible to execute.
04) NEW STAKEHOLDERS ARE INTRODUCED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PROCESS
The Inception process is a continuous flow. The Discovery starts setting project objectives and goals with all stakeholders and team members. So the fourth mistake you have to avoid is involving people late in the process. Someone who is added half-way through will not have the context, will not understand why the team is taking the defined approach regarding the project, and will not understand the rationale behind all decisions.
So, a person who is involved in the middle of the process can slow down the Inception or even invalidate what has been done so far. The worst case scenario? The person who is involved late in the process is the Decision Maker. If this is the case, sometimes it is better to abort the current Inception and start a new Discovery.
05) THERE IS NO ALIGNMNET WITH EXTERNAL DEPENDENCIES
Last but not least, the fifth mistake to avoid during a Discovery is neglecting to align with external dependencies. Imagine that you already avoided all previous mistakes and you are ready to start the Inception with the Discovery process; you start, but then you forget to align with other vendors, providers, and companies that will be involved with your project at some point.
For example, imagine that you are delivering a Solution that requires third-party software that must be customized to your needs. It's essential that their development process is aligned with the Iterative process you are setting during the Inception, and it's very important to have this alignment in the Discovery phase. Why? You might start your project and get to the point where you don't have the third-party piece of code you need, and then your project can be put on hold and sometimes even be cancelled depending on the costs this mistake can generate.
Based on my experience, these are the five most common mistakes organizations make in the Discovery phase when they start an Agile project. If you avoid all of them, your Inception will generate successful outcomes, expectations alignment, value generation from your project, and most importantly, save time and costs, all while increasing the accuracy of your Agile project cost and effort from 10% to 60% minimum. By the end of the Inception, you'll have all necessary information for the Go/No Go decision of your project.
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Alexander Carvalho is the Global VP of Delivery at Avenue Code. He is a seasoned leader with over 17 years of working experience in IT and high performance distributed teams, leading professional software consulting firms focused on delivering end-to-end technology solutions based on Agile for enterprise organizations of all kinds. He is experienced in managing development centers globally with distributed teams offshore and nearshore across the US, Brazil, India, the UK, Canada, and the Netherlands.